A little help from an Irish ex-footballer has a big impact on bullied youngster

PRIOR TO THIS week, Gary Dempsey had only been back to Dunfermline once since his spell as a player in Scotland ended in 2006.

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A message he received via Twitter convinced him that it was time to return to the town where he spent three years earning a living.

Gary Dempsey playing for Dunfermline Athletic in 2004.

Source: EMPICS Sport

Ollie Young is an eight-year-old supporter of Dunfermline Athletic, the club for whom Dempsey played in the 2004 Scottish Cup final against Celtic at Hampden Park.

Having been bullied at school for being “terrible at football”, Ollie wrote “I hate myself” in a letter he left for his mother, the content of which caused understandable concern for his parents.

His father subsequently reached out to Dempsey in search of a message of support that might lift his son’s spirits. As an active advocate for mental health, the 39-year-old former footballer from Wexford was eager to help. 

“Ollie’s dad was just hoping for a short video, but I knew as soon as I read the message that 20 seconds of a video wasn’t going to cut it in this situation. I felt that more could be done,” explains the father-of-two.

“I had a chat with Ollie on the phone and privately I told his dad that I’d see if we could organise something with the club. I suppose you just go into dad mode in a situation like that.”

On Tuesday, Dempsey flew to Edinburgh and took the 20-minute drive up the road to Dunfermline, a journey he first made back in 2002 after leaving Waterford United. He played 80 games for the East End Park outfit before moving to Aberdeen.

The letter written by eight-year-old Ollie Young.

Source: Twitter

An FA Youth Cup winner with Everton, the midfielder also represented Bray Wanderers, St Patrick’s Athletic and Shelbourne, as well as having spells in England with Yeovil Town and Darlington.

In addition to running his own gym in Wicklow Town, Dempsey is now the first-team manager at successful Wexford junior club North End United.

“It was a really nice day over there with Ollie,” he says. “We had it all planned out. I picked him up from school and we went back to his house then for a chat and a bite to eat. We did a coaching session for any young kids who wanted to come along and then that night we went to the game. He got the VIP treatment, which he was delighted with.”

After watching from the director’s box, Ollie was asked to select the man of the match from the Scottish Championship match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

Dempsey then presented him with one of his shirts from his days as a Dunfermline player. The youngster has also been invited by the Scottish FA to serve as a mascot for the Euro 2020 play-off against Israel.

“Having made my living out of playing football, for an eight-year-old child to be feeling that way about himself and contemplating not playing again because of what some bully had said to him was unthinkable,” says Dempsey. “You barely know left from right when you’re eight so you certainly shouldn’t be thinking of giving up sport at such a young age.

“This was a tough situation but we’ve had a really happy ending to it. Ollie is determined now to keep going with his football. Hopefully the few bits and bobs that are going on in the school will be sorted out now so that he can just get on with being a child. 

“The most important thing for Ollie was that he actually spoke up. He wrote it in a letter to his mum – I thought it was fantastic for an eight-year-old boy to be able to put his feelings down on paper like that. When his parents saw that letter, it broke their hearts.

“As parents, we always have to try and keep an eye out for stuff like this, just in case there are small signs that something is going on that’s not right. School can be challenging for a lot of kids and social media is becoming another place for it as well.

“Even with Ollie’s mum and dad, they said there had been a couple of small incidents but they really weren’t aware that there was an ongoing thing that had been affecting him.

“Hopefully as a society we can start being a little bit kinder and more aware of the consequences that our words and actions can have for others.

“The message here to kids is the same one that can be given to adults: if you’re not feeling okay, speak up. Asking for help is a very brave thing to do and that goes right across the board for everyone, young and old.”

Source: Twitter

The importance of emotional wellbeing is a topic that’s close to Dempsey’s heart. As an ambassador for the Back Onside charity, he has been posting videos on Twitter in an effort to promote mental health awareness.

“When I do these videos I get a lot of messages, some of them from players I’ve played with. There are so many people out there who are struggling. That’s the reality.

“All I want to do is encourage people to speak up, and that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you do. If these videos I’m putting out end up convincing just one person to go and ask for help, that’ll be job done as far as I’m concerned.”

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