|The Story Behind the Billy Kee Banner|
Written by ThatMuhrenCross on Tuesday, 22nd Oct 2019 18:07
Sunday's defeat to Accrington Stanley was the first real low point of what has been a fantastic season following Ipswich Town. The performance on the field was nowhere near the standards we'd expect of a team that was flying high at the top of the table.
However, it was what happened off the field that really sent social media into a spin and reached a global audience.
FourFourTwo magazine ran with the headline "Accrington Salute Ipswich Fans for Billy Kee Banner".
The official Accrington Stanley Twitter page went with the words: "Thank you to the Ipswich Town fans for their support in our striker Billy Kee's battle with depression, bulimia and anxiety. We will make sure Billy sees it."
But the plan to create the banner was actually only hatched less than 48 hours before kick-off and required a number of fans to act fast.
I first touted the idea on a fans group on Facebook, having decided to research the opposition on the Friday night. I'd re-watched last season's FA Cup horror show and was expecting to look at the Stanley top scorers charts and see Kee right at the very top.
I was wrong. He was nowhere to be seen.
"Ah, he must have left in the summer," I concluded, before doing the customary Wikipedia search. No, wrong again. He was still very much an Accrington Stanley player.
A serious injury perhaps? Not quite.
Billy Kee has a long history of anxiety and depression. He's often spoken in the media about it, but in the off-season it spiralled out of control and he began having some of the darkest thoughts.
Thankfully, he spoke to someone about it and was able to get the specialist treatment he needed. That is still ongoing, and he's taking an indefinite break from football until he is ready to step back into the spotlight.
Personally, I've known a number of people who have suffered from mental illness. An old university friend of mine took his own life seven or eight years ago, whilst my fiancee has battled on and off with anxiety for quite some time.
I always used to think the answer was to say, "Don't worry, it'll be okay". Yet to someone who is suffering that just seems dismissive - as if you don't care.
Every case is different, but I learnt quickly that with many people that just being there in their darkest moments is the best thing you can do. Sometimes you don't even need to say anything. They just need to know, they're not alone.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, my post about Billy Kee was promoting extensive discussion and people were putting forward ideas of how to execute the plan.
As I was unable to attend the game, the next issue was a) getting a banner from Suffolk to Accrington, and b) getting it into the ground and on display. Another supporter by the name of Jason very kindly chipped in.
By Saturday afternoon, work had begun on the banner. In total, 50 sheets of A4 paper were bound together with two rolls of masking tape. Across the back I added gaffer tape to make it more sturdy. A tin of black gloss paint costing less than a tenner from Fram DIY was the final piece of the jigsaw.
As the evening drew in, I'd planned to drive down to Martlesham Park and Ride to rendezvous with Jason and give him the rolled up banner, but that was where the first real hurdle came. I should have known better really, but after six hours of drying, the gloss was still wet and tacky. There was no way I was getting it into the back of my car without it sticking to everything!
Thankfully Jason was planning to travel up to the game in his Mercedes Citan van. He drove up to Framlingham at 9pm that night to collect the banner and we taped it around the internal walls of the van, the doors only just being able to shut!
At 5am the next morning he set off, sending me the simple but worrying message: "Paint still tacky".
I was worried. Thankfully by 11am when they arrived, the paint was sufficiently dry to roll up the banner and the set off on foot for the Wham Stadium.
This was where the next hurdle came. The steward's automatic reaction was to confiscate the banner as it had no fire safety certificate, but after some persuasive speaking by Jason and his son, including them explaining the message behind it, he allowed the banner to be brought in under close supervision from the stewards and also as long as it was removed from the stadium by kick-off.
As the players came out onto the pitch, you could see the banner being unfurled in the background. The Sky cameras picked it up but no comment was given.
A few hours after the game finished, that was when the feedback really began to come through. The football world was talking about it on Twitter and Facebook, whilst the Press Association had picked up on it and issued it to publishers around the globe.
All that remained was for confirmation that Billy himself had seen it, and was able to know that football as a whole was behind him and despite the brash reputation of football supporters, his mental health was considered a priority. We knew he'd seen it once his wife tweeted her thanks for it.
Another unexpected thing came from this though. Hundreds of football fans from football clubs throughout the land shared their story of battles with mental health and spoke of how this little gesture from Ipswich Town fans had given them comfort.
Mental health is an important issue. As football fans, men and women alike, we absolutely have to talk. Don't be afraid to open up about your feelings, and don't be afraid to ask for help.
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