Feelings and football

“Dawn, I’m fed up” – David Brent in The Office

This isn’t a blog about depression, but it does contain some talking about feelings, so you know what to do if that makes you queasy. This isn’t the inspiring story of how Stoke helped me combat mental illness. That’d be false. I don’t know if I suffer from depression or have been depressed in the proper medical sense of the term. I think self-diagnosis of anything – especially matters of the head –  is dangerous. With today being International Men’s Day though, men are rightly being told to share their feelings. As someone completely hopeless at sharing mine, this could be a real mess.

So, how do I feel, right now? Well, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t say I feel happy but I wouldn’t say I feel sad either. I’m fine, I guess. I’ve not got any major life and death worries to pre-occupy me. I have a general idea of where I’m going career-wise. I’ve got mates. I’ve got stuff I could be doing. So yeah, it’s fine. Why am I talking about this on a Stoke blog then?

I can chart the major events of my life in relation to what Stoke were doing then. My life isn’t lived in years, it’s lived in seasons. Summers are remembered in relation to international tournaments. I can date photos by the style of Stoke kit I have on. I remember people and parties by who they support and what the major football stories were. I know it probably isn’t healthy, but I know I have that in common with people. That’s a comfort for obsessives and nerds. Knowing that other people are just as obsessive and nerdy as you are.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do football things. That very rarely meant playing football, although I still enjoy it when I get given the opportunity. I want to go to every ground I can, I want to watch Stoke home and away, I want to read about Stoke, I want to write about them. I want to talk to people about my team and be talked to about my team. When I was younger, I used to pride myself on my knowledge of the game – devouring transfer stats from Match Magazine or matchday programmes. I gained an appreciation for the act of being a fan itself, more so than the players and managers. I loved listening to fans on the radio and reading these things called ‘fanzines’. Who were these mysterious people who wrote for ‘The Oatcake?’ – can I do that? Is that a job? Writing about Stoke? Will they let me write for them? I know what Christian Vieri’s transfer fee is, see I’m clever. I’d even write, print off and staple together my own ‘fanzine’. Complete with match reports, opinion pieces and ripped-off ‘jokes’.

You’d think this would mean a career in football journalism, but not. I’ve been paid to write about football, but I’d not really class myself as a proper football journalist. I thought about trying to be one, but for a whole bunch of reasons – personal, financial, motivational, spiritual (Ok, pack it in Supertramp) it didn’t happen. That’s been alright though, as not being put down a set path has allowed me to do the football things I really want to do.

I like doing football pieces that entail me going to a football match and then going to the pub afterwards. I like pieces about what football clubs mean to their fans and their area. I like pieces about fans who are trying to save their club and clubs who are saving their fans. I grew up ninety miles away from the club I love, so I suppose I like this kind of stuff because I have an idealistic – possibly naïve notion that football is basically about community. I like stats, but I’m not that interested in them. If there’s a good game, I’ll enjoy it but what I really love is everything around football. Fanzines, grounds, a good away pub, memorabilia, a lovely kit, going absolutely spare at your neighbours’ crap opinions.

Anyway, the feelings. So being ‘freelance’ (sometimes a euphemism for unemployed, sometimes not) I’ve had the chance to throw my time, money and energy into projects about football. Writing has been an enjoyable one, but you’re only on this site right now because I decided to give podcasting a go. The podcasting is helping to feed the ‘fine-ness’ mentioned above. It’s not that anything’s going badly, or I want to quit them, it’s just a sense of agitation – uneasiness if you will. If you’ve done anything creative (or maybe it doesn’t have to be creative) then perhaps you know what I mean. I simultaneously love and am really annoyed by my own creation. I want to hit reset – I want to start it all over. Why? I don’t particularly know. Some of the best conversations and most fun experiences of my life are locked away on those .mp3 and .wav files. Maybe it’s a very modern expression of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This isn’t perfect, tear it all down and start again. None of it matters, and yet it matters a great deal. It’s either a fun thing I do with my mates or it’s a failed creative project. 

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I know it’s bollocks. We’ll have good episodes and bad episodes but fundamentally it’s still a good thing. There are the people for one thing, I owe The Wizards of Drivel Podcast a huge debt of gratitude for helping me make so many new friends. For finding a fan community online after over 20 years of seeing a Stoke fan community through the eyes of a visitor. I enjoy every recording, I look back on past experiences producing it and smile – despite, yes, Stoke being absolute bollocks for pretty much our entire run.

But still the uneasiness. The feeling that there’s a sprite whispering in my ear. “That episode didn’t sound very good.” “That interview didn’t go well” “Not many people listened to that” “People didn’t like that tweet” “Who are you kidding?” “You’re not a journalist” “You’re not even from Stoke” “PROPER Stoke fans don’t like the podcast.” “They don’t like you.”

If the negative sprite was on football twitter. It would have called me an ‘unreal fraud’. Or a nonce.

Then in my self-doubt I’ll either shut down or lash out. Blame others for my (perceived) failings, curse lovely people for not helping me enough when they help too much if anything. Then my stupid doubts about the podcast become bigger doubts about myself. My personality, my appearance, what everyone thinks of me. Are these symptoms of depression? Or am I being a self-diagnosing twat for thinking I might have it just because I feel uneasy sometimes? I know people who have struggled with that foul condition, and I can’t think it’s the same. I know that I can talk to people, I’ll be fine the next morning and that I’ll look forward to the next game, the next pub visit, the next podcast, the next article.

So what have I just spent the last 1100 words trying to say? Well, if we’re getting into the spirit of International Men’s Day as a recourse for repressed blokes to say stuff they don’t like saying, I daresay I’ve done a fucking good job here. I look forward to cringing at, and possibly deleting this article later. I love football, I love Stoke, I still love doing what I do. It’s just that all of it really tenses me up sometimes. Like being prodded with an insecurity stick. To football, the cause of and solution to, all of life’s problems. 

The sprite’s asleep now. It’s been a long day.

I’m fine.

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