Date: 29th November 2013 at 4:14pm
Written by:

Co-editor Chrisgwfc discusses the mental health and the sanctity of players’ personal lives

‘He bowls to the left,

He bowls to the right,

That Mitchell Johnson,

His bowling is *****’,

It was a song that was music to any English cricket lover`s ears three years ago as England ended their 24 year wait to win an Ashes series down under.

Three years on the tables have been turned with England’s Jonathan Trott leaving the tour to deal with a long-running stress related illness.

The Aussies ‘sledging’ has also been called into question following David Warner’s derogatory comments about Trott following the close of play on day three and captain Michael Clarke’s threat to break the arm of James Anderson. It is these types of events which bring into focus the mental side of the game and continues to show sport is played as much in the mind as on the field of play.

The song sung by Barmy Army supporters about Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson followed a number of poor bowling displays from the Queenslander during the series.

Only recently, in the build up to this Ashes series, it was revealed that Johnson had visited a psychiatrist in order to get overcome his issues of playing against England. That song was sung in the knowledge that the ridicule of a players performance is part and parcel of playing professional sport at the highest level in front of thousands who have paid to voice their opinions. Right?

The situation of mental health in sport is as delicate as it is emotive. At the end of the day, as supporters, we have absolutely no idea what is going on in our own team`s dressing room or indeed in the players personal lives.

Any humorous chanting or vilification of our own players either during matches or afterwards through social media such as Twitter, is done so in the knowledge that these professionals have the ability to cope with it and not let it affect them.

What tends to be forgotten in these debates is that being a professional footballer or indeed any professional sportsman is one of the most pressurised jobs you could wish to do.

There always has and always will be the argument that they are paid astronomical figures as a reward and of course they are, but what about the common saying that ‘money cannot buy happiness’?.

At the end of the day, sportsmen and women all go through the same tribulations as anyone else, family illnesses/bereavements, relationship break-ups, bringing up children or suffering depression.

What they do and how much they earn does not guarantee immunity from these types of things. But unlike most, at the end of the week, they have to go out and perform in front of thousands of people knowing if they are just 10% below their usual standards they will be potentially booed and abused by their own supporters and vilified on social media for days or weeks afterwards.

We can acquaint this with the situation to Watford currently. The run of five games without a win for a team in the summer who was expected to be challenging for automatic promotion has lead to a number of criticisms of the manager and various players.

Troy Deeney and Manuel Almunia in particular have been at the end of a lot of harsh criticism for perceived mistakes and poor performances. Sometimes, just sometimes, it crosses the line particularly on Twitter.

Gianfranco Zola too, has been branded ‘clueless’ and ‘idiotic’, with some feeling he has no idea what he is doing. Of course, none of the people saying these things have the first idea about any of our players` lives or what may be going on in them. That is not to say that there is anything going on in their lives which might mean the current criticism would get on top of them. But the point is that we don’t know and we should be mindful of that.

Supporters pay their money to watch players perform and they expect to see them perform well. Of course there will be disappointment if the results do not match expectations and that criticisms made about players may well be valid or true.

However, supporters often preach about the so called ‘loyalty’ they expect from players towards the club. But surely loyalty works both ways and does not just mean turning up to see your team perform each week. Loyalty could be a group of supporters standing by a player going through a bad run of form in the knowledge they will repay you further down the line.

Criticism of players is of course fair, and supporters feel and do have the right to it. As long as that criticism is fair and analytical and not, as we sadly see so often, a tirade of abuse and ranting about who is or isn’t good enough to wear your team`s shirt.

It`s true that players have a responsibility to the fans, but the fans also have a responsibility to the players and that is to be fair to them.

Remember, you never know what is going on in your team`s dressing room or your players` lives.

In the interest of accuracy & fairness, we`d like to point out that this article in no way infers that any Watford F.C players are suffering from any form of mental health issues and that the only suggestion is that we as supporters, do not have the first clue about what occurs in the personal life of any player; a point well worth making – Ed.