Robin Sainty: A lack of football presents a different set of issues to tackle

Norwich City fans are missing their football fix - and it affects some more than othersPicture: PA

Norwich City fans are missing their football fix - and it affects some more than othersPicture: PA - Credit: PA

Anyone who has ever sat next to me will know that I can get pretty noisy during games.

Up to 1,000 fans were allowed in to Carrow Road for the home game against Preston, but it didn't las

Up to 1,000 fans were allowed in to Carrow Road for the home game against Preston, but it didn't last Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Realistically, I’m just as likely to come out with total nonsense as to produce any meaningful insight, but the very fact that being at a match allows me not just to let off steam by shouting and singing as well as enjoying some banter with those in neighbouring seats is a vital form of therapy that is currently denied to all of us.

It was bad enough in the spring when we firstly had no football and then the disaster (from a City perspective) of Project Restart, but it feels even worse now that City are playing so well.

As one fan puts it: “It feels like life is passing me by and even though the football is still being played it feels like I’m empty inside.

“Now the stands are silent, and we are forced to watch football from our homes. I don’t feel the passion or the excitement any more. I don’t get the release of pent-up stress and emotions. Watching football is what we do at the weekends. It’s what we need to feel connected with others.”

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One of the many negative effects of the pandemic is the sense of isolation that social distancing and the exclusion of crowds has engendered, and that has in turn triggered a huge increase in the number of people struggling with their mental health.

Since the first lockdown the Canaries Trust have been trying to support people who are having a tough time. People like Kris Gunns, our mental health ambassador, and Sarah Webb, a mental health first aider, have been working hard to offer support to City fans who are finding life difficult.

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Sometimes people just need a sympathetic ear, but in other cases problems occur because of the double-edged sword of social media, which on the one hand can help people to connect virtually but, because it is based on the written word which cannot pick up nuance or body language, can also create misunderstandings.

As one sufferer of borderline personality disorder (a condition that can cause cognitive distortions or perceptual distortions) explained: “With my condition, words can often make me believe that something is true when it isn’t. I’ve been called an attention seeker, and that has led to me becoming more reserved on social media.”

Unfortunately, that sort of comment reflects a tendency in some quarters to see mental health as something that can be solved by people “pulling themselves together” which is one of the reasons that such a stigma still attaches to mental health.

However, social media also provides a platform for words to be deliberately used to harm, creating another mental health trigger, and something that will be highlighted during Anti Bullying Week, which starts on Monday, when the club plans to send a powerful message about tackling this issue.

The Trust has been liaising with the club’s Safeguarding Group for some time and we know what excellent work they are doing to reduce the risk of harm being caused by bullying behaviour within their environments.

The bottom line is that these are difficult times for everybody. As the pandemic has rumbled on, we’ve seen a significant increase in domestic violence, eating disorders and people struggling to feed their families or even becoming homeless.

In the context of that, football may seem of trivial importance but, for so many of us, going to games is a key part of normal life. Being unable to do so is painful enough, but allied to other pressures it can be devastating for some.

If you or someone you know is struggling, don’t struggle alone. The Trust can give you support or put you in touch with professional help. Just go to our website which contains contact details for ourselves as well as mental health charities like MIND and CALM.

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