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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."

That tweet was liked over 12,000 times and led to press coverage as far afield as Hungary and the USA, as well as being reposted by Soccer AM's official social media outlets.

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.

One guy, who went by the name of Ronnie, came up with the beautifully simple, yet powerful slogan "Billy Kee: You're Not Alone". It encompassed everything we needed to say an just one short phrase.

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.

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

Nthsuffolkblue added 18:49 - Oct 22
Fantastic. Thanks for sharing the full story too. Words cannot express how brilliant this is.

Guthrum added 19:16 - Oct 22
Great stuff.

thorpedo added 19:19 - Oct 22
Well done to all involved.

soupytwist added 20:41 - Oct 22
If I could upvote this a million times it wouldn't be enough. Well done to all concerned and to those suffering from similar afflictions, you're not alone.

JimmyJazz added 21:28 - Oct 22
Proud of everyone involved, it seems so obvious to say it. Great stuff

Cakeman added 21:58 - Oct 22
Absolute quality, a truly great effort which has been deservedly appreciated worldwide. Very well done.

westernblue added 11:08 - Oct 23
Superb effort lads. And a great post.

fifeblue added 23:06 - Oct 23
As a lifelong Ipswich Town fan and someone with lifelong mental health issues, not diagnosed until I was 40 (I am now 60), I found this gesture by the travelling fans absolutely wonderful. It is something that everyone associated with the club should be proud of, adding to the many years of good reputation by travelling fans of Ipswich Town. Well done! - just marvellous!

oldtimer added 09:28 - Oct 27
Just amazing

Dissboyitfc added 19:27 - Oct 27
Amazing, well done! just another reason why our fans are the best!

BlueandTruesince82 added 19:57 - Oct 30
Top work that.

This encapsulates so many things I love about town. Remember when we were everyones second favourite team (Nodge apart, obvs), there was a reason for that, friendly club, friendly fans always a great away day and always welcomed to other stadiums due to that very nature. A club totally connected to those that represent it.

In short a great club, great fans, the toxicity that has shrouded our club really seems to have lifted despite now slumming it in the 3rd tier, fantastic.

I hope the banner has helped even just a little with Billy's battle and indeed anyone else going through similar struggles
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