“More than just a game” is a phrase we’ve all heard when it comes to football.
Not everyone agrees, which is understandable, on the surface it’s a fairly ludicrous claim to make about a 90 minute period of 22 people kicking a ball around.
Football’s true impact goes far deeper than the surface though.
Few sports have consistently drawn in generation after generation quite like the beautiful game.
Football is about much more than the 90 minutes, it’s about the build up, the friendships it creates, it’s the thing that gives you bragging rights on a Monday morning at work.
It’s the feeling of having an awful week – but for a few hours on a Saturday morning that all disappearing.
There’s a million reasons why football is so much more than just a game for millions across the world, for me the idea really hit home after my dad got sick.
My relationship with my dad was a fairly typical one for any young lad growing up in Manchester. Emotional moments were few and far between, it was more the kind of bond you’d have with a good mate.
Any kind of lengthy conversation we had somehow found its way back to football, if I had never liked the game I honestly don’t know what we would have chatted to each other about. Aside from biology, it was always the strongest point of connection. I knew if I was ever in trouble for something I’d done at school, that I could shift the subject by mentioning the afternoon kickoff.
My mum hated that.
No surprises then, that he had me playing football before I could even walk, it was always going to be a huge part of both of our lives whether I liked it or not.
As it happens, I managed to play at a half-decent level when I was younger. Though I think he always convinced the pair of us that I was better than I actually was.
Every Friday I played 5-a-side with him and a few of his workmates. This is when I got closest to him – by this point him and my mum had split and it was a welcome routine for both of us.
It was actually one of these Friday nights that his issues started. On my way home, I got a phone call saying that he’d been rushed to hospital. Not one to cause a fuss, he typically put it down to a “funny turn”.
Only that funny turn turned out to be a stroke. In fact it turned out to be the first of six strokes in the space of two weeks.
What followed were some of the darkest times any of us have had to endure. On more than one occasion we were told we should prepare for the worst and for at least a couple of months, I was convinced he wouldn’t make it.
Miraculously, to the disbelief of every doctor and nurse who had cared for him, my dad survived. However the after-effects of a stroke can be vastly cruel and he couldn’t escape them. Losing the use of his left side, struggling with his speech and memory – along with the constant mental battle that comes with adjusting to a different kind of life.
Seeing the same person who would purposely clip my heels if I dared dribble past him and finding it hilarious every time, struggling to remember how to make a brew is a harrowing reminder of life’s fragility.
Despite struggling with those mundane tasks, there’s one subject which will still send his mind racing, the topic that can still get him excited the same way it always has.
Ask my dad what he had for dinner last night, he’ll struggle to tell you. But ask him about the 1989 Manchester Derby and he’ll reel off every player who scored in City’s 5-1 demolition of United at Maine Road.
It’s staggering really. He’s given memory tasks to try and get his brain up to speed and he’ll reel off full City squads from years ago with no hesitation.
Even with the very obvious physical and mental struggles, you talk to him about football and in the blink of an eye, he’s back, working faster than any kind of medication could, debating and arguing with all the stubbornness that used to drive me mad.
That’s why football is far more than just 22 players, kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. It holds the ability to create some kind of positivity in the bleakest of circumstances.
Of course it’s impossible to say for definite – but without it I’m pretty certain my dad would be in a much worse place than he is now.
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