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ANAS HASSAN: How this football season mended my mental health

The pandemic took its toll on Anas Hassan's mental health but football has given him back his bounce.
The pandemic took its toll on Anas Hassan's mental health but football has given him back his bounce.

The last year in particular has made me properly realise what life is for.

It’s football.

But this column isn’t just for football fans.

It’s for anyone who has found their thing. The thing that makes life worth living. Because when you put your heart and soul into something you sometimes get a whole lot more back.

It’s been a challenging few years, for all sorts of reasons.

I’ve dealt with depression and loneliness at times, and the coronavirus pandemic made things much worse.

Like a lot of people I found the restrictions tough.

It was hard to face the same four walls every day, without the promise of the activities that brought me joy and escapism.

So when football fans were finally allowed back into stadia last summer, I took a scary yet exhilarating step.

I bought my first ever season ticket at Heart of Midlothian.

I say scary because it wasn’t cheap. Exhilarating because it changed my life so much for the better.

Camaraderie and macaroni pies

I suppose I should explain why this Fifer isn’t supporting a local team.

It’s complicated.  I’ve supported Newcastle for about 20 years after visits there when I was young. And when my English side visited Tynecastle in 2017, I decided to make Hearts my Scottish club.

Anas (the Manace) and his season ticket.

So now Tynecastle is my happy place.

Often I’ll go to away matches too, or travel to Tyneside to St James’ Park. On Saturday I’ll be at Hampden for the Scottish Cup final against Rangers.

It doesn’t matter how good or bad my week has been. When I’m at Gorgie or Tyneside the atmosphere lifts me. And the results aren’t everything either.

It’s about the regular camaraderie with fellow supporters.

It’s about fuelling my body with far too much chocolate, macaroni pies and tea.

And it’s about screaming my head off like an idiot when the goals are scored and  victories are sealed.

I’ve even gone a step further and can now call myself a co-owner of Heart of Midlothian.

It became the largest fan-owned club in the UK after then owner ​Ann Budge transferred her shares to the Foundation of Hearts last year.

And I’m proud to be a part of something so much bigger.

Football clubs have given me a place to talk about my mental health

Both football clubs have also played a major part in lifting my mental health outside of matches.

Fellow fans in the Changing Room group at Big Hearts, the official charity of Heart of Midlothian, have played a huge part in giving me a space to talk.

The scheme was launched by the Scottish Association for Mental Health in 2018 and it’s now delivered in football clubs across Scotland.

Its work was recognised when Prince William visited Tynecastle this month.

I’ve also had support from fellow Newcastle United supporters. And the club’s charity arm, the Newcastle United Foundation, does great work to help people with their mental wellbeing.

Prince William visited Heart of Midlothian Football Club to find out more about its Changing Room mental health project. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

There are similar schemes going on at clubs across the UK – in addition to the informal fellowship that fans share week in week out.

They say you don’t know what you have until it’s taken away from you.

And my football clubs have given me a proper sense of belonging in the world.

Every pound spent, mile clocked and marathon journey made has been absolutely worth it.

And given everything that has happened in the last couple of years, going to games is a freedom I’ll never take for granted again.

Anas Hassan is a DC Thomson broadcast journalist who reports for Kingdom FM.

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