Does it Matter?
Yesterday (Thursday 28th June 2018) I got my act together and was ready to leave work on time because it was the day of the final England World Cup 2018 group match with England on a bit of a roll to say the least. I said to my colleagues ‘I’m off to get sorted for the match… not that it matters of course ‘cos we’re through!’ The response of one of my colleagues was ‘well does it ever matter?’ As in, I’m assuming, does the result of any fixture of the beautiful game ever matter? My rather tepid response, ‘well… in the moment I suppose’ left me thinking there was so much more to say on the subject and had me pondering a better response as I cycled home.
Now, any of you who know me well will be pondering why on earth I think it might ever matter because as you will know I’m not a huge football fan. I certainly don’t follow the domestic game but, as with most sports, whenever the national team are in action I am an avid viewer. So, to that extent my response that it ‘matters in the moment’ is probably an accurate response for me personally. But clearly this is not the case for everyone. Thousands of people have travelled thousands of miles at great expense to watch their country play in the tournament. And the expressions on faces in the crowd of either delight or despair go some way to confirming that it does matter. It matters very much. In the opening pages of his book Fever Pitch (1992) Nick Hornby says he fell in love with football ‘suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it’. Clearly it has an emotional element then, so must matter, because emotions matter.
The Working Class Game
Despite the FA and the formula of the current game being firmly rooted in the public schools of the late 19th century football is, (or at least was till big money and high ticket prices got in the way) a working class game. Greenwood in his beautiful and heart-breaking novel ‘Love on the Dole’ (1932) speaks of the drudgery of the daily grind in the factory, working the Saturday morning, and then being freed from the shackles of labour in time for the Saturday afternoon football match. This was the highlight of the working man’s [sic] week and their mood would rise or fall based on the outcome of the game. So, it appears that it does matter.
These working class roots certainly seems to matter in terms of the make up of the England team where your class doesn’t appear to be a barrier to inclusion. The England team are also ethnically diverse and therefore more representative of the nation than you see in some other sports. Raheem Sterling epitomises this. Born in Jamaica, his father murdered when he was young, brought up by his mother in London, and now on the international stage, celebrated for his football skills. Or take the story of Dele Alli, born to a Nigerian father and English mother who experienced alcohol problems, he ended up at 13 living with the family who he refers to as his ‘adoptive parents’. His heroes and his inspiration to achieve were Steven Gerard and Frank Lampard. So for Sterling and Alli, yes, football matters.
Benefits on mental health
The Mental Health Foundation are also very clear that watching football has a positive effect on mental health. They point out its impact on emotions, relationships, identity and self-esteem. They identify young men in particular pointing out that;
‘the opportunity to externalise tension and emotion is important to maintaining health. Young men are at the highest risk of suicide – it is the most common cause of death for young men under the age of 35. This age group is one of the dominant in football crowds across the country’ (www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/football-and-mental-health)
They also report a study (unidentified) that noted a reduction in the number of psychiatric admissions during and after World Cup Finals. So, it would seem it does matter.
There is a darker and very alarming side to the potential of an England defeat and that is the evidence that instances of domestic violence increase after such an event. A study by Lancaster University (Kirby et al. (2013) Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency) looked at incidences of domestic violence across World Cups back to 2002 and found some alarming figures. They found that reports of domestic violence increased by 11% after England played no matter what the outcome of the game, rising, by a staggering 38%, if England lost. The factors at play are not just the football match, but also increased tension that might go with it, and notably increased alcohol consumption. Although it was a small study the findings and the outcomes for the victims are obviously harrowing.
So – Does it Matter!?
So, does it matter. Does it matter that there’s an England game? Does it matter whether ‘we’ win? Well it would seem that the ‘big game’ can have both negative and positive impacts. I certainly feel the excitement of the England game. The build up, the drama. I find myself talking to people about the national team and ‘the game’. So, it does instigate conversation with different people in different ways. If the positive aspects on people’s mental health are tangible, then that must be a good thing. If the ‘beautiful game’ helps people from a relatively disadvantaged position dream, and sometimes achieve, then that has to be a good thing…. That has to matter… surely!? The on-going success of the England team will see children running around in England strips aspiring to be Kayne or Sterling. They’ll maybe get outside and run around and kick a ball. That’s got to be a good thing. That’s got to matter.
…and if (when?) we lose …well the Mental Health Foundation tell us that sharing a moan after a defeat is another way we can bond. And then we’ll move on. But we’ll have had that moment. And it’s in those moments that we share our lived experience and create the bonds that bind us together. ….so it’s got to matter? Surely?