For Newcastle fan Davy Craig, being part of a wider football community pulled him through periods of severe mental ill health.
Imagine you had supported Newcastle United all your life. You were immensely proud of your Geordie heritage, and then discovered that it could all have been based on a lie?
That’s what happened to me.
When I was just seven years old, I asked my mum about my dad, because somebody had commented that I looked nothing like him. That was the beginning of some really difficult conversations that I continued to have over the years, having found various documents and overhearing conversations that led to me doubting where I came from.
I eventually found out, after my dad’s death and quite late in life, that he wasn’t my birth father after all. I also found out that I hadn’t been born in the North East: I was born in Leeds. It was another blow to my confused identity.
It all resulted in mental health problems that led to anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and a stammer. I struggled at university and walked away from a budding career in music. I was in self-sabotage mode for many years.
But even though my life has felt chaotic and my identity confused, the one thing that has remained constant is being part of the football community.
Improving mental health through football
Football features in many aspects of my life – and therefore my mental health recovery, too.
My wife, Sara, my kids and I are all fans, so there’s football chat at home, as well as at the match, and I’ve been a fan of Newcastle United for as long as I can remember – from kicking the ball around as a kid to enjoying the beautiful game as an adult.
These days, playing is impossible as I’m disabled, but football is more than the game itself – it’s the community, the focus, the identity, and as someone who experienced significant mental health problems throughout most of my adult life, it’s become the light that keeps me going.
Today, when I look back at the times in my life when I’ve been in total despair, some of the most positive memories that remained a constant were about being part of the Newcastle United community.
My wife has also become a part of that community, so it’s something that we can share together. In fact, we appear in We Are The Geordies together.
Those 90 minutes of focus that you gain from watching a match – whether at the ground or on screen, give you 90 minutes’ respite from everything that’s going on around you.
It’s a time where you can forget everything else and re-charge by being in the moment. It’s modern mindfulness for football fans.
Having a shared identity also opens the doors to new friendships. You know you immediately have something in common with someone and you’re all hoping for the same outcome: for your team to win.
It gives you a conversation starting point – something you’re never lost for words with – and from that many more conversations can form.
Shared experiences and the football family
We are all peers, all equals, with one thing in common: the love of our team. It takes away the shame and stigma when you see others you can relate to talking about their experiences of mental health.
I say something at the end of the We Are The Geordies movie that sums it up. We’d literally just won the Championship and I was asked how it meant. I replied:
“It doesn’t really matter… but it does!”
When it comes to football, it just seems like it’s in your blood. It’s part of my identity that nobody can take away.
And I’m grateful to have discovered that it’s a place I can turn to when my mental health is suffering.