When Wrexham lost their play-off eliminator in early May, it kick-started a spiral of football apathy in my life. My initial gripe was aimed at the National League – an archaic divisional set-up where success is limited, referees are timid and financial disparity isn’t questioned. In our 1-0 extra-time defeat to Eastleigh, all these unfair aspects were raised as we were condemned to a 12th consecutive year outside of the Football League.
The more I sat on my disdain, though, I began to feel further disillusionment with other authorities in football. In the weeks following our defeat to Eastleigh, there have been worsening financial problems at clubs such as Bolton, Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been prevented from playing the Europa League final because of his origin and only a small percentage of tickets have been dispatched for fans of Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal for their respective cup finals.
Add these issues to the more long-standing problems of injustice, such as racism being brushed aside and the World Cup getting staged in a country with an horrific human rights record, and you’ve reached where I’m at with football. It looks sick. I feel like it’s dying.
The essence of the game is still a beautiful thing. I still have a desire to groundhop and see amazing stadiums, players and moments because it really does help my mind. But there needs to be some radical change to make football fairer because the sport’s losing its magic in my heart.
Because of these feelings, rather than search for games to see over the summer months, I decided to take a break from football and find other sources of stress relief to help with my mental well-being. This is what I’ve been doing on my football hiatus.
When my girlfriend’s dad offered us his old bikes, I had a few worries. I hadn’t touched a bike in years. I think the last time was when I was still in school. Would I still be able to ride one?
Remarkably, yes. When we had our first cycle, everything came back almost instantaneously. I could even remember how to ride with one hand (and no hands for a second or so). How your body remembers that balance after so many years is incredible.
After that quick 10-miunte ride, I was ready to go exploring when, before, I was cautious about riding next to the river in case I’d fall in. I’ve now gained experience cycling on roads and have pushed myself further along the National Cycle Network route that’s just two streets away from our house.
I love what cycling has given me – the prospect of being surrounded by peace and quiet in the middle of the countryside within half an hour and to feel so alive while you get there. It’s been the most exhilarating discovery on my football hiatus and I would recommend it to anyone.
When I was younger, I would often take a walk to gather my thoughts. Many times it would be in the dead of night. I liked how things were at night. There was a calmness to the world. It helped me to stop overthinking and passed the time in a positive way when I felt alone. I don’t do as many night walks these days but I can still find that peaceful corner of the world when I go hiking.
Getting to a decent hiking spot proved challenging this time, though, as I was desperate to avoid being on a train. Towards the end of the football season, I had so many delayed and overcrowded trains that wasted hours of my day. I had no desire to travel far during my hiatus so, on my day off, I took a 20-minute train to Church Stretton and hiked around Carding Mill Valley.
There, I explored Rectory Wood for the first time and marvelled at the Shropshire Hills – a rightly accredited Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I was feeling under the weather but I still had a desire to go further and see more of the area.
Now that I’ve had a break from trains, I’m planning to explore further afield again. Snowdonia is on the top of my hiking list while there’s also an opportunity to compete in Orienteering – a sport I learnt about while on a walk around Shrewsbury.
Competitors are given maps and try to get around the countryside or a town in the fastest time. Wrekin Orienteers explained everything to me and gave me a free map to take away. I may well join their club for future races.
Having no desire to travel further than 20 minutes on public transport meant I searched my local area for activities. As it turned out, I may have been severely neglecting my town of residence. Almost every weekend, an event seems to take place in The Quarry – Shrewsbury’s 29-acre park adjacent to the River Severn.
My first discovery was the Shrewsbury Regatta, an annual rowing competition that attracts competitors from across the country. Teams of all ages were competing on the UK’s longest river and crossed the line outside Pengwern Boat Club. It was only a chance walk to the park that led us to the Regatta and it inspired me to keep tabs on more local events happening in the future.
One such event popped up on my timeline during the late May Bank Holiday weekend. Shrewsbury Wacky Races was taking place in the Quarry for the first time and, like the Regatta, was also free to attend.
The girlfriend and I headed over and enjoyed seeing a manner of quirky soapbox cars and racers compete for the inaugural title. Our favourite team, ‘The Head Cases’, dressed up like surgeons and designed a car that looked like a brain. We were delighted to see them win.
Other car designs included a pencil, a hotdog and one saddling a mini ball pit. With so many people in attendance as well, it feels like the event will only grow in popularity next year.
Not only did the Shrewsbury Regatta inspire me to look more locally for events, it also gave me the incentive to search for more sports to watch in the future. I can watch almost any sport but I haven’t been to many competitive matches outside football and tennis.
I checked out UK Sport and discovered the Taekwondo World Championships were being held in Manchester. The prices were very reasonable and I did want to see Olympic gold medalist, Jade Jones, in action. However, I didn’t go in the end because of the whole being on a train thing.
I am planning on seeing the Netball World Cup in Liverpool this July, though, and I will definitely keep tabs on other sporting events across the country to try out. Maybe football will have to take a permanent backseat in the future.