Saturday, 17 April 2010

Eleven Silly Men


There's a great blog post from Tom Fordyce on the BBC Football page about dealing with the tension of supporting a football team whose fortunes are in the balance as the season winds down.

Some of the tips struck me as being useful for the sports investors among us whose fortunes waver from time to time.

Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy was consulted and had this to say:

"As biological creatures, we need to oscillate between tension and relaxation if we are to survive and thrive. The problems start with tension that's never relieved. When you're anxious about an event or outcome, like the position of your football team, the tension is 24/7."

"You can't control the external event, but you can control your reaction to it," advises Hodson. "One of the easiest ways of doing that is to take some fairly vigorous physical exercise. That will make you tired, change your breathing, make you hot and then cool down, and that takes you into the phase of relaxation.

"If that's impossible, you can do it very simply if you clench your fists and squeeze all the muscles in your arms and shoulders as hard as you can for about three seconds, and then let go.

"You can also try to put yourself under a different kind of stress. Give yourself a different deadline. If you have a piece of work to do, that can be a different kind of tension and quite refreshing."

"The trouble is that your brain is at war with your feelings," says Hodson. "Your feelings are one of dread, yet your brain says, well, these things happen.

"It is helpful sometimes to try to picture an image of when you were quite young, a day when you were gloriously happy. Look at that picture, see what the sky is like, and memorise all the elements.

"Imagine the happy picture and dwell on it in your mind when you're at your lowest. Because it's quite hard for the brain to feel both happy and sad, that can work quite well. It will take your mind off it for a while, and it's the release you're looking for."

"Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all," wrote Tennyson, and although Alfred, Lord never experienced the pain of a 4-1 thrashing at rain-soaked Vicarage Road in November, his famous words ring true to this day.

"If you want to feast you must fast," confirms Phillip. "If you want to enjoy your team's sporting success, there must be a contrast. If it was all 6-0 victories, it would be very boring. Being beaten is part of the game.

"Unless you care about the fate of your team, unless you're in love with them on some level, you can't experience that joy. But because you are in love with them, you are going to be let down at some point. Becoming vulnerable to the good stuff makes you vulnerable to the bad stuff. It's what we call unavoidable unhappiness.

"All love ends in pain at some stage. Even if you live happily with a wife or husband for 60 years, someone has to die first."

Fearing we were moving into somewhat morbid waters, I steered the conversation back to practical matters. Should the worst happen and the relegation whirlpool suck your boat down, is it better to drown your sorrows alone or with your fellow shipmates?

"We all grieve in different ways," says Hodson. "The thing is, does your method work? If you want to throw yourself into work for a while, or to tell yourself you don't care, that's fine - it's part of the grieving process. But if it's all about denial, your grief will still catch you up at some stage. You will be ambushed by the bad feelings.

"Anything that helps you get through that time is good. Sometimes the first thing to do is just to accept your feelings.

"It's good to feel, it's horrible not to. If the feeling part of your brain doesn't work, you can't even tell me what you want for dinner."

What of our real-life partners? Despite their best intentions, not all can appreciate what the distraught fan is going through. Can the offer of a cup of green tea assuage the bitter sting of defeat at Middlesbrough to a flukey deflected goal? Experience of those close to the author would suggest not.

"If you know that your partner is upset, don't try to tell them it doesn't matter, or that it's only a sport," advises Hodson. "Instead, say something like, 'I can see you're gutted, I won't say another word'.

"There are many people who can't access football emotionally or mentally. If, for you, football is life and death, yet you're living with someone like that, they need to work quite hard to be supportive.

"It's not about '11 silly men kicking a ball into a net', it's about whether your partner's feelings of distress matter to you. If they don't matter, you don't have a relationship.

"What's interesting is that supporters of the team that wins have a much higher sex drive than supporters of the team that loses, and they often express it. Try to upset that research by making yourself do it that night, or be a great lover, because you'll get a sense of euphoria from it."

So there we have it. Go for a long run, throw yourself into work or put in a blinder between the sheets. Or, should you have the energy, attempt all three.

A lot of truth in the above, especially the part about having to suffer defeats to really appreciate the victories, in life as well as in football. My own comment to the post was this:
I've been a Palace fan since 1967 - but it's not my fault. My Mum was living in Purley when I was born, and it never occurred to me to support anyone but my local team. True - they don't win much, but when they do have some success, it really means something. Even the bad times are good. Some of my greatest memories are from when 'we' played in the old Division Three for three years with Malcolm Allison and then Terry Venables at the helm. Games versus Brighton? Wonderful moments. Man U fans just wouldn't get it. We were the "Team of the Eighties" except that we ended up spending most of it in the old Division Two, ending with Coppell at the helm, and finally back at the top level. That 0-9 defeat? Almost funny really. Reaching the FA Cup Semi-Finals through the back door and then Wembley via the main entrance and one of the best experiences that sports can ever give you? Priceless. And now we're in a prolonged slump yet again. Administration? Points deduction. from play-off hopefuls to relegation fighters in one fell swoop. The drama. The ecstasy. The pain. Well, not so much pain now to be honest. I'm too old for that. Emotions run lower as one gets older. Thirty years ago I might have cried, but as others have pointed out earlier, football is but a tassel woven onto the tapestry of life. Que sera. You know what would really bug me? If Palace win the Cup the year after I die. That would be very irritating. Enjoy your teams. The successes and the failures. The importance of winning and losing is overrated. There's always next season, and if not, there are always some great memories. No one can take those away. Well, except Alzheimer's I suppose.

3 comments:

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thomasadair@live.com

Anonymous said...

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Handy Andy said...

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