Funny old game, isn’t it? Even the most indifferent and disinterested of people knows that now, not just in Britain, but people across the globe are in the grip of soccer’s World Cup.
I have to say, as someone who really didn’t intend watching any of it, it’s becoming a gripping attraction. Teams I would never in a thousand years take any interest in have somehow turned what I thought would be football overkill into an absorbing spectacle.
From the sheer drama of minnows Iran holding on, and holding on, against all the odds, until the cruel fate of some last minute genius from Argentina, right up to the beauty and expression of sides like France, the Netherlands and Australia, the World Cup has been an unrivalled spectacle.
The mood of the tournament has no doubt been helped immeasurably with it being in Brazil. Everyone there appears to look upon it as a month long samba party with a few football games thrown in. Camera shots to the crowd have been full of face paint, dancing and broad smiles.
Apart from, very noticably, England. Of course, results haven’t helped, with them on their way home very early on, something that reigning champions Spain have the dubious pleasure of sharing. Yet even during games, crowd shots among the English contingent showed more often than not standing, with arms folded, and faces at best sullen.
It was brought home to me how seriously English people take the game yesterday when, on a message board, someone complained that they had become depressed as the demise of England had sunk in. My response to their usage of words to describe how unhappy they were was far too harsh, mind. Perhaps I’m too touchy when the word, or derivative of, ‘depression’, is used in the context of something as comparatively meaningless as soccer.
I’m also, clearly, too full of pride and not enough humility, as I couldn’t bring myself to say I’d over-reacted, but that’s by the by. A thought had occurred to me. With the by now deeply entrenched overkill of the game on radio, tv and newspapers, maybe, just maybe, the environment is actually there where defeat in a game can genuinely trigger depression.
Of course, England failing in World Cups only happens once every four years, and even then that’s relative. Having been brought up on Scotland qualifying for it more or less as of right, they never even get to join in the World Cup party at all these days, let alone leave it early. Just as well I’ve always had an attitude of victory and defeat being twin imposters.
What happens every week for over nine months of the year, however, with relentless hype, is club football. This is where, closer to home, the effect has been much more alarming, even if not exposed to a worldwide audience like the present Brazilian jamboree.
In Scotland, Hibernian have historically been one of Scotland’s top six clubs. Despite the Glasgow sides usually sweeping the honours, the side from the Eastern side of Edinburgh have considerable support, a tidy stadium, and a long history and tradition. They’re never going to be in the frame to be champions, but competing for other cups, and qualifying for European competition is easily within their resources and potential.
Yet, over the course of 2014, the side, somehow, slid lower and lower down the league table. Crowds remained loyal, turning up in good numbers, but disheartened by performances and the media hype surrounding their descent, Easter Road, where the Hibees play, became a genuinely unhappy place to be. Something I know from experience a couple of times.
I was pleased, mind, as it got the club I own a few shares in, by family inheritance, out of the mire. Yet it was also intensely sad to see. To be sat around people reduced to silence, a sense of dread being seen in their eyes, with shouts of anger and frustration emanating as much as anything else, rubbed off even on me. Despite not supporting them, I left their games feeling down, just as Hibs were going down.
Eventually, they had one last chance. A play-off to decide their fate. Hibernian took a 2-0 first leg lead after visiting opponents Hamilton Academical. 99% of the time that would have been enough for any side to have the confidence to push on and win, with the home leg to come.
Yet, having been around those Hibees faithful this year, I guessed their worry, their paranoia, their fear of their heroes conceding an early goal, would transmit itself onto the pitch and the players. The atmosphere created over the months was one of doom and gloom and would be difficult to shake off.
Which is exactly what happened. Hibs players were nervous and unsure when actually that had every reason to be confident and certain. Inevitably, almost, they conceded an early goal, lost another with a minute left, and were relegated after a penalty shoot-out.
The response by some people I know from that day, three weeks ago, has had all the traits of depression. One or two have, they said, either slept too much or not at all. Meals have been missed out as weight has clearly been lost, too. I’ve known this in one person only by knocking on their door to see them, as they’ve hardly been out.
It defies logic, sinking into depression just because the team you want to kick a ball into a net isn’t very good at it, while millions starve, millions more remain homeless, and billions of people live way below the poverty line.
Yet, in Britain, reflecting, it is almost inevitable. The endless coverage of soccer, the need to bring in viewing, listening or readership figures and make money, means that every tiny detail is scrutinised, published and assessed endlessly. The game is promoted as being far, far more important than it really is.
With such a media onslaught some people will be taken in by it. They will be affected. And yes, despite my own incredulity, people really will and do sink into depression because of football – and if you have depression, whichever way you fall into it, you need help, not the scorn I originally dished out.
So the next time you hear someone saying they’re depressed because County lost again, or Rovers were relegated, try to hold back from the judgmental side of your soul. They might, just might, be speaking a truth and, unlike the media, not be hyping things up.
Right, now where’s that fixture list? Ah yes, right next to the calling card of my therapist …..