Before he found football, shy schizophrenia sufferer Luke Martin spent most of his time at home eating badly exercising rarely and letting his mental health issues get the better of him.
Then one sunny day in August 2016, he joined his friend Rhys at a session with Newport County’s Mental Health football team and it totally transformed his life.
Less than a year on, the 24-year-old former St Julian’s High School pupil finally feels as though he’s winning the battle with his health issues and puts it all down to his football family.
Having just completed a three-month voluntary work placement with County in the Community, Luke said: “Getting out is good. It keeps me from sitting at home and thinking too much.
“The first time I went, I felt a bit nervous because I didn’t know anyone but now they’re all my friends.
“It’s helped with my schizophrenia because it’s good to talk to people and this is a group of people who I get along with very well.”
Under the guidance of Newport County’s Community Development Officer Norman Parselle, Luke and his teammates have developed as football players and as people since The Exiles joined the We Wear the Same Shirt campaign last July.
The project, created in partnership by the FAW Trust and Time to Change Wales, has helped people like Luke in Newport, Wrexham, Newtown and Merthyr Tydfil, focusing not just on their mental but general well being.
Luke, who now lives in the Pill area of Newport said: “It’s helped me eat more healthily.
“If I’m sat at home, I just eat rubbish but when I’m at football I eat healthily and after I feel the benefits, so I keep on doing it.
“I have also learned so much about football in the last few months and the positive frame of mind I can get in before, during and after training and matches.”
Norman says the young Newport County fan has come a long way since his introduction to football last summer, saying: “He was shy at first but he’s one of the central figures at our weekly sessions now.
“He’s even delivered some of the training sessions and picked the team for some matches.”
The Newport County Mental Health team meet every Thursday afternoon at Newport Civil Service Sports Club and Luke urges anybody who fancies it to come along and join in.
He said: “Come along. It’s beneficial. It helps to meet new people and you feel happier afterwards.
“Whether you want to just come and watch or get involved. If the ball comes to you, kick it. That’s all you have to do.”