Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Author: Dave Seager
Early morning meet at Arsenal FC's, Emirates Stadium
The opening day of a new football season is always an occasion, for those who love the beautiful game, but the start of 2020/21 was obviously different. No build up in the pub with friends sharing expectations, no singing approaching the stadium, in fact no crowd at all.
The pandemic has impacted all sports as it has all of society, but it has also had a serious impact on the mental health of many. For those already suffering, isolation will have been hard and for many the prolonged periods without interaction and company will have brought anxieties and perhaps depression, not previously experienced.
Certainly, being at home, in the early months of lockdown, when combined with the ongoing grieving process, caused me to have a few dark days and the return of football in June was welcome. It is a love of the game that drew me into writing about my team, Arsenal back in 2011 and I have not looked back. For me writing about football, was and is an extension of talking about football, as we all do pre- and post-match and beyond. It is also why podcasting on the game, or your team is another popular extension of the culture. I am sucked into that occasionally too.
What am I rambling on about I can hear you thinking? Well in truth, the above is my way of saying that we football fans like to chat about our mutual passion and talking always helps. It is why the initiative, ‘Walk and Talk’ to raise awareness of Men’s Mental Health appealed to me. Whether you are simply down, or suffering serious mental health issues, the best advice is to talk to others, friends or colleagues about it. Why should we football fans be any different from any other cross section of society when it comes to suffering mentally?
Talking is good and walking and exercise is positive for physical and mental health, so walking and talking must be good surely. What could be better, well walking and talking football obviously. So, at 8am on the 12th of September I was outside Temple Emirates with a few friends and family to meet up with other football fans to walk and talk the 9 miles from Arsenal’s home to Fulham’s ground, Craven Cottage.
En route with the Seager Crew!
I was not truly sure what to expect or how many would be there. I wanted to support Lee Adams, who conceived the concept in 2015, having himself suffered from poor mental health and to raise the profile of Men’s Mental Health in particular, but I had no idea how many would be on the walk. As it turned out there were about 40 of us, I think, a combination of Fulham, Arsenal and even a few hardy Palace boys who had done the walk between Arsenal and Selhurst Park last season.
We wended our way across the capital, and Lee and his wife, the organisers endeavoured to chat to everyone along the way. I too met and chatted to many folk I had not met previously and some that I knew well but had not seen since before the lockdown. We had group photos at the Emirates, at Stamford Bridge en route and when we all arrived safely at Craven Cottage, all with the banner proudly displayed so people knew why we were doing the walk.
A Stamford Bridge pit stop
We all then walked an extra mile along the Thames to enjoy the first game of the new Premier League season with a burger and a pint. It would be fair to say that the Arsenal walkers went home lighter on their weary feet than the Fulham fans, but we all went home having made new friends and feeling that we had done something positive for our own mental wellbeing and to raise awareness of a societal issue that is on the increase.
The Walk and Talkers reach Fulham FC's Craven Cottage
Too many young men are still being told to ‘man up’ when they are suffering. Pull yourself together man is a phrase that should have been consigned to ignorant history but sadly it hasn't been. I will certainly be doing more walks with Lee and other football fans and I will lend him support to grow this admirable initiative - #WalkandTalkMMH