The new season is upon us and I’m really looking forward to seeing it unfold. It embraces us through the autumn and winter, into the new spring.
As the nights begin to close in, and the cold air nips at your kidneys, the thought that football will be there to take us by the hand and get us through it all, is actually a great comfort. As yet, 2016-2017 is an untold story, it’s plot twists unknown. That’s why it’s so interesting.
But, a few years ago, this wasn’t the case for me. I had realised a terrible thing: I had fallen out of love with football. This wasn’t the first time it had happened. I drifted away from the game from 1979-1983 due to certain other lifestyle choices, which had involved leaving the planet, and I’d had a haitus in 1988 to 1990 because of the prevalance of violence and death. But this latest bout of football doubt was less to do with the actual game and more to do with the culture around it, especially, though not exclusively, online.
From the comments sections, to Twitter and elsewhere, it felt like the dogs of hell had been let loose. Decency, empathy and friendliness seemed to have been replaced by an amoral, cold viciousness which gloried in its own vitriol. Everyone seemed intent on attacking everyone else. And god forbid you professed liking or enjoying something or someone, that seemed to be a crime that must be torn down and stamped upon. All the worst aspects of the human were being laid bare, souring football. It felt like all the good people had left town along with Doctor Feelgood.
I was especially vulnerable at the time because I was in the middle of a deep depressive period, when the yearning, dark unbearably melancholic void inside me hurt so much that at times I doubted my ability to survive it. As I curled up in a ball and cried a silent scream that lasted for months, I knew something had to be done. I had got to a ‘change it, or end it,’ moment.
So I turned inward to improve the outward, looked at my own behaviour, how I thought and talked about football, footballers and everything else around the game. Because actually, I saw it was a microcosm of how I was dealing (or not dealing) with life. I used football to get well.
Was I really so different to the worst excesses I was seeing online? In some ways yes, very different, but in too many I wasn’t. I too was caught up in too many negatives and not embracing enough positives. I was, in part, the architect of my own misery. I had become defined by what I hated, not what I loved. If I was going to keep on living, I had to change.
So, to try and get well, as part of a greater alteration of how I dealt with life, I made a conscious attempt to make those changes, using football as the springboard. And it worked. I shed attitudes, feelings and defaults that were dark and useless, and had only dragged my soul towards where the black dog lives, and you know the black dog is always hungry for more souls. I developed strategies to negate the negatives. Football tests those strategies very well. But, thank god, they worked.
I began to enjoy, not just football, but (much more importantly) life. It helped me climb out of the abandoned quarry of despair and I found my way to the lush upland pastures of contentment. Following George Carlin’s maxim, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things”, I wrote a new agenda for myself to live by, if at all possible.
They are ideals which I don’t always manage to stick to, but I do always return to. It changed both the shape of my mind and the state of my mind. It allowed light to shine where once there seemed only infinite darkness.
Since then, through my writing, I’ve heard from so many people (mainly men) who were in a similar dark place, so I pass it on here to you in case you are walking on a similar grim road to nowhere, with no direction home, feeling beaten down by the world and finding things hard to bear.
It’s not a universal panacea for happiness, obviously. We’re all built in different ways, created from a unique personal blend of DNA, life and experience. But football was such a big thing in my life, I found that tackling my football life and making it better, meant that everything else fell in place behind that change.
So this is what I call my 13-step desiderata of football. I hope it’s of use to someone who is having a tough time. If you are, trust me, better days lie ahead. Really, they do:
– Be affectionate, don’t hate, and don’t engage with hate. Football should be good fun and no good comes from hate. It’s a dead end that drags you, and anyone else your hate touches, down.
– Don’t get angry at football. It’s not appropriate. What will it achieve? Replace anger with empathy or laughter, disappointment or even resignation.
– Always look for the good in a game. It makes you happier and adds to everyone’s pleasure. Dominant negative emotions just makes you angry and miserable.
– Celebrate and appreciate people’s loves and passions for things in the game, even if you don’t share them.
– Educate yourself about anything and everything. Knowing stuff is life-affirming and a psychic defence against the aggressively ignorant, who can be so upsetting.
– Laugh at absurdities whenever you can, but don’t be cruel. If you have to be critical, don’t be unfair or overly harsh even about those you dislike. You are not better than anyone.
– Don’t default to tribalism, group-think, small or narrow-mindedness. remember, negativity attracts negativity; positivity attracts positivity.
– ”The love you take is equal to the love you make”. You can’t expect to receive without first giving.
– Don’t engage with the ignorant and horrible, it only feeds the darkness.
– Always have good manners. They are the grease that prevents friction. Knowing you’ve behaved well bolsters the spirit.
– Opinions other than your own may be more valid. Open-mindedness leads to opportunities. Remember, “the spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow.”
– Remember that no hierarchy, institution or status quo is forever, and that change is always possible. Now is over very quickly; life a small ripple in the vast sea of existence. Don’t get weighed down by Now and what it means.
– Find an image that makes you feel good, and have it to hand to look at when you feel down, or negative.
Feeling sad? Feeling tense? Me too. But here's Joe Allen holding a hen….there…that feels better, doesn't it? pic.twitter.com/bSmxKBe3Ns
— John Nicholson (@JohnnyTheNic) June 29, 2016
(I use this one, at the moment. Aw, it’s lovely, isn’t it? Somehow Joe and the hen share the same expression. This improves any moment by 250%)
And that’s it. Nothing highbrow. All quite basic really, but I’ve found it an invaluable support mechanism. It helps get you safely back to harbour when you’re on stormy seas.
As it’s the start of a new season, if feeling low, unhappy or depressed is a thing in your life, what better time to put some new strategies in place to live a healthier, happier life and using football to light your way.