When Tom was looking for contributions to his blog regarding mental health within football only last month, I opened up and touched on how football supported me in my own life and helped me deal with struggles I may have or had in the past. So I decided maybe it’s time for me to expand ever so slightly and give a bit of a background as to what I really mean.
I’m a 26 year old guy, living in the Black Country however only a short journey away from our beloved Villa Park. I’m a Charge Nurse within Community Nursing within the National Health Service, and have been qualified as a Nurse for 5 years, with me graduating as a post-graduate tomorrow from a Specialist Practice course I undertook last year through the University of Wolverhampton. I have my own house, my own car, a large friend network and also a great, supportive, family, who are also all claret and blue. I’d say I’m a fairly healthy minded person and always feel I’m not too serious and don’t let things get me down. That is until something happens to your mindset which is difficult to battle through.
I’ll take you back to where my love of football and Aston Villa began. I was born in Albert Road in Aston. A stones throw away from Villa Park. I remember being a kid and my brothers going off to the match on a night time. The lights from Villa Park lit up the night skies and you could hear the roar from Villa Park all the way from home. From that moment, I knew there was something special about it all. Claret and blue ran through my whole family. My Grandad grew up in Aston and attended King Edwards grammar school just up from Aston Park. My mom grew up on Lodge Road, opposite house to Ozzy Osbourne and his family. As my mom grew up, they moved up the A34 to Great Barr, another Villa stronghold and the birthplace of our very own Dean Smith. Mom eventually met Dad, another Villa fan from Bartley Green and so me and my siblings never were going to be anything other than claret and blue. For my entire childhood we lived in Aston and then moved to Great Barr, only recently in the last 18 months moving myself over to Oldbury, a real Baggies stronghold. I held my first season ticket in 2000-2001, Luc Nilis scoring the first goal of my season ticket era at Villa Park. My first season following Villa was the year before, Benito Carbone scoring the winner in a 2-1 win vs Darlington in the FA Cup Third Round in my first game as a Villan. I got hooked, attended the Semi Final at the old Wembley as we beat Bolton on penalties. David James was my hero, pity Jamo’s mistake led to Chelsea defeating us in the final a month later. I’ll always have a soft spot for Jamo, he was a good goalkeeper for Villa, despite his mistake in the final.
Roll forward almost 20 years. I’ve held my season ticket consecutively during that period. Highs and lows, 12 managers in that time, some great players, some poor ones too. But I’ve never stopped being amazed at Aston Villa as a club. The history, heritage, size, stadium, colours, traditions- everything about is feels so unique, and it feels so good to be a part of. As a teenager I joined a well known Villa forum and met some lifelong friends through it. The power of the internet. I had a spell where I went to all the away games aswell as the home games, this being stunted somewhat in recent years by growing up and having to work.
For myself there is one aspect of my life which I’ve maybe struggled with over the years. My sexuality. Since I was in my latter teen years, I realised I was attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite, and boy was it a challenge. I’m a 6’3, well built, very deep voice, masculine sort of guy who absolutely loves his football. The amount of times you get strange looks when people realise your sexuality, ‘ but but what about your love of football?!’. The one statement which grinds my gears. Why can’t a Gay guy go and follow the Villa and love everything about it like anyone else would? Going on dates is always interesting when you discuss your hobbies and they pull a face when you mention your love for Aston Villa and football. Imagine my face when they say they don’t know anything about football. Next….
The reason I talk about this is the main part of this post. It’s a lesson I learnt and hopefully others will take something from it. I got myself into a relationship around 2 years ago now, surprisingly for me fell head over heels for this person. This person didn’t like football or know anything about it but it didn’t bother me much as well we all have different hobbies. However, during that time in the relationship I isolated myself off from my one passion and hobby, Aston Villa. I devoted so much time into this relationship that my relationship with Villa suffered. I stopped attending away games as I felt bad going off and leaving him and I used to often receive comments about whether I should be going to this match or that match etc. I’d gone from the die hard season ticket holder attending 10+ away games a season to someone who was rarely attending away games and being prepared to miss home matches too. That wasn’t me, that was someone else inside there making these choices. It was just a culmination of how deep I’d got myself into this relationship. I was probably happier as I’d ever been though, however was naive and very much in my own bubble. It was a relationship which I put my heart and soul into and in September time last year it all came to a sudden stop. He unleashed the bombshell he no longer wanted to be with me and started a process of where I got stomped all over and treating pretty badly, to the point my own mental health took a battering. Spending countless days on end wondering if there is any light at the end of the tunnel. People telling you all will be ok in a few weeks and you won’t feel like this forever. Being helpless, that person you spent all your days with has gone, in a flash. Beating yourself up over the amount of time, effort and money you put into the relationship and how much you gave up for that person, just for it to blow up in your face. It isn’t a pleasant feeling, as a lot of you guys will know who have been through break ups. I won’t go into the full details of the break up, it isn’t the time or place and certainly isn’t a Dear Deirdre column!
Fortunately for me, I have a very strong family support network who all helped. I’d just started my new senior role at work allowing me to devote a lot of my time into that. I find in a situation where your mind takes a bruising, it is certainly good to have something you can focus on. For me at the start it was work. I still had my Villa season ticket but had got into the habit of attending games at Villa Park, leaving dead on the final whistle and being home within 45 minutes and not attending any away games. It was a habit I’d got into whilst in the relationship and one which I realised I wasn’t too fond of. Back in February, I got hold of 2 tickets for Stoke City away, my first away game of the season. Being around my fellow die hard Villa fans on the road once again was pure bliss. I realised how much I’d missed this. This was my club, on the road, making noise, my mates. We fought back that day and claimed a point due to Albert Adomah’s equaliser and the celebrations certainly turned it into one of my favourite away days for some time. Since then, Villa have won 8 in a row, me attending all those games including the away games. I look back fondly at that Stoke game, it wasn’t only a turning point for our club as we head towards the end of season play-off lottery but a turning point for me aswell. I realised how important this club is to me in my life. I shouldn’t be giving this up for anybody. It’s my hobby, my passion, my club. One life lesson learnt in it all, you should never try and mould yourself to the person someone else wants you to be. That’s what I did, and something I’ll never ever do again. Be yourself, that’s the most important factor and enjoy whatever you enjoy doing.
Lastly, a big thank you goes out from me to the Villa community on Twitter. The followers I’ve had and the mates I’ve made just through that AVFC hashtag. The lads on there who you meet at away games, arrange meet ups for beers etc, the guys who have made themselves available whenever you need a chat. The internet truly is a wonderful thing, it opens up so many avenues and has made me realise how amazing the Villa family is and how important Aston Villa is in so many of our lives. It is more than 90 minutes of football, it is a real community. As always, thanks to Tom for allowing me to contribute and thanks for reading. Any comments or anyone wants a chat you’ll find me on Twitter: @simonlines
Thanks again and Up The Villa,