Football and mental health
Football can have a major impact on mental health. It is thought to affect emotions, relationships, identity and self-esteem. One study has suggested that one in four fans said football was one of the most important things in their lives.
When time is at a premium for most people, leisure activity and entertainment fulfils the psychological need to escape from the stresses and strains of life and go into another world for a period of time. The time set aside for football is often sacrosanct and provides an opportunity to play or watch.
It has been suggested that the attraction of sports events over other forms of entertainment is the combination of comfort in ritual with unpredictable outcome. People can look forward to the comfort of the familiar with the thrill of the unknown.It has been suggested that the attraction of sports events over other forms of entertainment is the combination of comfort in ritual with unpredictable outcome.
It is thought that watching football may be cathartic. It has been suggested that the atmosphere of a live football match is socially inclusive. Fans step into their team identity by wearing clothes and using language they would not usually use in their everyday lives.
They can behave in ways that encourage 'a cathartic release of tension' through shouting, screaming, gesturing and chanting. Pent up internalised feelings and intense emotion such as frustration, annoyance or sadness can be vented in a socially acceptable way. Men can express and release internalised emotion that they don't feel able to express in other ways.
For young men in particular, 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 most dominant in football crowds across the country.
Watching and supporting football provides an opportunity for connection and belonging in an age where technology means there is less and less direct physical interaction.
Supporting a football club, watching a live game or gathering to watch a match on television are all ways of participating in group activity with people who share the same values and interests. This provides a sense of belonging, identification and inclusion within a larger group. It creates a tangible social identity. Identification with the players as people and the club also promote a sense of belonging.
Having strong relationships is known to be a key factor in the maintenance of positive mental health. Football plays an important role in the formation and maintenance of social and familial relationships. Over 90% of people who attend matches go with friends, family or colleagues.
Football provides a platform to communicate with others, gossip (known to protect mental well-being), exchange views, and bond through celebration and commiseration. It helps people maintain relationships by providing a reason to meet up regularly. Football is a social leveller which allows people from different social and cultural backgrounds to connect. There is always something to talk about or have a view on. It is particularly helpful for people who are shy or who find it difficult to connect with people on other levels.
Football strengthens bonds between family members, most notably between fathers and sons. Many parents see football as an important part of their relationship with their children. In one study it was found that almost every fan was taken to their first match by their father.
Time set aside to watch football is done so deliberately and becomes an expected routine. It generates conversation and provides an opportunity for parent and child to catch up. It creates and protects 'quality time'. This quality time often continues long after children have grown up and so maintains parent/child relationships throughout life.
Keep it in perspective
Football only has a positive effect when it is kept in perspective. An over-reliance on or obsession with football can limit the development of other interests and have a negative impact on male/female relationships and may divert attention away from other family responsibilities.
Football might have an even more beneficial impact on mental health if more fans took to the field, as exercise is known to have a positive effect on our mental well-being.