“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
– Bill Shankly
I never thought I would be one of those football fans. I would look at the images of supporters in the stands following relegation or a heavy defeat, tears rolling down their cheeks, anguish painted on their faces. I would look at those images, and laugh. I couldn’t understand how a few people kicking a ball could mean so much to those watching.
But I am one of them now; religiously supporting my local football team. And it genuinely could be a matter of life and death.
It’s nearly three years now since I was seconds from stepping in front of a train. I’m in a better place now than I was at that time, with the assistance of medication, a couple of genuine friends, and the most important person in my life. But when my group of friends at the time abandoned me in the wake of my lowest point, I lost more than just them. I lost my desire to interact with people. I avoided social situations at all costs. I struggled to leave the house.
Even after I began using Meetup and finding myself with some new friends, and after meeting the one person who matters the most to me, I found it hard to be sociable. Jaunty and jolly are not words that would have been used to describe me.
But last year, something changed. My brother had begun attending the occasional home match for Alvechurch F.C., having moved back home a few months prior. On one Saturday, with nothing else to do and knowing I had to leave the house, I joined him. I don’t remember who the match was against or the final result. But being in the stand with the other supporters, cheering the team on, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt like I was involved, like I was part of something.
So I went to more games. I endured heavy defeats and dramatic victories. Halfway through one tough match, 3-0 down, some of us elected to leave the safety of the stand and cheer the team on from behind the goal they would be attacking. Others joined us and together we looked to raise the players’ heads and spirits. We lost 4-2, but I enjoyed that defeat more than I had enjoyed any preceding victories. Because I felt involved, included. I was part of something.
This summer I bought a season ticket, so that I would have to go to the matches, to guarantee I leave the house on a Saturday and socialise. And because when I am down at the ground, watching the ‘Church win, lose or draw, I forget about my problems. My demons can’t get me while I’m there. It has become a crucial part of my survival.
I won’t cry after crushing defeats. I won’t cry if we suffer relegation. I won’t abandon the club over a few poor results or seasons. But I am one of those fans who will tell you, with no exaggeration, that football truly can be a matter of life death.