Diabetes Football Community Founder Turns Isolation Into Positive Action
Chris Bright smiling and pointing to the left whilst on a football field
Photo credit: Chris Bright

'My Life Had Changed': The Diabetes Football Community Founder Channelling Pain Into Positive Action

Ella Kipling February 25, 2023

If you asked most of us what we were doing on any given Saturday 30 years ago, we probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Chris Bright, however, would inform you without hesitation that he was on a football pitch in Redditch with muddy knees and ruddy cheeks, with both parents cheering on from the sidelines. He was like most children – free, energetic, and seemingly never able to tire when doing something they love. And Chris really loved football. Until suddenly, the Saturday afternoons he always looked forward to became a source of anxiety.

Chris was thirstier than usual, going to the toilet more, and tiring sooner when he was playing football. In 1999, at the age of nine, Chris played his usual game on Saturday and headed home for the weekend. Two days later, he was taken to hospital and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. 

“I was okay on Saturday,” Chris looks back. “On Monday, my life had changed. It was a huge shock.”

The diagnosis permeated through these sacred weekends of football, but Chris felt unable to deal with or even talk about his condition for over a decade. After overcoming a series of health hurdles to make it in the professional game, he looked back at his youth and realised he needed to do more for the young boys and girls playing football with diabetes and feeling alone. Hence, The Diabetes Football Community was born. 

Despite Chris and his parents’ determination to carry on as usual following his diagnosis, diabetes meant a lot of structure was put in place in Chris’s life. 

“I had to inject at a particular time of the day. And I had to eat at the same time almost every single day to try and avoid going into hypoglycemia, blood glucose dropping too low or conversely trying to make sure I didn’t go too high as well.”

He returned to football immediately, being a “naively brave” child who did not yet fully understand his condition. But all of this new health management meant that each week there were hours of preparation put in so that he could enjoy a single 90-minute game. 

“Even then it’s not a guarantee”, he explained. “Because you can still go wrong, and you still might have to come off or you still might not be able to play, but you’re just trying as hard as you can to manage it to try and ensure you can go and enjoy it on a Saturday or Sunday.”

Credit: Chris Bright

The thing he loved the most – the carefree element of being able to go outside for a kickabout – had disappeared from his life. This was isolating; a feeling that was exacerbated by the fact that Chris knew no one else in his life with diabetes, let alone anyone in football. 

“You think you’re the only person that’s living with type one that’s playing football”, he sighs. “So I was growing up thinking I was on my own”. 

Chris continued playing throughout school and university, and then gained his first international cap representing Wales in futsal. This gave way to a moment of reflection: Chris had achieved his biggest goal but it had not been an easy road. He finally had time for something else in his life and decided to try to connect with others within the football community with diabetes by setting up a Twitter page called Diabetes Football.

“It was 26th February 2017. I remember the day obviously,” he smiles. 

The content mainly consisted of diabetes discussion within football and it quickly snowballed in popularity. Chris’s next step was to organise some meet-ups. 

“All of a sudden you grow this community which then spreads into ‘how do we turn it into something physical?’”

Chris took a trip to Lisbon that September to meet the Portugal Type One Diabetes Football Team and learn more about the DiaEuro, the European football championships for people with diabetes. While this tournament had been going on since 2012, the UK had never entered a team, and Chris was determined to change that. He achieved it the next year. 

Fast forward six years and The Diabetes Football Community (TDFC), as it is now aptly called, consists of around 50 people in the Midlands who meet up and play football and futsal each week. There are a further 100 men in the groupchat spread out across the UK and Ireland and a group chat for parents of children with diabetes who play football. Chris has put together a women’s team, educational resources, and hopes to grow the community even further with more teams playing across the country. 

Credit: Chris Bright

When Chris looks back on his childhood and remembers having no support from football coaches and feeling alone, he thinks to himself “you shouldn’t have had to go through that alone, you shouldn’t have had nobody else to reach out to”. 

Even as a teenager and young adult, Chris struggled to open up about his diabetes, so the difficulty for young men to share their feelings and discuss their health is something Chris is acutely aware of.

TDFC has been so successful in helping young men connect with one another because “we’ve used their language”, Chris explains. “Sport is one of the key languages for men”.

Meeting up and playing with fellow football players with diabetes has been helpful for Chris, who is still learning every day how to best manage his condition. Members of TDFC at meetups chat freely about their diabetes and give each other advice such as sharing tips on continuous glucose monitoring or what is coming next in diabetes innovation on the NHS. 

“There’s people from all different walks of life with all different backgrounds and knowledge about living with a condition. And you learn it from people. And you use football as a tool to bring people together.”

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Ella Kipling is an Entertainment and News Writer at GRV Media. She regularly writes a mixture of news and features for HITC and has been part of the team since 2020. After graduating from the University of Birmingham with a BA (Hons) in English Literature, Ella is currently studying for an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University. She has a keen interest in current affairs and can usually be found reading the news, with her nose in a book (and updating her Goodreads), talking about women’s rights, or listening to Showtunes.