This weekend was the perfect example of how deeply complex and layered our emotions are. Whilst I could probably write a thesis on how football has impacted on my mental wellbeing, I actually needed to keep this post much shorter and simpler than usual! Here, therefore, is my simple take on complex emotions… two birds, one football club.
Football and Mental Health ... it's a thing!
I’ve often spoken, within strands of work with the FA and Heads Together or with Mind & the Football League on their partnership, of the hugely positive impact of football on my mental health.
At times when nothing else made sense, when I could not see how I could live through the rest of the day, Anfield was the one place I belonged. When all else failed, the Liver Bird gave some small semblance of meaning to life.
I’m 15+ years on from the darkest days and my involvement with mental health is as a campaigner, advocate, speaker and a Mind Trustee.
It doesn’t mean I have all of the answers. Like anyone, I have triggers for anxiety and the uncertainty around the pandemic is among those.
I sat at Anfield yesterday and, true to what I often speak about as a keynote speaker, it was my opportunity to be present in the moment, to experience life as it happens rather than stripping emotional energy away worrying about yesterday and tomorrow. LFC does that for me.
Much more than a club, it's about a city
Much was perfect about yesterday. I was able to hang out with one of my best mates for a few unhurried hours before the match. I had a nostalgic mooch on Bold Street, I was able to romanticise and make perfect a city, flawed like any other. But it is a city perfect like no other … for me.
It is a city which adores its own and any who take the time to understand it for what it truly is. It is true to its values, refuses to be bullied by the establishment or by those who mock it. And what I know is that to support the football club, you MUST know the city and its people.
I was born elsewhere but when I arrive at Lime Street, I am at home. And when I am at home, I feel safe in my city, around my people, in my heart.
The Homecoming Hero
And for my people, Steven Gerrard is a colossus. Through some of the club’s darkest moments, he carried us single-handedly. And he carried not just a city but supporters across the globe on his broad, brilliant shoulders. And he understood everything it meant to every single one of us. A scouser born and bred (not without flaw himself – just remember the summer of 2005) and one to whom it meant everything.
I wrote about his impact here, and it’s not because he was so fucking good and we would sometimes win, it was because he walked out there every single day and cared as much as we did.
And on Saturday he came home. And it was so odd.
We have new heroes, Jordan and the Red Sea, the King of Egypt, the bespectacled and magnificent maestro from Stuttgart.
It was awkward seeing the ex that I’ll always adore whilst wanting my Bird to destroy her house for one day.
The Most Important of the Least Important
And I walked away with a smile. The Reds won, the hero returned, I saw my friends; on my walk back into town, a quick glance at those two Birds looking over the city, protecting its people and those who love her.
And Jürgen Klopp is absolutely right; football is the least important of things. In an imperfect world, football is a game. However, it is the most important, as he says, of those least important things. More than being a way of life, it is a very precious gift allowing me to be free of so many anxieties, allowing me to fully express myself with joy.
So honestly, whilst I know that life and death, injustice, race, poverty and so many things matter more, the thought of football behind closed doors, of not being able to go to the match, is one that fills me with despair. Let’s hope we don’t get to that stage.