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Is Football Bad For Your Health?

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Football has a pretty big role in terms of UK culture, and never more so since the birth of Sky Sports and the Premier League, enhanced even further by Euro ’96. We’re now at a point where around 29 million people attend live games and that’s not even taking into account the millions more who watch from the comfort of their favourite armchair, and 1 in 4 of those who take on the title of a ‘fan’ suggest the game is one of the most important things in their lives.

Is that a bad thing?

Well, if you look at it from a Psychologist’s point of view, it’s pretty good. Dr. Sandy Wolfson, Head of Psychology at Northumbria University, says:

“Football does have positive effects on people’s psychological well-being. It gives people a ready-made topic of conversation where opinions on team selection, strategy, and players’ skills are enjoyable topics for debate. Many people have made good friends and even met their spouses through football.”

But considering some of us dedicate so much of our lives to it, it must give us more than just something to talk about surely? I mean, even the weather does that, right?

Well, when the 9-5 drudge gets about as exciting as watching paint dry, apparently it gives us something else — unpredictability. How can that not be exciting? While Fulham fans were full of hope and inevitable anxiety in preparation of facing Arsenal at the weekend, did they really expect to come away with 3 points? Of course they didn’t. And here’s the psychology bit, because research shows that when a team does well, it has an uplifting effect on the mood of not just individuals, but the wider community as well. So, it’s fair to say the Fulham community is probably in a better mood than Islington’s right now.

Hang on though, because there’s more. Football is cathartic, did you know that? It ‘provides an opportunity to express and release internalised emotion which men in particular may find difficult to express in other ways.’ Ah, so that’s what all the booing is about with Frank Lampard then? I’m sure he’ll be relieved to know that this has got nothing to do with his inept performances for his country and the public’s general dislike of him, and everything to do with the fact they’ve had a bad day at work, the missus ain’t sympathising and the kids are emptying his wallet.

Furthermore, the live game has a ‘carnival’ atmosphere — so is it any wonder supporters of Premier League club’s pay an average of £600 a year to experience this? Even the shirts supporters are fleeced for are part of this ‘team identity’ making them as ‘socially included’ as the language they choose to use. You see, the way supporters choose to behave encourages ‘a cathartic release of tension,’ be it through shouting, screaming, gesturing or chanting. So you see ref, no one really thinks you’re all the things they say you are, this is simply their way of releasing their own internalised feelings of annoyance — I don’t know, I mean, let’s just say the bank bounced the last cheque they wrote after they’d paid for the season ticket and the shirt and the… you get my drift.

Anyway, because our team — whichever we opt for, inherit, etc — is part of our identity, obviously we live with them through thick and thin, win or lose, bad performance or good, that’s life eh? But, in order to continue to feel positive about this choice (identity), we compare ourselves to other groups of supporters. By that, I mean we compare ourselves ‘favourably’ to them, and we stick with our own. By committing to a team we are expected to commit to our fellow supporters. We regard them as being more committed, enthusiastic and objective apparently — although it has to be said, whoever researched this clearly hadn’t read my blog.

Which brings me on to pessimism. Yes, believe it or not, somewhere amid this cathartic carnival, sometimes supporters feel a little pessimistic before a game. I don’t know, but let’s say for sake of argument you’d been given someone like Avram Grant as a manager. This is when a refusal to believe that things might go well protects against the disappointment of failure — aka being a Chelsea supporter. And yet even this can be a positive thing apparently because it ‘unites fans in the face of the possibility that it can all go wrong.’ So at least that gave us something to hold on to in Moscow, as did the ‘shared moan after defeat’ — another part of the good old bonding process.

Talking of bonding, football totally comes into its own where family bonding is concerned because it strengthens relationships between family members — because let’s face it, none of us have ever argued with family where football’s concerned right? But wait, that’s just the cynic in me, because football is actually considered to be a very important part of the relationship between a father and son, with almost every fan taken to their first game by their father and often continuing long after children have grown up… presumably so the old man gets a few pints brought back to make up for being fleeced for years?

But there is a down side to this whole football thing because some supporters apparently admit to becoming aggressive whilst watching a game (that’ll be the ref again), some even admit to the odd row with the wife after, and here’s the real shocker — heavy drinking is often a key element in that ‘good day out.’ So maybe losing isn’t such a great experience after all, because the news is that in a study of two major Scottish football teams (no prizes for guessing) it was found that after a few defeats too many, some of their supporters experienced anxiety, irritability, sleep problems and headaches — nothing to do with the alcohol at all apparently!

Just blame it on the football.

Denise is a London-born Chelsea supporter, currently living in East Anglia. Having written on and off for a few years, this year she has dedicated most of that writing to football and when not working as a full-time Nurse Manager, spends some of her spare time writing for The Chelsea Blog — established to share her work with a wider audience.

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