Danny Mills: the man with a foot in both camps. He’s enjoyed a prosperous football career, taking him from Crawley to Carshalton, Torquay to Tamworth, but now the 31-year old forward has settled in south London.
And he’s hastily etching his name onto the bricks of Champion Hill – a vibrant, social venue that stands for progressiveness, laughs, pretentious IPA’s and, of course, football. Sound familiar? The resemblance between The Hawks and The Hamlet is uncanny. On the terraces, up the stairs, in the voices… it’s all akin. No surprise, then, that it suits Mills down to an absolute tee.
An advocate for mental health awareness, Mills set up the ‘Shout Out for Mental Health Campaign’ during the pandemic, spotlighting the damaging effects mental health has on so many people, encouraging those that are feeling anxious or alone to talk to someone, to reassure them, and to tell them that they are not alone in this.
A couple of Februarys ago now, when the world was a transformed into some blurry, forgotten nightmare, the dawn of this campaign arose with a series of joint online initiatives that housed ‘The Big Virtual Match’, a fans’ quiz night and an evening with Mills and guests on zoom, with funds raised via a JustGiving page.
It was in pre-season of 2022 that this was previously discussed. Whitehawk hosting The Hamlet on a scorching summer afternoon, playing for the inaugural Shout Out for Mental Health Cup. An excellent day indeed, but much has happened to the two clubs in those 15 months that have since followed, yet Mills’ mindset on mental wellbeing has always stayed the same. “I sort of had an idea with a few of the fans at Whitehawk to start a mental health campaign, highlighting the effects that football has on the mental health of not only players, but fans as well.“
“I think at the time it was just a way of bringing everyone together to have something to talk about, and also to have something to do whilst football wasn’t on. Not having football affected all of us: players, staff, the fans – it’s the latter’s livelihood really, going to games on a weekend. And without that it was tough for a lot of people, it’s where people have their social interactions with everyone and not having that was tough, so I think being able to have the campaign to host different events for 4-6 weeks was really the driver behind it.”
It’s an incredible initiative, but Mills remains humble in his approach. Football has given him a voice, and he uses it wiser than most. “I think as players and as people, if we’re privileged enough to be in any sort of position where we can help or influence, then I think we should try and do that,” he added.
“I’m no one famous or anyone big, but I think with the small platform that I do have I wanted to try and use it as well as I can. I was lucky enough to be at Whitehawk for five years, I’ve been at Dulwich Hamlet now going on five years so I really wanted to try and give back to these football clubs because they’ve given so much to me, and I think the campaign was a way of giving my time to those clubs, and it was great that I had the support of both of them during that campaign.”
When asked about the response from the campaign, Mills replied: “We had a lot of people join our calls, we had a lot of people donate as well, managing to raise just over £3000 in a very short period of time, and a time where people were struggling financially as well, so I definitely feel that it’s had a really big impact.“
“Even the fact that we’re still able to have this conversation now about it is a real positive, and it goes to show how influential it was.” Mental health doesn’t discriminate, and with World Mental Health Day taking place just a short while ago, it’s crucial to remind everyone that they are never alone when they’re feeling low. Mills’ brilliant work is just an example of what can be achieved with a relatively small platform, but there’s so much more to do that can only happen if everyone plays their part.
Now entering his fifth season at SE22, Mills returns to the club where he enjoyed his greatest success. It’s a big day for him, and there’s little doubting the reception he’ll receive as he strides out onto The Enclosed Ground’s pitch on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m really looking forward to it!” he began. “I was saying to a few of the boys and to my family that it will be the first time I’ve gone back to Whitehawk to play them in a competitive fixture since I left in 2017. I’ve always said and maintained that without Whitehawk, there would be no Danny Mills.”
“I wouldn’t have had the platform that I have, I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had without the football club so it will always be a home for me. I’ll always love the people there: the fans, the volunteers, and everyone in and around it.”