A FORMER Manchester United footballer is taking part in a nostalgic charity walk to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Alan Tongue will walk from his home in Farnworth to United’s old training ground, The Cliff in Lower Broughton, prior to visiting another of the Red Devils’ former grounds at Ayrshire Road before ending up at Old Trafford.

The walk will raise money and awareness for Manchester Mind, an independent mental health charity, which delivers services to young people and adults.

Alan, 48, will take on the13.5 mile walk on Friday, August 21, alongside his sister Janine, daughter Lauren and son Sam.

Alan’s claim to fame is that he was the first of Sir Alex Ferguson’s signings at Manchester United, having been offered a scholarship at Old Trafford a couple of months into the Scottish manager’s time at the club.

He was released by the club a few of years later before signing for Exeter City who he played for between 1991-1994 before he had to retire early from football due to a spinal injury.

Alan, who started out playing for Bolton Lads Club, said: “I was a youth player and a young professional with Man Utd from 1986-1991 so we decided to walk to these United-themed venues where I used to train and play many years ago.

“Since coming away from professional sport early, I had my psychological struggles and mental health is an area I am really passionate about.”

Following his retirement at just 24, Alan worked odd jobs driving vans, while he watched former teammates like Ryan Giggs win a succession of trophies.

But thankfully Alan, who is originally from Little Lever, was able to turn his life around after studying for a degree in sports science at the University of Bolton and entering academia where he has been teaching within further and higher education for 16 years.

“I have been a lecturer in sports research for the last 16 years and I currently supervise student dissertations at UCFB, Etihad Campus around the topic,” he said. “I have also written a Masters degree in Philosophy (MPhil) and a PhD on the contemporary psychological challenges of professional football players.

“Last year I ran a charity golf event for Manchester Mind at Northenden Golf Club with my good friends Rachel Potts and Tom Buck which raised over £3,000.

“We had planned to do similar this year and try to beat the total raised, but sadly because of the coronavirus pandemic we have had to cancel and put on hold till next year.”

Studies have shown that footballers released early from their contracts suffer high rates of mental health problems.

Some even develop drug and alcohol problems as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that their schoolboy dreams may be over. Alan is keen to keep raising awareness of the topic.

“The aim is to raise awareness of mental health issues as well as some funds to go towards helping people open up and talk about their mental health struggles and challenges,” he added. “The current suicide rates are staggeringly high and opening up, talking to someone and getting the right support is as important as ever.”

You can donate to Alan’s walk here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alan-tonge1