How To Stop The Football Season Ruining Your Actual Life
Illustration by Mr Choi Haeryung
Despite been something of a football anorak since the age of seven when I first subscribed to Shoot! magazine, I’d always considered myself quite good at seeing football for what it was – an absorbing but ultimately trivial distraction from the big stuff. Last season, however, I felt something new. Anger.
My team Chelsea’s new self-styled “disruptor” owners appeared to have completely lost their minds. The club’s most popular and successful coach in years was gone in a flash, an entirely new coaching staff was shipped in largely on their success in the Swedish lower leagues and a squad that had won the Champions League just 15 months earlier was squeezed out in favour of a cast of unknowns signed for huge fees on eight-year contracts, apparently to get round some accounting loophole.
In a few short months, a club once respected for its ruthless efficiency had become a laughing stock. Was this a prank? Was relegation a possibility? Was it true that co-owner Mr Todd Boehly wanted to take half-time team talks? It began to feel more like a Ted Lasso spin-off series than a real football club.
In a weird way, I was more engaged – certainly enraged – than I had been in years. I would regularly send earnest “hot takes” on the current situation to my Chelsea WhatsApp group that would often cross over into lengthy rants. A true moment of clarity came when I suggested organising a protest and was only half-joking. I was on a fast track to becoming the kind of football saddo that I’d always crossed the street to avoid. It was time for an internal intervention.
Below are my tips on tackling football addiction before VAR needs to step in.
The reality check
The first realisation was how much time and headspace football had stealthily taken up. Of course, there was the 90 minutes of game time, often twice a week, but this was the tip of the iceberg. There was the travel to games, drinks before, drinks after. And yes, the hangovers. The social accounts, the games on TV from every league in the world. And now I wanted to read every journalist’s take on what was going on at Chelsea, probably so I could regurgitate it to someone else. I’d listen to two separate Premier League review podcasts, with different panels going over the same incidents with near-identical viewpoints.
Facing up to the hours racked up was slightly terrifying, especially for someone who would complain of not having the time to do countless other pursuits. As the author Mr Oliver Burkeman has encouraged us to do with his book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals, it pays to acknowledge just how little time we have on this rock spinning round the sun. And whether, on my deathbed, I’d look back and consider my obsession with the Boehly-era Chelsea as time well spent.
Getting some perspective
Seeing other Chelsea fans in the seats around mine apoplectic with rage, their necks bulging at Mr Graham Potter’s ill-judged substitutions, certainly acted as a reminder that I didn’t want to be like them. Passion? Perhaps. But it seems like the kind of passion that will likely result in a mini stroke and an early divorce.
A trip to my local non-league club Dulwich Hamlets on the same weekend that Chelsea was getting booed at half-time provided a timely comparison. Here were fans that were paying a fraction of the price, with low expectations and the atmosphere was palpably happier, with none of the angst and occasional aggro you found at Stamford Bridge. It was also a 10-minute walk from my house and you could have a pint while you watched. It was hard to care about the outcome, but perhaps that would come. And perhaps not caring as much was the secret.
Reframing the suffering
The Buddha taught that suffering is a part of life and that attachment to things is the source. While he wasn’t specifically speaking as a season-ticket holder, I could see that my kneejerk response to Chelsea’s decline was to see it as “a bad thing”, when, intellectually at least, it was the most interesting season in 20 years.
Perhaps this was just a blip? Perhaps it would end up in insolvency? Perhaps we’d all learn something along the way? Chelsea had been on a pretty good run and were overdue a wake-up call. As the Buddha taught, everything changes and nothing lasts for ever. Even Mr Thiago Silva.
Understanding what football gives you
Supporting a football team rarely enters the bracket of genuine addiction, although there can be crossovers. As professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, Dr Mark D Griffiths, puts it, healthy enthusiasms such as supporting a team add to life while addictions detract from it. Something to bear in mind if a deflected late goal affects how much you enjoy your Sunday lunch.
There are, of course, many benefits to football. It’s social, provides drama and follows a cosy routine that punctuates the week. But in my case, I realised there were habits I’d acquired as a kid that I was still doing on rote. Knowing which player has just transferred from which club for how many tens of millions felt good in a geeky way at seven, 14, even 21. But past 40? It was clear that I was still using football as a slightly threadbare comfort blanket and that I’d spent my adult life trying to loosen my grip.
The nuclear option
Sometimes, only a clean break will do. When journalist Mr Paul Wilson made the cold-headed decision to shut football out of his life back in 2011, he did it because he knew it was all-encompassing. “When I was a kid, I was a proper statto, but it became impossible to keep up,” says Wilson. “So, I removed myself from it. I’m glad. I still have tangential interest, exactly as much as I want, and it’s like riding a bike. I did have to guess what a false nine is, though.”
As the new season starts, I’m opting instead for a reduction strategy. I’ll go to fewer games and enjoy the novelty. I’ll try the Bloomberg podcast instead of The Gab & Juls Show. I’ll keep my WhatsApp contributions to emojis only.
Of course, Mr Mauricio Pochettino is a coach I could get behind. Maybe there’s a chance something quite exciting could happen with a young squad. Perhaps I’ll go to the first game and take it from there.
This could be harder than I thought.