Those of you who know me in the ‘real world’ may be aware, and a few of my more regular readers may have guessed, but for the rest of you I’ll just come right out and say it. I have clinical depression. It’s not something I am ashamed of and it’s not something I make a conscious effort to hide. That being said it’s not something I (until now) have really shouted from the rooftops either. As a naturally private person the thought of sharing my own personal brand of ‘fucked up’ (not a medical term) with the rest of the world was not a particularly appealing one.
Here I am though, sticking the old ‘mentally ill’ label on my forehead for all of time. So why the change of heart then? Simple really, this is not a personal therapeutic exercise, nor is it some sort of crusade to increase the awareness of depression amongst young men (my site views quickly put paid to that notion!). No what I’d like to do today is explain the ways in which depression has changed how I watch and think about football, how depression has changed me as a football fan.
Football is the natural home of the cliché, and one of the more oft spouted is that being a football fan is akin to taking a ride on an ‘emotional rollercoaster’, and hey like the best clichés there is strong element of truth to it. In fact, in days gone by if you were looking to illustrate how merely observing a game of football can take someone from the depths of despair to unfettered joy and back again, then you could do a lot worse than recording my behaviour before, during and after a game.
Honestly I was a bloody nightmare, my mood for the forthcoming week was almost entirely dependent upon the weekends result, I fell out with friends, I left nights out early (sometimes of my own accord, sometimes not). There were players I idolized and there were players I despised (and I truly did despise them).
I shed tears of joy and I shed tears of what at the time felt like soul crushing despair. I was famous (infamous maybe) for how seriously I took football, it got to the stage where the only person I could watch ‘Old Firm’ or Champions League games with was my little brother, as he knew when to keep his mouth shut!
This was a few years ago now though, and today things could not be more different. It feels strange to say but, I am no-longer emotionally invested in football. A pretty serious bout of depression, for whatever reason, seems to have broken the once strong link between how my team performs and how I feel.
Depression manifests itself in many ways, the symptoms of the disease vary from person to person, and others have written about them more eloquently than I ever could dream of. In my case, whilst most of the time I’m okay and can go about my everyday life relatively “normally” I find that even during good times, my emotions are (for want of a better word) ‘flat’, less of “an emotional rollercoaster” more of an emotional monorail. I don’t really do ‘up’ and I don’t really do ‘down’ (unless I’m properly down but that’s another story).
What this means when it comes to me as a football fan is that I now watch games with a sort of detached indifference. Moments that in years gone by would have elicited a howl of disapproval are met with a shrug of acceptance, moments that would have had me leaping from my seat and embracing random strangers are now celebrated with a clenched fist (at most).
In many ways you might say this is a good thing, I see the game differently now, I see more of it. Subtle runs, tactical nuances, intelligent movement. I have a greater understanding of the game and a deeper knowledge of its history. No longer blinded by the prejudices any emotionally involved football fan suffers from I can now appreciate things I would have previously have either missed, or dismissed. I can now watch football with friends again, and the chances of getting the shit kicked out if me in the pub have receded somewhat. Defeats do not cause me to demand the manager’s head, and after victories I no longer bestow greatness upon mere mortals. When you’re not emotionally invested it’s a hell of a lot easier to see the long term potential and ignore the short term problems.
Watching football for me now, is akin to reading a well written book, maybe a Bill Bryson. I find it fascinating, often educational and it’s something I enjoy doing, but it will never cause me to leap in ecstasy or crumble in despair.
Now, I have a confession to make, whilst in the overall scheme of things it’s probably better that I no-longer allow football to dictate my mood, I genuinely still miss those days. I miss the rush of emotion when my team scores, I miss the nervous tension in the hours leading up to a game, fuck it I even miss having someone to hate!
Football without emotion, without passion is just a game, an enjoyable game but a game nonetheless. Where I was once the most fervent of supporters, I now follow my club and my country out of a sense of duty and maybe habit, more than anything else.
I don’t even know if I can legitimately call myself a fan or a supporter anymore, maybe I’m just a consumer, just a customer, demanding to be entertained and willing to walk away if those demands are not met. How depressing.
Oh and by the way, watching Craig Levein’s Scotland team when not emotionally invested in the outcome is tantamount to torture!
Alastair wrote this article and everything else on here, why not say hello on twitter.