Football, in its purest sense, isn’t real life.
Yes, that’s blasphemy. Of course, football is the main element of a great deal of people’s ‘real lives’. Certainly, I’m not a true supporter for stringing those four words together in that order.
Losing puts me in a fragile state for days to come, winning providing euphoric invincibility and off-field affairs all too often creating a sense of confusion; football does have an impact on my wellbeing away from stands.
But for 90 minutes every week, twice a week if I’m lucky, I have the chance to lose myself in a story unfolding in front me. Twenty-two players doing battle, emotions soaring and sinking along with the added bonus of the atmosphere and family-like camaraderie with your fellow supporters.
It’s a world away from the stresses, anxieties and sadness of everyday life. For me, the only time in which I can truly prevent the problems of life overtaking my thoughts is between the referee’s first whistle and his last.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who uses football as escapism. Why wouldn’t you? It’s so easy to lose yourself in the rush of emotions.
On several occasions I’ve turned up at The Valley in sour mood and remained in such a state right up until kick-off. But, normally after the game’s first event or the Covered End’s first chant, I’m in the football bubble. Whatever had upset me before is temporarily forgotten and I enter a state of excitement and enjoyment. It’s a happy place. Possibly the only happy place I know.
Several of my favourite Charlton games will mean nothing to other supporters; some are games that will have been forgotten quite quickly. But they provided me with a source of relief at various difficult times in my life. Of course, I’m desperate for the Addicks to pick up points, but, in these few fixtures, the result was irrelevant. Just being in that football bubble gave me a distraction that I needed.
A 1-0 defeat to Brighton on a Tuesday night in February 2010 is one such game. It was dire, we were dire, but it kept me sane.
One game that stands out and had the bonus of a positive result is the 4-2 win over Reading in August in 2008. My parents had split up in the week leading into the game, and both me and my father were in a state of depression, made worse before kick-off whilst being inside the ground.
It was the perfect game of twists and turns, with Charlton throwing away a 2-0 lead only to score two more late on, and exactly what I needed to distract myself from what was occurring in my life.
Recently, the 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest provided me with a source of comfort after moving away from home to university; something I didn’t particularly want to do.
In times like those, when my mental wellbeing is poor and events are conspiring against me, football also provides something to look forward to. Slugging through a week when I’m low is impossibly hard, but it’s made easier by counting down the days until I’m next watching Charlton. Midweek games either side of two weekend games are blissful.
My anxiety, my depression and my sheer lack of confidence have always prevented me from socialising. That only makes my quality of life worse; I’m a reclusive university student who is viewed with suspicion by others for my reluctance, if not inability, to leave my room. It’s a lonely existence.
But, in the football environment, I can talk. I wouldn’t go as far to say as I come out of my shell or open up, but I gain the ability to put myself out there and interact with people like I wouldn’t do elsewhere.
I recently met someone at an away game, without prior warning, who I’d spoken to online; an incredibly difficult task for me and my anxieties. But, in that football environment, I coped with the situation almost stress free. I now consider that individual a close friend.
You might be thinking now, ‘oh dear, a trainee journalist with a lack of confidence, he’s not going to get very far’, and you’re probably right to think that. However, I’ve found myself able to adopt a confident character in my journalism related encounters thus far. Acting as a journalist, or just simply writing, is second only to football in the escape it provides.
Football is my award-winning counsellor, my double strength anti-depressant and my powerful high.
And so, it seemed obvious to attend Charlton’s FA Cup third round tie with Oxford United on the Saturday before I returned to university after my Christmas break. Not an attractive fixture, and one many wouldn’t bother to do when travelling form Milton Keynes, but it’s football and it would have given me a chance to forget I was returning back to a place, and a life, I didn’t enjoy.
I was almost certainly more disappointed than any other Charlton fan when the tie was postponed due to The Valley’s ongoing pitch problems. That Saturday was spent in a state of depression, refusing to get out of bed and all in all making my situation much, much worse.
With the fixture rearranged to the following Wednesday, I at least now had the chance to get away from university on a day where I have no lectures; a day that’s often spent alone in my room. With that postponed too, I was left again to find other ways to fight off the negative thoughts; something I struggled to do.
But Saturday, lovely, lovely Saturday, would finally provide the football I so desperately needed. I’d made the journey, buying my train ticket on Thursday after the club confirmed there would be no inspection, and even devoured some grub in the Valley Café before the game was postponed. It was tough to take. I didn’t really have time to feel any anger about the situation, just frustration that the football I required had been taken away from me.
Not even Bradley Pritchard smiling at me through the windscreen of his very un-footballer like car could cheer me up.
With the game off, I was invited to socialise, but, without the football setting, I found it difficult. I wanted to leave straight away, but didn’t through fear and embarrassment. The fear that I would be mocked after I had left, the embarrassment that once again I couldn’t cope in a social setting.
I was also given the chance to go and watch Leyton Orient. I should have done, but owing to the fact I didn’t want to depart with more cash, and that I was in my Charlton coat and shirt, I opted not to.
Without the football distraction again, I was left feeling lower than ever in my room upon my return ‘home’. Again, I struggled to fight off the negative thoughts and again I made the situation worse for myself.
I imagine that if Monday’s precautionary pitch inspection for Tuesday’s game against Oxford results in another postponement, the news will be like a dagger to the heart. I’m unable to attend the Middlesbrough away game, the Bournemouth home game is likely to be postponed and I wouldn’t have the funds to get to Huddersfield should we progress in the cup.
The last game I attended was Ipswich away, my next could be Doncaster away. Almost a month apart.
At a time when I’m bogged down by exam and assessment stress, finding adapting to university life hard again and missing home, the lack of football really couldn’t be more difficult to take.
I can’t believe I need a cup tie against a League Two team to go ahead for the sake of my wellbeing.