A FORMER Oxford United player has created a support network to help the hundreds of children and teenagers released by football clubs every year.

Fabio Sole, 20, made one appearance for the U’s prior to his release in May, scoring the first penalty in a Football League Trophy shoot-out against Portsmouth in 2019.

He has since co-founded Footballers Minds in an attempt to aid the mental health of those involved in the sport, from parents through to referees.

Mr Sole is motivated by his own experiences of bullying as a child, and the death of Manchester City youngster Jeremy Wisten, who killed himself after not getting the ‘right support’ following an injury, an inquest heard in November.

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“When Jeremy Wisten killed himself, it really hit home and inspired me to set this up,” said Mr Sole.

“We’ve had workshops, one-to-ones and buddy ups, and I’ve been advising young players.

“We’ve given workshops at QPR via Zoom, and we’re hoping to get more clubs involved.

“By getting more clubs to sign up, we can grow – we want to be known as the go to place and we really want to help people.

“Players get released and they have nothing, so we’re providing that service where we can support them.”

Co-founder of Footballers Minds is Daniela Osu, a sports psychotherapist who has worked with various Team GB athletes.

Mr Sole, who hopes to get back into full-time football following an injury which has sidelined him for 10 months, said: “Daniela gives 20 years of experience and sets things out all based on the club or individual’s needs.

“We have the two aspects – mental health support through Daniela and mentoring with myself.

“We also help coaches and parents – if a parent comes to us, we can help with their anxieties.”

thisisoxfordshire: Fabio Sole warms up ahead of the match against Portsmouth. Picture: David FlemingFabio Sole warms up ahead of the match against Portsmouth. Picture: David Fleming

Through Mrs Osu, the duo has partnered with former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg, who is now head of refereeing in Greece.

“Daniela connected with Mark on LinkedIn and they had a few calls,” said Mr Sole.

“A deal came about where the referees get three rounds of workshops a year, and one-to-ones.”

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Mr Clattenburg, who officiated the 2016 Champions League final and Euro 2016 final, said: “I thought mental wellbeing for referees and assistants was needed.

“Daniela, and her team at Footballers Minds, have provided a service to people who are often overlooked.

“I’m happy to be working with her and the positive effect these services are having.”

Mrs Osu added: “Clubs have a duty of care when kids get released, and there should be something to counter the impact on them.

“There’s a lot of ticking boxes in football but we want to offer continuity.

“For us, the most important thing is to look after people who have been neglected.”