By Phillip Shaw
Teams on Screens
The outlook for the remainder of this season and next is bleak for attending live football. If the Premier League can get going again there will be no fans allowed at games due to the Covid-19 Pandemic for the foreseeable future.
Whatever your opinion and whichever team you support, the reality of having to follow them on a screen for the foreseeable future is upon us. As someone who has had to experience that recently it comes with a whole new set of problems that many may not be aware of or prepared for.
When my wife was diagnosed with early cancer just after Aston Villa’s 2018 Championship play-off final, football for me took a serious back seat.
I retired from my amateur league team and the quarterly trips from Northern Ireland to Villa Park disappeared. Not to dwell on how bad things got, they are ok now, but it gave me time to look at what viewing football solely via a screen is like when it is forced upon you.
I had always prided myself on living and breathing football and trying to make the pilgrimages to Villa Park to feel like a ‘real supporter’.
An early flight, get the ticket, have a few drinks, enjoy the match and then a dash back to the airport. It was the most cost-effective and best use of time when seeing the game alone. Other weekends were spent either being an unused sub or icing any injuries from playing myself.
Despite all this, by travelling over three or four times a year, you felt like you were keeping your street cred amongst your peers at home and increasingly online. When this was completely removed for the 2018-2019 season some other problems started to emerge.
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This was the most unexpected side effect and possibly the one most of you will experience. The level of support you have for your team suddenly becomes ridiculously amplified. When you haven’t the social outlet to show your support and release it, it seems to bottle inside you and consume more of your free time.
You are constantly checking social media, constantly looking for something to replace the feeling of the matchday experience and looking for more and more ways to prove your support to other people.
Unless you are alerted to this behaviour by your partner or others you will probably never notice. To put it simply, you will overcompensate because you aren’t following home and away at the weekends.
Overuse of Social Media
Social media to a football fan is like nicotine to a smoker. Look down your Twitter follows and most of them will be football-related. It serves you up a constant stream of information that is like a dopamine hit to your brain. It replaces the chat amongst fans on the terraces or in the bars and it can be exploited.
You begin following media outlets and individual journalists for the latest inside info. Before long, one of them will say something either before or after a match that is designed to elicit a response and you will bite.
You will get involved online over an inflammatory comment without thinking and you will play into their hands. Before long trolls and others will bite at your words and pick sides based on their tribal allegiances. You will also start to feel needy online. You will throw out opinions, reply to people that you would normally scroll past and try to latch on to groups and others that you wouldn’t normally agree with. All of these help to fuel and heighten your emotions before and after matches.
Watching Matches At Home and Temptation
Something that should be enjoyable becomes stressful. The way matches are presented now, especially in the Premier League are not how any football fan would choose to watch a game.
The build-up generally focusses on teams that are the most popular leading to more anger and frustration and there are constant gambling adverts. If you come from an organised sporting background, gambling is always part of the culture.
From doing your accumulator before being lifted for the match to betting on a game of pool afterwards. When you are at home and don’t have to physically go to the bookmakers, the online betting companies have you right where they want you.
Bored with them talking about the ‘big four’ match on later. Have a bet, tight match at half-time, have a bet. Your team lost, here’s a chance to make yourself feel better by winning on the next match. It takes someone not as invested in the match to walk into the room and remark how many adverts there are before you notice.
The Emotional Crutch
This is the one aspect of supporting your team via a screen that did the most damage to me mentally. They became an emotional crutch, by this I mean I used to mentally judge whether I had a good week or not based on how Villa did in their last match.
Terrible life events were unfolding around me, but I still told myself that if Villa won then it had been a good day or week. Unfortunately, the opposite was also true. If Villa lost I was unable to see positives that were going on around the rest of the place. I could have had a cracking week every other way and a bad performance and result would have soured it all.
This only happened when I wasn’t able to go and see the team live. When I was, bad results were dealt with and gone within the context of the day they happened. Behind a screen you have the match itself, the interviews afterwards, the highlights programme, the replay the next day, the analysis on a Monday night and so on. The highs and lows are amplified to ridiculous levels.
Now anyone that has read this may think I’m being stupid and was affected by other events. That’s fine and if you can watch all next season on a screen and not have any difficulties then more power to you. Some people, however, will know what I’m talking about.
If you find yourself getting more hyped when watching at home, getting needy with social media, interfering online or being tempted to bet more than usual over the next few seasons, then just recognise what it is that you are trying to replace.
I was only able to get to Villa Park a few times a season. If it is your weekly ritual you will miss it. International supporters have had to deal with the issues of supporting from afar for years and will have learnt their own ways to do it healthily. Hopefully, the rest of us can do the same.
Phil also appears on the My Old Man Said podcast.
Follow Phil on Twitter – @prsgame