MAN v FAT: The weight-loss scheme with football at its core
In barely five years, MAN v FAT Football has come a long way
Launched in 2015, it’s a football league exclusively for overweight men who want to lose weight and the project has gone from strength to strength, now boasting in excess of 60 leagues across the UK
The first weight-loss scheme to be officially endorsed by the Football Association, players are rewarded not just for winning games but for losing weight, too - with weekly weight loss counting towards a team’s goal tally.
MAN v FAT Football prides itself on offering a friendly, welcoming environment where men are supported by teammates and opponents to help shed the pounds through a shared love of the beautiful game.
Speaking to five men who have participated, it's clear the benefits are more than just physical...
"I'm now at a point where I am back to playing 11-a-side again."
Before I started with MAN v FAT, I was very inactive and hardly exercised. I'd played football as a kid but then stopped. When I did stop playing, I started putting the weight on; when I had kids of my own, I put more on. To be honest, I thought my playing days were behind me, but this was a way back for me.
The goal for me - as it is with everyone - was to lose weight. I did that through playing the sport I love. I was just shy of 25st when I started and I went on to lose 10st. What I didn't fully appreciate was how it would benefit me in other ways, too. When I was overweight, I was in a very dark place in terms of my mental health. Being part of MAN v FAT has helped in that respect as well as shedding the weight I needed to.
It's changed my life in so many ways. I couldn't walk up the stairs without getting out of breath before I started. I'm now at a point where I am back to playing 11-a-side again. It's improved things for me and my family.
I don't actually play in MAN v FAT any more but I'm still involved as a coach and regional manager. I wanted to help people in similar situations to the one I was in.
It's been quite a journey.
"It’s honestly the best thing that’s happened to me in my life, without a shadow of a doubt."
I’d been diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure at the start of 2018. I was determined to do something about it, I just wasn't really sure what.
I heard about MAN v FAT and decided to give it a go. I hadn't played football much when I was younger - I didn’t get selected because I was too fat - but this didn't put me off. It didn't matter that I hadn't play before, either. I loved the football aspect of it but the real beauty of it is that your teammates and the players in the teams you're up against have all got the same goal. It’s a support network. You’ve got the football but you’ve got a common focus to bring you all together. If you’re struggling with accountability or trying to find a solution to your weight problems, what’a the harm in trying it?
I can do things now that I couldn’t before because of my size. I can go on a plane now without having to use an extension for my seatbelt, I don’t have to worry about sitting in chairs in restaurants. My life’s so much easier now.
It’s honestly the best thing that’s happened to me in my life, without a shadow of a doubt.
"I’ve met a really great group of guys through doing this... Being in a similar situation, you’ve got that bond."
I’d seen MAN v FAT advertised on Facebook so signed up as a player with a couple of friends. I didn’t necessarily get it straight away, but I persevered for a couple of weeks, it clicked and I absolutely loved it from there.
I spent over 12 months playing in the Manchester league and ended up losing 5st. From there I ended up coaching in Salford and I've recently become one of the regional managers.
The results are there for all to see with the weight loss, but I’ve also met a really great group of guys through doing this - some of which are honestly friends for life. Being in a similar situation, you’ve got that bond. We’ll meet up for a couple of beers around town now, that kind of thing.
Over time, your self-esteem improves with the weight loss, but your mental health improves. The big thing for a lot of us is that you can share things with the other guys that you perhaps wouldn’t with other people because they weren’t in the same position as me. That's so important.
A love of football brings us together. As you get fitter, you realise you can get back into football outside of it, too. That's happened with a few of us.
"Doing it has changed so much for me - with work, with my kids. The confidence I have to take new things on is something else which has come as a result of MAN v FAT."
Everyone you speak to at MAN v FAT seems to have that one moment where you realise things have gone too far. For me, it was when I went to see the Coca-Cola truck in Peterborough before Christmas 2018. There were photos taken and when I looked back at them I couldn’t believe how big I’d become.
At that point I started trying to lose weight. I did lose some but it hit a standpoint where I started to lose motivation. It was then my wife said that she’d seen something on the One Show called MAN v FAT. I watched it back and decided to give it a go.
I played football when I was younger but hadn’t played in about 20 years. This gave me a way back in and obviously helped me to lose weight. I have Asperger’s, too, so I’m not always great in social situations - just signing up was a big thing for me - but people were so welcoming from the start.
We played 6-a-side for 28 minutes. After five I wondered if I could run anymore but I stuck at it. It was easy to carry on when it was so enjoyable and everyone’s in it for the same reason as you. That definitely helps spur you on in those early weeks until you reach the point where it's just good fun. You can always play, even when the weight's off. The focus shifts to maintaining that weight loss from then on.
Doing it has changed so much for me - with work, with my kids. It’s allowed me to discover a new love of weight lifting, too. The confidence I have to take new things on is something else which has come as a result of MAN v FAT.
"As a man, I felt a bit uncomfortable talking to women about the problems I was having. I can open up a lot more about those problems when I’m facing men in a similar situation."
On New Year’s Eve 2018 I decided to check my weight on the scales - something I hated doing. I was 31st 8lbs. It clicked then. I wasn’t just a couple of stone over weight, I was on my way to an early death.
Within a couple of weeks I’d signed up and I’ve never looked back. My last weigh-in was just before Christmas and I’d lost 15 stone 4.
I’m 29 now so for 16 years I hadn’t kicked a ball. The opportunity to play football again was a big factor. I loved playing as a kid but as the weight started coming - I’ve been overweight since I was maybe 13 or 14 - I lost the confidence to play. Everyone was fitter than me, I was out of breath. It just wasn't enjoyable. For any person that’s over weight to be asked if they want to play football, there’s always that “oh, I’m not fit enough,” but MAN v FAT have created something where it’s not intimidating to have a go. There’s a comfort to being in the same boat as everyone else you’re with, teammates and the teams you’re up against.
This isn't to say it's always easy, because it's not. There are dark days where we need picking up, but your teammates are there for you. For men, that’s so important. Before I tried MAN v FAT, I tried Weight Watchers and Slimming World and things like that. The majority of the people there were women. They’re successful and people get the weight off, but as a man, I felt a bit uncomfortable talking to women about the problems I was having. I can open up a lot more about those problems when I’m facing men in a similar situation.
I'd encourage anyone considering it to come down for a couple of sessions. It soon becomes a very important part of your life.
Ready to sign up? MAN v FAT Football are offering you the chance to register for just £1 - use the code POUNDREG before January 31st when you visit the MAN v FAT Football website.