Football fans and mental health campaigners have rallied to support David Cox, the Albion Rovers striker who dramatically retired from football mid-match on Thursday evening after he was allegedly subjected to taunts about his mental health.
The Scottish Football Association has launched an investigation after a claim that Cox had been mocked about an attempt to end his life by an opposition player, Stenhousemuir’s Jonathan Tiffoney. Tiffoney has denied the allegations.
Cox, who was on the bench, left Stenhousemuir’s ground at Ochilview at half-time after the alleged altercation, and immediately posted an emotional video on Facebook filmed in his car.
In it he declared he was “done with” football, saying: “We were having a to-and-fro with the bench. They had a go at my mental health and told me I ‘should have done it right the first time’.
“I promised myself the next time it happens I will walk off the park. I wasn’t playing, I am done with football completely. Some folk might not think it is a big deal, but I am fed up for it. I don’t get paid enough.
“I tried to speak to the referees about it, but they didn’t want to know because they didn’t hear it. We talk about racism, personal issues and because it is not heard by officials there is nothing they can do about it. So I am going to do something about it.”
The post was flooded with supportive comments from fans and shared thousands of times. Rovers went on to win 1-0.
In December 2019, while playing for Cowdenbeath, Cox told Sky Sports he had contemplated ending his life after suffering abuse from other players and fans over his mental health, and he has spoken openly about his struggles with depression and anxiety.
In a statement Albion Rovers said the incident “must not be downplayed”, offering Cox their “unconditional support” and noting they were proud to have Suicide Prevention North Lanarkshire as a club partner.
Stenhousemuir, who referred the incident to the Scottish FA on Friday, said they were “aware of a verbal altercation that took place between players from both Stenhousemuir and Albion Rovers during tonight’s match … both players are making claims of serious and wholly inappropriate comments being made during the game that have implications for player wellbeing and mental health”.
Back Onside, which campaigns for mental health support through sport and for whom Cox acts as a patron, said in a statement: “This week football quite rightly stands together against the abuse that is directed against players, clubs and officials.” It went on to warn “this is exactly the reason why players don’t want to reach out and talk about their mental health”.
Wendy Halliday, director of See Me, which campaigns to end mental health stigma and discrimination in Scotland, described Cox as “a brilliant advocate”, adding: “He has spoken out bravely to help normalise discussions, and make it easier for others who are struggling.
“No one should be made to feel ashamed to speak out about their mental health problems. We fully support David’s brave decision to speak publicly and welcome the support he has received from his club.”
Tiffoney described reports that he attacked Cox’s mental health as “simply untrue”. In a statement released through his lawyers on Friday, he said: “Throughout the first half of the game, I was subjected to abuse and disparaging comments from the Albion Rovers dugout. I did not react to these.
“David Cox, who was a substitute and not playing, was booked by the referee for entering the pitch and abusing me. I did not abuse him … I would never attack another player’s mental health or wellbeing and will fully cooperate with the Scottish FA investigation into this matter.”