Someone said to me last night that a Saturday without football is like bacon without eggs. Every so often, I quite like bacon without eggs.
It occurred to me this morning, as I lay in bed eating scrambled eggs (without bacon, I might add) that many people were feeling an emptiness at the lack of football. Now, I may be in a minority, but I do not. I feel a refreshing lack of pressure, a lack of expectancy this afternoon. I love football, I love Lincoln City, but a free Saturday in the season makes me feel fresh and invigorated.
Why? Mainly because I can watch results without that fear when an opponent surges forward, or the expectancy if a lowly club is coming to play at our ground. I can enjoy the football world without a vested interest, with only highs and no lows. Let’s be honest, until around April, other club’s results don’t actually matter. So we drop down a couple of places today, so what? I don’t recall trophies being handed out by November 19th for anything, do you? In truth, today is just an episode of Game of Thrones in which you know your favourite character isn’t going to get killed. Somewhere, across the whole Football League, there will be a result you can enjoy and that means at 5 pm, no matter what Shaw Stockbridge does, no matter how much Paul Lambert moans or what injuries you have, you can be happy.
The tweets about how empty people felt did make me a little sad though. I recall, once upon a time, where I had nothing in my life apart from football. My life, my mental health, everything reached a nadir in 2010/11, and if I were doing a ‘ten years ago’ series it wouldn’t just include football matches, but solitary drinking binges at home, a desperate emptiness six days a week, fights, broken bones and a genuine belief that I wouldn’t see the 2020/21 season. That is how bad it got at times and whilst I’ve surged onwards and upwards since, it occurred to me that right now, a Lincoln City fan might be in that same hopeless spiral, desperately needing a Saturday afternoon to cling on to. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been able to get out and watch City, and although social media does connect people, it can be more toxic than going to a football match and sitting three seats apart from your friends with a mask on (but not as toxic as going to the ballet, inside, and removing your mask). Ten years ago I may as well have been in lockdown, I had no money to get out the house and would spend Friday evening until Monday morning in my living room, unless the Imps were playing.
I would be a hypocrite if I urged people to get something else in their life other than football because things don’t happen that way, they didn’t for me. If you had tried to tell me back in 2010 I would have replied: ‘I do, I smoke and drink too’, and then blocked you on social media. I get it, I understand how all-encompassing the Imps can be and what a solace a game of football offers from the darkness and misery of depression, anxiety and ultimately, fear of the future. Football will always be there, that was my mantra back in 2010. I’ll always have football and during the summer, I’ll have sunshine and alcohol. I’m fine.
Lockdown, 2020 as a whole, football’s restrictions, they are all placing a huge amount of strain on people’s mental health. I’ve had at least three friends chat to me over the last couple of days just admitting that actually, they are struggling. It might not be to the levels of despair, but that aspects of life right now are getting them down, to varying degrees. They don’t splash it all over social media, I wouldn’t have, but they are struggling. Who knows, your best mate might be struggling right now and not feel comfortable discussing it.
In my eyes, there are ways and means to discuss problems. I never was a status writer, splashing how sad I was all over social media. I wanted to project strength, wit and ‘I’m fine’, so I did. If you ‘talk’ on a status or a tweet, rather than a DM, you are throwing too much out there, and every person who doesn’t ‘like’ the tweets or post could be (in a sense) rejecting you, or that’s how it will feel. Mental health doesn’t mean one thing, it doesn’t mean two, or ten things. It can be serious as hell, or it can be troubling but manageable. However, whether in physical health you have a cold or a terminal illness, you seek help. Help, in the very basic sense, can just be reaching out to someone and saying ‘hey, how are you?’, or ‘just checking in pal, what you up to today’. Who knows, it might be that the person you reach out to feels disconnected too, and that by talking about anything at all, you ease their burden a little.
A Saturday with football is not demonic and a harbinger of doom. It is not empty and desolate either. It is a chance, an opportunity to reach out and chat with someone, to indulge in a conversation about anything at all. I’ll finish with something I learned when I studied hypnosis many moons ago. One of the first sessions I went into, my tutor told me ‘the mind map is not a territory‘, which means that how you think things are, is not how they necessarily are. You might think all is lost and nobody will understand and that might feel real to you, but the map of the world your mind creates is not how the world and people actually are. Use today to rewrite your map, to say hello to someone you are friends with but haven’t messaged in a while. Stay connected, help each other and it will soon be Tuesday and the Pizza Trophy game against Manchester City kids which means absolutely nothing at all in real terms, but will likely mean everything to action-starved Imps.
Okay, this went a bit off tangent. I was going to talk produce a light-hearted article about football not being the ‘be all and end all’ of a weekend, and instead turned it into some sort of call to arms to be kind to people. Look, in recent weeks, I have been a bit vocal about not speaking out about mental health too much, or rather critical in private conversations of those who use it as a shield incessantly, to deflect or protect themselves. The point is, there is so much discussion now, it can actually drown out those who need to talk, but don’t feel they can. One voice can struggle to be heard in the ocean of noise and it is important to understand that. Talking about mental health doesn’t have to be a big declaration on social media, it doesn’t have to be ‘speaking out’ as such. It can be speaking to one person, and just saying ‘I haven’t dealt with this month well’, and going from there. Remember, if you cut your arm and it gets infected, the wound will get worse and worse. If you suffer a little bit this week from a lack of game and lockdown, that can be like the first cut of a wound. It opens the mind to potential problems as you mull things over and let your mind fester. On the other hand, not all bouts of feeling a bit low lead to anything else. It is important to be aware of that and know that talking, without even going into deep details, can help cure those little cuts before they need more attention. Dammit, now even my line at the end of the article’ has turned a bit preachy. I’m off to write something derogatory about the 2010/11 team to help lift my no-game blues.