THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: HOW FOOTBALL SAVED MY LIFE
I often write angrily about those who would do football clubs harm. Those greedy Premier League officials or those vile owners who indulge while the club falls apart around them. Why do I get so agitated? Because it matters. This is why it matters to me.
Several times this year and last, football, and its tremendous power of community, saved my life.
Last year, I was paralytic with anxiety and depression, so much so I had to leave my job due to health reasons. I had hardly left my house and was fearful in crowds, something that the extrovert in myself, was not used to. While I was trying to make steps and was good at reaching out, I had withdrawn into myself.
I am lucky to be surrounded by brilliant friends who managed to drag me back to see my local team, they made it as simple as possible for me but refused to leave me behind.
Every time I tried to leave the house, tension pulsed through my body as I was once again in territory that, to my depressed head, was unsafe. The typical thoughts swirled through my head unchecked about doing something stupid or letting someone down, about not being to have fun while I was feeling so pathetic. This caused my heartbeat to rise and panic to set in.
This had happened a lot and I had entered into a cycle of self-sabotage where I didn’t face up to these unchecked voices and let my body be taken by misery. I constantly felt like a fraud and was even angry at myself for being depressed as I thought it may be my body allowing me to be lazy. But the physical reaction and the way I had changed proved that this was a real problem.
I was searching for help and luckily I have a very understanding fiancé and family. My friends are brilliant too, very often checking in on me, making sure I was okay. A couple of them decided to make sure I kept going to see my local team, Charlton, play. They picked me up and drove me and forced me to go.
The same reactions occurred, the overwhelming tension, the flood of negative thoughts and I felt sick to my stomach. However I went and did something I enjoyed for the first time in a good few months. Once I got to our usual spot in the Covered End, my thoughts were no longer about myself but about the game of football being played. I was taken with the force of the crowd and soon was shouting along with the rest of them. Only after did I realise that all these symptoms of depression evaporated for the duration of that game, and the others I went to afterwards.
I am not saying football cured my depression. But the ease to which I was able to join the terraces and become one of many let me forget myself and relax.
It took many months of hard work to become more resilient and get back to the ‘old me’ and I still follow little dips now and then. But one thing I learned from therapy is to do more of the things you would do when you are less depressed. Escapism works and there is no other escapism like football. It totally envelopes the mind. I would say that being a Charlton fan is part of me as much as needing glasses is.
Going to the games, joining in the chants meant that I could be part of that old me just for a couple of hours. All of this was in spite of the team I was supporting being relegated. This was enough to get me to face the harder challenges such as therapy.
It is a good thing that I was able to become more resilient, as 2020 has thrown all of us enough things that would allow the strongest of us to sink.
Despite the attempts of many, Charlton survived ownership chaos as was there during the turbulent times of lockdown.
I have already written about how I was lucky enough to be able to bond with my dad over Chartlon’s season, as his wife was cruelly taken by cancer. It was something we could focus on during the months of uncertainty of her condition, and allowed a brief reprieve from the brutality of the real world.
It may be just a reprieve but it is an important one and one that I was able to share with my Dad and brothers.
That is why I find football so important and that is why I get so angry at those who wish to take it away from the communities and people, just like myself, who really need it.