For now, football has gone – it’s not important that it’s not happening – but it can pose some mental health challenges for fans and footballers.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
For what feels like an eternity, football has not been happening across the world due to the ongoing response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. It’s something that I am struggling with.
Whilst I am not missing the game per say, it offered some kind of structure for when day-to-day life got too hectic, when work was too much or when I was just downright bored. I knew that Saturday or Sunday, there was going to be a reason for myself to sit down and watch twenty-two individuals kick a ball around – and there was often the treat of a midweek showing too.
This structure, for many people, is important. Whether it’s sitting down on a cold plastic seat at Villa Park, or the cool leather of your sofa, football offered an escape from the mundane. It’s the structure, or lack thereof, that has hit me the most.
For others, it may be the banter, the meeting up with friends before a game, or even just watching the club they love. It has all been reduced to conversation and attempts at filling time via social media.
Our innate, programmed system of rhythm, habit and consistency works best when routines are followed. Bodies and minds work better when they are exercised on a fairly consistent schedule, and the same goes for resting them too. Pattern and habit help our brains to process things a little easier – because if you think about it – our brains have a lot going on a lot of the time.
That’s changed now and for the forseeable future. The change was unexpected, and replacing the behaviour of getting ready for a 3pm kick-off is going to be hard for some.
It’s going to be hard for the players too. According to author and journalist Michael Calvin, in his book State of Play: Under the Skin of the Modern Game, he states that professional footballers are often emotionally stunted people due to the stresses placed on them in the footballing world – stopping them from showing sensitivity in fear of being perceived as weak.
But players have openly discussed mental health issues before. They can come for a number of reasons, but some may be effected through lack of involvement or struggling with a long term injury. The break that is currently ongoing is akin to being fully fit but not even making the squad on a match day. Players are all dressed up, but with nowhere to go.
The consistent ebb and flow of news surrounding what’s going on is not going to help those struggling with their mental health. There is news about death, struggles and strife – paired with the coverage of the heroics of frontline National Health Service workers and key workers.
Avoiding a lot of this news is important to remaining in a positive mindset, yet for those with a vested interest in the footballing season, consistent use of social media to try and find out the latest of what’s happening at their club and within the league, from the Premier League to the Bundesliga and further afield, there is bound to be some overlap in what fans are seeing on a day to day basis.
Boredom is another issue, and is a universal experience that will hit fans and footballers alike – and there’s a common misconception that boredom is ‘having nothing to do’. In fact, it is the want to be stimulated paired with the inability to connect with your environment. It’s a lack of fulfilment that could be achieved when your team win, or through training for players, if we were to push it towards fans and footballers.
Both fans and footballers are exposed to the adrenaline of the game, of a 90th minute winner, of scoring a half-volley in front of the stadium’s biggest stand. That’s not happening right now, and is likely to cause the world to move a little too slowly for a number of people. There is a sensation to be sought within football, the feeling of elation or the feeling of despair – depending on the club’s predicament – but those feelings have been replaced with the simplicity of longing for them instead.
In other areas of mental health, this lack of anything to do can be problematic also. John Eastwood (PhD) of York University in Toronto found that, especially in men, over-eating and excessive gambling can be results of boredom and a lack of stimuli.
On a personal level, I miss having something to write about. I miss planning my weekends and at times, weekdays, around making sure I could see my beloved club play football. I’d often feel bad, especially this season, following the game – but it would be short lived. Now I just feel bad that there’s nothing at all. The structure has gone, and it’s down to me to find something to fill that void.
Hopefully, you are all handling this odd experience. It’s a heavy boat that we’re all packed into, floating towards an uncertain future in the thing we’re all so obsessed with. I’m sure players are experiencing very similar feelings.
It’s not important right now, of course, in the grand scheme of things. But isolation, boredom and the loss of something important to you can be a bitter, exhausting cocktail if you drink it in too quickly.