Can Mindfulness replace going to a football match?


‘The problem with mindfulness for men is that the practice of it asks us to look toward and open up to vulnerability because that is where the gold is.’ – Elisha Goldstein


This weekend was the 4th round of the FA Cup, and as usual, as a Newcastle fan, I had little to get excited about – even my fantasy football team didn’t play this weekend!  I noticed that I had an uncomfortable feeling, that something was missing, and that feeling was similar to the feelings I get when on the rare occassion I miss meditating for a day.It got me thinking, if the absence of each feels the same, do they serve the same purpose?


I recalled a recent conversation with a close friend who told me about a colleague, Ben,  and his first memories of going to the match.  When he was about 12 his father took him to his first game,.  Like many 12 year old kids he wanted to be like his dad and loved spending time with him.  His dad was hardworking , solid and dependable, he maintained a typical English stiff upper lip when things were not going right.  He had a close group of male friends who he played cards with on a Thursday night, although there was some conversation and occasional laughter- none of them could be accused of overtly showing emotion, these were tough northern men. However, from getting to the pub a couple of hours before kick off to getting back home, something changed.  For those 5 hours his dad and his dad’s mates changed.  Intense and overt emotion became the norm, there was joy, there were tears, there was anger and frustration, there was compassion and empathy.  Most of all there was focus and awareness.  Every opportunity to pass was spotted, every foul was noticed, there was anticipation and there was curiosity.  His dad and his friends were truly in the moment and were totally in touch with their emotions. However, there was judgement, a lot of it!  It was a great match, he already enjoyed playing football with his mates and watching it on television, but this was different, he was hooked.


Mindfulness is defined as being in the present moment, on purpose, with curiosity and non-judgement.  It has been shown to to reduce stress, increase awareness and improve relationships with others.  Much has been written about about the British stiff upper lip and their tendency to not show emotion.  Mindfulness can be an effective way to bring awareness and balance to our feelings and thoughts.  At Mindful Therapies we run regular courses, drop-ins and one to one counselling & coaching. Mindfulness is not just about helping people manage their emotions, it also about helping us to notice them.


Many of the concepts and issues we cover on our courses on mindfulness and positive psychology are directly experienced by millions of football fans every week.:


  • Flow – In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. In my experience, for ninety minutes when I am at the match I am completely absorbed in the game.
  • Acceptance – Most of us football fans support teams that are unlikely to win the league or cup, but most of the time we are able to accept this reality.  One of the reasons why we suffer is because we want things to be different to how they are. When we can begin to accept our difficult experiences in the moment we can begin to soften some of the resistance, judgement, criticism and blame that we may add to our experience. This may not make our difficult experience go away but it may make the experience more manageable. Practising self-compassion is a crucial element of acceptance.  As a Newcastle United fan I practice acceptance a lot!
  • Appreciation – Football is often referred to as the beautiful game, in every match there are great tackles, sublime passes and fantastic saves, we may wish for them more from our own team but most fans can appreciate beautiful football from any team. Often when we are finding life difficult and overwhelming we only see the problem; we only see the difficulty. We don’t see that this is only part of the story. By practising appreciation we can begin to see that there are positive and pleasant aspects of our lives that we might have overlooked. We are not using this to distract from the difficulty or pretend that the difficulty isn’t there but we are putting some space around the difficulty and seeing a bigger picture. Even when our team loses there is an opportunity to appreciate the beautiful game.
  • Connecting to others – Human beings are social creatures, we are happier and at our best when we connect with others. Yes there is an element of tribalism and rivalry between opposing supporters but there is also shared experience, empathy and compassion.  Since 2014 Newcastle United fans applaud during the 17th minute as a tribute two two supporters who died on flight MH17.  At most games,many of the opposition fans join in the tribute.


Of course football can have a dark side, at its worst it leads to the football hooliganism that blighted the game in this country in 70’s and 80’s.  However nor is Mindfulness all relaxation and happiness, it to can also evoke negative feelings, but it teaches us to respond rather than react.


Although football provides the opportunity for men, and women, to express their emotions and be in the moment, there is certainly judgement.  Being a football fan provides an opportunity for safe expression of emotion amongst like minded others, Mindfulness courses offer an opportunity for safe exploration of emotion amongst like minded others.  They are different but they can compliment each other.

No, Mindfulness is not a substitute for football or vice versa, but they both offer an opportunity for us to be our true selves.

Mark Sidney, football fan and Mindfulness trainer

Mark Sidney Director at Mindful Therapies and NUFC season ticket holder