Football, Mental Health and Hope

Credit: Pexels

Research has found that football improves your physical and mental health. Well, sometimes at least. Depending on the score? Depending on how successful your team is? I suppose these are pertinent questions and something to ponder throughout this article.

Football is one of my true passions and from as long as I can remember, I always kicked a ball or watched it on TV. Growing up in the West of Scotland, living in a high-rise flat, all you ever needed was a football and a few jumpers to get a kick about. From a young age, I idolised players on the TV like they were God’s. Players like Ronaldo (The Original Brazilian – and best), Zinidene Zidane and Gabriel Batistuta lit Channel 4 up like clockwork. I collected football stickers like there was no tomorrow and Craig Brewster doublers still give me the fear. Hamish French was the one that always got away! As a teenager the Madrid Galácticos on Sky Sports (Zidane and Ronaldo again) were a Sunday night ritual. It’s hard to put an exact timescale on it, but from around the pre-birth stage, I supported Glasgow Rangers. I idolised 9-in-a-row heroes like Super Ally McCoist and Andy Goram winning trophy after trophy and even gave Walter Smith a shout-out at my wedding speech. Football has always been a consistent factor throughout my life. When everything else falls away, football is there to give you a lift.

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Throughout my childhood one of my other passions was burning in my subconscious, supporting those that have struggles with their mental health. I cared deeply for the adults around me and was always tuned in when life became difficult for them. My Dad, who was my idol and showed me the ropes with all things football, has had his own rollercoaster journey with mental health and I have been by his side advocating for a better life for him. This resulted in me setting up a suicide prevention service in our local area, Man On! Inverclyde, a product of my passion for supporting mental health and wellbeing. “Man On”, despite being a wellbeing service is derived from the shout we hear on the football pitches with the hope that we will always feel someone close by in our community is available to talk us or be there when we need it, even at our darkest hour.

We are going through a collective trauma at the moment in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is comparable to being in the same storm but us all having different boats. Some people appear, from the outside, to be managing fine during the pandemic, whilst others are visibly struggling. I would imagine that every person across the world has had moments of despair and anguish. Over 100,000 people in the UK have died through Covid-19, families are experiencing poverty and deprivation that have never had financial problems before, people are feeling isolated that have always been surrounded by others and we are experiencing loss, grief and bereavement on a global scale never witnessed before. In this time, everything can feel inconsistent and turbulent. One thing that changed this for me was the return of elite sports, specifically football. The human connection, all be it in a virtual sense, that football can create is unrivalled. Whether it be the build up for the game during the week, tuning into the various phone-in’s, following newsfeeds on social media, the WhatsApp groups with mates lighting up or the various podcasts that can be listened to in order to fill your week, there is certainly lots of content available to keep your mind off the pandemic for short periods of time.

The University of Leeds conducted a study that found watching football can improve your physical and mental health. The passion we all share for the game contributes to this, including the general buzz pre-game, the match itself, any goals scored and the final outcome. Dr Andrea Utley commented that “it is clear that fans were passionate about the game with heart rate elevated during the match to a similar level to that when going for a brisk walk“. The research goes on to state that watching a win for your team has a positive impact on your blood pressure citing “positive stress” as a reason for this. Winning a match also had close links to reducing anxiety and improving general wellbeing, with the euphoria from a positive result lasting over 24 hours. Given the season that Rangers have had, I can relate to a lot of this.

Credit: Rangers Football Club

On the flip side, a loss can appear to put you in a bit of a downer. Being a Rangers fan, I can relate to this particularly since 2012. All our off-field dramas and poor seasons have been a burden that the fans have shouldered for a long-time. The research finds that a defeat gives you a psychological slump that can last for a few days. The general rollercoaster impact of watching football results in a moderate cardiovascular workout, according to the research, and this can only be good for your general wellbeing.

Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and I will always advocate to engage with whatever it is that keeps your wellbeing topped up. We are living in a world where the most likely way you will die if you are a man under 45, is at your own hands through suicide, with men accounting for around 75% of suicides. I am not suggesting that firing your TV on and watching your team play will prevent suicide, but the emotional connection with football and your team could keep someone going that little bit longer. Emotional memories, past and present in relation to football, have been shown to help dementia patients and having these continued connections to the game we love cultivates hope for what life was like before Covid-19 and what it will be like when the pandemic is over.

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Football has this unspoken ability to connect communities and enhance community spirit. Communities can take many shapes and sizes, whether it be the area you live in or the set of football fans that follow a team. It can be the members of the supporters bus you go on or the other members of the online football forum you post in. When David Marshall saved the penalty from Alexsander Mitrovic, every community in Scotland rejoiced. After all the sacrifice and heartache that the pandemic had enforced upon us, for a beautiful moment in time, it was alleviated. Ryan Christie’s emotional interview summed up the feelings across Scotland; proud, emotional and hopeful. The 22 years of hurt were worth it for that one moment and that is football in a nutshell. It can pick you up when you are feeling down, connect you with those you love and care about, give you a cardiovascular workout without going to the gym, improve your mental wellbeing and cultivate hope across communities. Bring on the Euro’s, fans returning to the stadiums when safe and long live the football.

  • If you would like to get in touch with ourselves at Man On! Inverclyde, feel free to reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by searching @ManOnInverclyde and one of our social media volunteers will get back in touch with you. You can also get in touch via email at support@manoninverclydecic.co.uk.
  • We are peer-support volunteers and not professionals. Please contact Samaritans by calling 116 123 if you are concerned about your own wellbeing and currently having suicidal thoughts.

Published by Chris Paul

Founder of Man On! Inverclyde and passionate about removing the stigma attached to mental health. My other passion is football and I believe the two are very much linked.

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