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Old Trafford is my church

I was talking to a mate recently who’s going through a breakup and he passed a throwaway comment that he was “gutted Leeds is off, I could have done with that this weekend to take my mind off it for a bit.”

It reminded me another side of football for match going fans, the healing process, the ability to forget about life, a chance to immerse yourself in something other than our mundane 9-5’s, a release from the daily grind and days that disappear under the monotony of our simple existence on this planet.

Football, for some, is simply a hobby that puts a smile on their face.

For others, it can be the only true joy they experience in the round of a week, while going through a hard time personally.

I’ve been there.

After my son passed away in 2019 I was lost, I felt like a captain-less boat on the ocean just drifting around with no purpose, aimlessly going through the motions each day, as I tried to come to terms with what had happened and struggled. I found it hard to speak to my family and friends, I bottled up my inner demons and I swirled down the drain of depression filled nights and tough days

I couldn’t be arsed going to football, I just didn’t have the mind-frame to drag myself to the airport and put on a smile and pretend everything was all right, it wasn’t.

But eventually I missed the lads, I missed that buzz of excitement pre-match, dissecting the potential team line-ups over a beer, the smiles on peoples faces, seeing kids glow with the happiness of attending the game. I got off my arse and headed off with the boys again.

Pre-match, I wasn’t quite able to get into it as before, I didn’t feel as though I should be happy, how could I be, when my life had turned upside down?

But once I set foot in the ground, and that first whistle shrilled through the air, it felt as though time stood still mentally, it hit the pause button on my feelings and I was utterly immersed in what happened to those 11 lads wearing the shirt I adored since birth, my only concern was the outcome of this game and the success or failure of my team.

Surrounded by my people, people who I don’t know but share a common bond with, an inexplicable love for a bunch of footballers who have no idea who any of us are, who live lives that are vastly different to us, their millions of pounds in the bank, their supercars, the glamorous events they attend and the lifestyle they lead, a stark contrast to our regular lives of work and financial stress, energy bills, rising fuel costs…we’re not the same by any stretch in stature, but for 90 minutes, we are one.

It didn’t matter what the result of that game was.

For 90 minutes I forgot my pain, I forgot how low I was the rest of the week, the struggle to sleep, the tears I shed in private when nobody was looking.

For 90 minutes I sang, chanted, celebrated, fumed at bad decisions.

For 90 minutes, I was free of my own inner thoughts, solely existing to support my team and nothing else on earth mattered.

I’ve seen lads who have dedicated their life to following their team at home, away and Europe. They attend games more than 99% of people will ever do and you’d be forgiven for wondering why? How do they do it so much? How do they make a such a sacrifice to focus their life on following a team around the country and around the world?

For some people, football is a television show, shown every few days. It’s something that amuses them and entertains them.

For others, it’s the chance to go watch their team every now and then and enjoy a trip away with their friends for the weekend on the piss, or taking their kids to make lifelong memories of parent and child sharing these experiences, a passing of the baton to the next generation.

For a small number, this is their life, and I’d wager that for a smaller number again, it’s done through a need of escape coupled with an addiction of love.

So often, football is viewed as a sport watched by p*ssheads out to cause trouble, football fans are just hooligans, always in bother.

The reality of it though, is this beautiful game serves to provide so much more than just a sporting obsession.

Let’s not forget Covid lockdowns when football was taken away from us, how much we yearned for it even to be on TV, never mind the ability to attend, how much we longed for that release, the excitement, the ups and downs.

Remember how it felt that first game we got to go back to? The collective sigh of relief of being back at the ground watching our side again could be heard around the U.K.

Faithless put it well, a line from their song God Is A DJ aptly describes the feeling experience by many when they enter that football ground to being another 90 minutes of forgetting.

“This is my church, this is where I heal my hurt.”

After my son passed and not being an overly religious chap, my church was Old Trafford, my church were the many grounds we visited for away days and beyond, football gave me a release and continues to do so, no doubt for many many years to come.

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