Football isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, yet some aspects of the beautiful game could be more important than people may have considered.
From the fans’ point of view, it can act as a vital escape and a distraction from the monotony of the day job, and an opportunity to vent and get wrapped up in the tribalism which goes hand in hand with supporting any club.
It is arguably even more important from the player’s point of view. Physical activity is essential for keeping fit, but perhaps of greater significance is the impact it can have on the mental health of every individual.
Most footballers’ only outlet of physical activity comes through their profession where amongst the running drills, there is always a ball around. My fear is that footballers may now neglect to stay on top of their fitness, instead getting wrapped up in a Netflix boxset, or worse: downloading the super-addictive game Football Manager.
You see it with many ex-footballers who retire and give up all types of physical activity. There have been too many who spiral into a depression which can lead to alcohol, drugs and gambling abuse.
Often, these professionals will use their exit from the dressing room environment as a reason for their plight. Although definitely a factor, I think the absence of the physical activity levels that they had previously been working towards can have a major impact on their mental health.
‘Social distancing’ was a phrase I was unfamiliar with until this pandemic struck. Strangely enough, I have experienced it regularly at parties, with revellers avoiding me at all costs in case I spark up a conversation about the complexities of the League 2 promotion race. However, I have now acquainted myself with society’s current use of the term.
Guidelines from medical and scientific experts are to mainly self-isolate, but you are still encouraged to go outside in local, sparsely populated areas, and ensure that you are a minimum of two metres away from anyone else. I have been sticking to this, completing gruelling hill runs with some ex-team mates – social distancing has not been a problem when I am chasing them up a hill with their silhouette fading away into the distance. Despite the initial feeling of self-worthlessness as I fail to keep up with them, I feel great; less anxious and high on the released endorphins. I would urge everyone to ensure that they are doing some type of exercise.
Another point of worry for footballers is how this pandemic will affect us financially. Clubs will lose out on vital income which they may have budgeted for, perhaps leading them into a position where they can’t afford to pay players. Within a day or two of the SPFL announcement on postponing the season, Hearts cut every employee’s wage by 50%, which may be a sign of things to come.
This has been a great concern in our team, where the players’ WhatsApp group has been busy ever since our first game against Montrose was called off almost a fortnight ago. Although football isn’t our main job, the modest amount of money we receive is vital in supporting ourselves and our families. Everything is accentuated for the three or four players who have lost their day jobs.
It certainly gave us a huge amount of security to hear via the WhatsApp group that our chairman and board are looking to pay us in full. A huge amount of gratitude has to be given to them for running the club in a safe and sensible manner. They have come through for us and we will not forget this.
Finally, what should we do with this season? Should we hand out titles? Relegate those in precarious positions? Hand out European places and promotions? Well, in the blunt words of our goalkeeper, Jordan Hart: “Who gives a F**k?” Now is not the time for this and I know I speak for the majority of players when I say the outcome of this season is not important when we look at the bigger picture.