Ten years of the Mental Health World Cup - A long way from Downhills Park

Updated: Mar 15


This May marks ten years since the inaugural Mental Health World Cup took place. Since that first event at Downhills Park in 2012, the event has gotten bigger and bigger, moving to QPR’s 18,000 capacity stadium and raising over £100,000 in total for CALM.

In this blog, the first of two parts, the founder of the Mental Health World Cup, Giancarlo, looks back on that initial event a decade ago...


Why did you choose football as the way to raise awareness for male suicide and mental health?

When you lose someone to suicide you feel an urge to help, to do anything as it’s too late to help the person who has now gone.


I was inspired by the way CALM used music and other mediums to make talking about the subject of mental health cool and not a taboo. Football was what we used to play all the time growing up so I thought it would be a great channel to get men there, then use that platform to raise awareness and provide tools around mental health.


Lanfranco never opened up about his emotions and feelings, no one knew he was depressed until it was too late. The same goes for men everywhere: we often struggle to open up, show some vulnerability and express our emotions.





What did the process of getting the first event organised look like?

We wanted to get hundreds of Lanfranco’s friends together to play a World Cup in a day. We had no idea how much work was involved but both me and my brother Gianpiero dug deep and, with help from our friends and family, managed to get everything sorted in 2-3 months.


We had no equipment or funds so we had to improvise a little bit! Gianpiero made a World Cup Trophy out of papier-mâché, we borrowed gazebos from our friends and I bought some plastic goals from Argos. The local community got involved and helped put on what was a massive event.



How did the first event go?

Amazingly - the first one still has our highest attendance to date. We had 32 teams with around 250 players and lots of spectators.


Mental health, especially suicide, were real taboos back in 2012. Even though I personally wrote to hundreds of companies, all the Premier League Clubs, the press and even politicians, no one wanted to know. Since it was only four months after Lanfranco had left us, all his friends wanted to help and be there for him so we still had a great turnout and raised a fair amount.





Was it always planned to be a recurring event?

Not initially, but people who attended the first one were desperate for us to put it on again!


In the first year Lan passed we did loads of fundraising events, music gigs, quiz nights, dinner and dances etc, but the World Cup seemed to be the most personal to us as we used to play at Downhills Park every Sunday growing up.


We thought we had created something unique and special that people enjoy that also brought a message of mental health, and as the tournament was called ‘The Lan the Baron World Cup’ back then, we think it’s a lovely way to remember him every year!



Read the second part of this blog where Giancarlo goes over some of the highlights of the previous events and looks ahead to this year’s event.


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