Breaking Barriers with Gifford Manyange

Breaking Barriers with Gifford Manyange

For Gifford, football is the language that helped him settle into a new country, learn a new culture and combat loneliness.
How often do we truly reflect on our lives?

It was a special moment for Gifford Manyange, when, after speaking about his lifelong love and passion for football, that he realised the sport had not only been a constant in his life, but it had helped shape who he was as a person, played a part in his choice of career and continues to inspire him to succeed.

Gifford’s journey began in Zimbabwe where growing up as a young boy he remembers watching major football tournaments together with his local community. Such was his passion for the game, he and his friends would play games of street football using homemade balls and recreating iconic goals and moments of their favourite players.

Even at such a young age, to Gifford, football meant friendship.

So, at fourteen, when his family emigrated to the UK, Gifford found himself as a young teenager in a new country, starting at a new school and needing to make new friends.

We often hear the saying that football is an international language, that you can go almost anywhere in the world and kick a ball and those around you will understand. For Gifford, the language of football is what helped him settle into a new country, learn a new culture and combat loneliness.

The game continued to support him through his school years, and then, as a young adult playing Sunday League in High Wycombe. It wasn’t until an injury side-lined his playing career that he was introduced to Refereeing.

As he continued to recover from injury he took to officiating and this new pathway in the game provided a lifeline for Gifford as he found he could still be involved in football, although not playing, refereeing meant he didn’t haven’t to miss out.

He enjoyed it so much that he spoke to his family about doing the official Referee Course. There was one in Wycombe that he could walk to and this led to opportunities to officiate games in the Wycombe Wanderers Youth set up once he passed the course.

Just being in a professional set up inspired Gifford to want to strive for more.

Berks & Bucks FA Referee, Gifford Manyange

Now, over a decade since he first qualified as a Referee, Gifford has advance from youth games to adult and has risen through the ranks of the FA CORE programme, this season gaining promotion to Level 3 as he continues his journey in the game alongside working full-time as a Sports Therapist.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a referee is the friendships he has made with others from within the football community. However, Gifford notes that the journey as a referee hasn’t always been easy.

Feelings of being isolated as a referee as well as setbacks and delays on the pathway to progression brought their own mental health challenges.

As a result, Gifford is committed to bringing an end to the stigma around mental health and football and breaking down barriers that exist, particularly for men, that make it difficult to open up and talk about their feelings.

As well as small daily actions of movement and mindfulness to help support his mental health Gifford also notes the role of his local Referee Association in helping support his journey, both as a young referee and now, as he continues his journey.

Such is his belief in the power of football to help change people’s lives and support mental wellbeing, he was motivated to get involved in mental health awareness initiatives run by Berks & Bucks FA including at a Mental Health & Football Panel at Wycombe Wanderers, and as a member of our newly launched Mental Health Ambassador network.

For Gifford, his life-long love of the game has played an important role in his personal and professional development and, as he continues this journey the sport plays a key part in his mental and physical wellbeing.

Through his own personal experiences, Gifford was motivated to advocate for better mental health and he hopes that his story will inspire others to do the same.

If you’d like to find out more about becoming a Referee please contact our Referee Development Officer, Adam Parry via email.

For more information about football and mental health and how you can get involved in local initiatives please contact Hans Cook via email.

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