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“What’s wrong with men crying?” – Stamford player who broke down on reality TV

Stamford AFC player Stacey Freeman, who broke down on reality TV, opens up on why men talking about their emotions is a strength.

The 23 year old has spoken from the heart to the BBC ahead of what is set to be a poignant weekend for him when facing Stockport County in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round at the weekend.

He wears a white wristband in memory of Connor Saunders, who died from head injuries after being attacked in the street.

19 year old Connor, who played for Peacehaven and Telscombe Football Club, died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton just a day the assault.

“We played football together, went to the same school, shared the same friends,” says Freeman, who broke down in tears when he appeared in the E4 reality show Shipwrecked in 2019.

stacey freeman on Twitter: "Shipwrecked is back and I'm arriving Monday  9pm. Tune in to see what island I decide to join! 🐯🦈🌴#Shipwrecked  #e4shipwrecked @E4Tweets @e4shipwrecked @Channel4… https://t.co/JyhmlL8Y0s"

Stamford player who broke down on reality TV

Now 28-year-old defender Stacey Freeman wants to encourage men to open up about their feelings instead of keeping it bottled up and potentially suffer mentally.

“You don’t actually say how much you love someone until they are gone,” says Freeman, who is expected to play against Northern Premier League Division One Midlands outfit Stamford at Edgeley Park in the fourth qualifying round on Saturday.

“It had a big impact on our lives in the friend group.”

Freeman, a former model and body double, says men talking about their emotions is a strength – not a weakness and that prior to appearing on reality TV, he struggled to open up but says the show taught him to speak out about his feelings.

“Never bottle things up and feel comfortable being you,” he says.

“I grew up boxing with older brothers. I know how to handle myself but there I was crying on television.”

Freeman remembers the moment he broke down on the set of Shipwrecked, the show set on beaches of Cook Islands, doing certain tasks, going through eliminations and watching blazing rows erupt.

He had been tasked with sending two people home and had to decide who to get rid of.

“I was crying because those people were having a good time and I had connected with them,” he says. “I was thinking to myself ‘I’ve been crying for a solid 15-20 minutes and it’s going to be on national TV’.

“I wasn’t scared how I would be portrayed. Being on Shipwrecked unlocked a part of me I never knew existed.

“It made me realise I am an emotional person. What’s the problem with crying and showing your emotions?

“Prior to the show I struggled to open up. Growing up, I tried to be a tough guy. I’d break up with a girl and not be bothered.”

Freeman’s friend Connor was tragically killed by just one punch in Brighton in 2012, and nine years on, he often gets emotional talking about him.

Connor Saunders death: Boy cleared of killing teenager - BBC News

The wristband he wears during matches features Connor’s initials and favourite shirt number – as well as the number of lives he saved by donating his organs.

“He made the selfless decision at the age of 16 to become an organ donor. Because of that he saved five lives,” says Freeman.

“Every single game I say a little prayer in my head for Connor.”

Six years after Connor’s tragic death, Freeman was assaulted while on a night out in Brighton.

He was celebrating with his team-mates at Lewes after learning he was about to be offered a contract with Stevenage following a trial at the League Two club.

The contract unfortunately didn’t happen. Freeman picked up an ankle injury during the incident in 2018 which required lengthy treatment.

“I was devastated at the time,” he says.

Freeman, who studied criminology at university in the United States, adds: “Someone called my name and as I turned I was punched in the face.

“A police officer who intervened landed on my ankle. I woke up the next morning with my foot the size of a rugby ball.

“A few days earlier I had played an in-house game for Stevenage and got a phone call from the recruitment officer saying they were going to offer me something.

“The offer never came.”

Following the appearance on Shipwrecked, he gained thousands of Instagram followers and a modelling contract that took him to South Africa’s Cape Town for three months.

Since the loss of some reality TV stars in recent years, those going into the shows have warned about the impact of being on them can have on mental health.

Freeman, however, says his five weeks on Shipwrecked proved a “life-changing” experience as he learned to open up about his feelings.

“It taught me gratitude and so much about myself. For that I’m forever grateful,” he adds.

Two years after from the programme being aired, he has no plans to appear on reality TV again.

He has now moved from the south coast to Lincolnshire to be with his girlfriend, Terri. The couple announced their engagement, while Freeman has quit modelling to concentrate on running his recruitment agency specialising in construction and engineering.

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A post shared by Stacey Freeman (@sf_freeman)

He currently plays for Stamford – who play in the eighth tier of English football and are the last remaining team that started this season’s FA Cup at the extra preliminary round stage.

It is a world away from the Cook Islands, where Freeman chased fame and fortune, with the footballer now saying “I have put all that behind me.”

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