How Depression Changed Me as a Football Fan

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.

28 comments

  1. Really good piece, thoroughly enjoyed it!

    1. Thanks Andy, I’d been sitting on this for a while, wasn’t sure if it was of any interest but it seems to be going down quite well.

  2. A very interesting piece, glad to have read it. Hope the okay days continue. All experience is personal, I know, but – in mine, the flatness fades in time. Good luck.

    Also, there are so many medical terms thrown around on this topic – MD, bipolar, endogenic, clinical, chronic, et-bloody-cetera – that ‘fucked up’ seems as valid a term as any other. 8-)

    1. Thanks Philippa very kind of you to read, take the time to comment and share your own personal experience. Yeah I think I’m claiming ‘fucked up’ as my own term!

  3. I experienced similar feelings to yourself when I was clinically depressed. No longer was my ‘heart on my sleeve’, but I was more philosophical almost when it came to football.

    I’ve recovered a lot of my passion, but I’ve never reached the heights I had set a few years ago. I remember that I used to constitute a good year by how well my team did during the year.

    By the way, I hope you can defeat your depression. You’ll come out of it much stronger than before and you’ll probably recover a lot of your passion for the game.

    And finally, a great read. All the best.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s really appreciated. What you experienced seems very close to my own situation, hopefully I one day get some of the passion back. It’s not the same without it.

  4. tomwilde1 · · Reply

    Hi. I am curious as to how old you are? I’m nearly 21 now and I can relate to your article somewhat as I have changed how I support my club (Real Madrid) as I’ve matured. At ages 12-16 I genuinely thought I hated other teams’ players and idolised them as if they weren’t human.

    Growing up a bit I still have the same passion; nerves; tension etc but I watch the games calmer, with the ability to observe the game like you talk about. Similar transition to yours.

    Nice article btw!

    1. Hi Tom I’m 26, and there probably would have been a gradual diminishing of my passion I suppose but the way it happened it just sort of fell of a cliff! Thanks for reading my article and taking the time to comment, it’s really appreciated!

  5. Well written mate. Enjoyed it. I suffer from bouts of depression as well, but football seems to be pretty much the only thing that serves as a ‘pick me up’. Genuinely hope you recover all your passion for the game because I really can relate to what you’re trying to say here.

    Well written mate, a very good read!

    1. Cheers mate glad you enjoyed it and it’s good that you could use football as a ‘pick me up’. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s appreciated.

  6. Well done on writing this. I’m a fellow sufferer but like Haris I find my team have become more of an emotional crutch when I’m feeling down. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the result, but on balance I think your new-found detachment is probably healthier. Good luck to you.

    1. Thanks mate, yeah I suppose none of this is ideal and you just need to find a way to cope as best you can. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s genuinely appreciated.

  7. Great read man, I’ve been going through on and off depression over the last few years as well and I agree 100 percent over the indifference towards football it’s brought in me. I still watch my team play whenever they play but the sense of nervousness before a game, and my life is probably going to end if we don’t get a win is not there anymore. But it has proven to be a blessing in disguise for me, because it’s lead me to see that there are much more important things in life. Glad to have come across this.

    1. Cheers mate, yeah the difference between how I used to be pre-match and how I am now is staggering. I’m glad to hear you seem to be making progress and thanks for taking the time to get in touch.

  8. Fantastic article pal. Although I’m not clinically depressed (or not aware of it at least) I take a similar distant view to football. Its got to the stage where i just want to consume more knowledge about the game, and continually stressing at Arsenal’s failure to shoot eventually gets a little dull after a while! Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks mate, yeah it is nice to be able to look at football a different way, and the deeper you look the more fascinating the sport as a whole becomes. I can imagine Arsenal’s inability/unwillingness to shoot would become rather tiresome after a while! Thanks for taking he time to comment, it’s really appreciated.

  9. hi, great article, i suffer as well and your article really struck a cord. i would however like to argue as well that footy isn’t quite the same anymore- atmosphere at grounds isn’t as good, players are a lot more removed from fans, everything is more money-oriented and big teams are dominating the top leagues. you’ve got a talent with words, keep the writing up!

    1. Thanks very much, that is a good point actually, there is an argument that fans are less connected to their clubs anyway these days. Thanks for taking the time to get in touch it really is appreciated.

  10. Dear Ally – beautifully written article. I hope you continue to win your battle against depression. I would add that unfortunately there are too many consumers in football now, especially at the top end of the Premier League; not people like you who once had a genuine passion, but the JCLs and corporates. I suppose really your relationship with football is like a marriage. Once you were passionately in love but the spark’s gone and you’re staying together for the sake of the kids (your club and national sides). Good luck mate xxx

    1. Describing my relationship with football as like a loveless marriage is just about a perfect summing up of how I feel, thanks for the very kind words, I really appreciate you taking the time to get in touch. And I agree with you about the rise of consumers above fans.

  11. Hammad Ayub · · Reply

    A great read, Alastair!
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Hammad, I really appreciate you taking the time to read and get in touch!

  12. [...] There have been instances in recorded of history of ‘mass hallucinations’, rare instances yes, but still just about frequent enough to be of interest to a scientific mind. This final theory proposes that ‘Lawro’ does not really exist; he is merely the figment of our collective imaginations. Incidentally this is the theory to which I subscribe (although that doesn’t mean much as I am quite mad). [...]

  13. Aineaislingmam · · Reply

    Enjoyed your article. I work in mental health and it’s a pleasure to see you write openly about your illness. There remains way too much ignorance around mental health issues and I find especially among young males. It’s gives me hope that maybe with time and folks testimonies more folk will become educated and more understanding. The stigma around mental health can be cruel and debilitating. Hopefully in time this will be erradicated. I wish you well. :)

    1. Thanks very much, whether the stigma is receding or I just don’t care what people think any more I’m not sure. I have no problems talking about my mental health and hopefully one day everyone who needs to, will be able to talk freely about their own experiences. Cheers for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

  14. Awesome read man. Although I’m not clinically depressed, I started taking football seriously after a major family loss and I have gone through a similar transition to yours.The transition could be attributed to getting married or even losing touch with live football for a few years.
    I started supporting Manchester United fervently after the loss of my nephew when I was 12, some would say I drowned the loss with my support of United. I wouldn’t blame them for thinking this because I did immerse myself in the team and the game.
    When I was growing up I watched all my football at home as we had the pay TV service. But after moving in with my wife (then girlfriend) I lost touch with this as it was too out of the way to visit my parents every weekend for 10 months and I didn’t really do pub football. But now that I have the pay service at home again I find that I don’t support or watch as outwardly as I used to. My reaction and the way I support my team, has changed very similarly to the way yours has. No more jumping up and air punching and launching random items around in frustration. Now a simple clenched fist is all I muster and most of my opinions are voiced internally.

    1. Cheers mate glad you enjoyed it and your story is really interesting. Obviously football played its part in getting you through an awful time, now that the grief has passed it could be argued you no longer have that need. Thanks again for getting in touch.

  15. […] a year ago I wrote a piece on depression and how it changed me as a football fan, how my illness had stolen my passion for a game that I was once so passionate about. The response […]

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