This summer has been a tough one for my mental wellbeing. It started with a concerning lack of passion for football that led me to taking a hiatus from the sport I love before further problems began creeping into other areas of my life. I began feeling more irritable at work while moving house brought its own challenges.
I thought ending my football hiatus at the women’s World Cup and seeing Wrexham’s friendly at Cefn Druids would offer stress relief but the lack of atmosphere at both games failed to provide me with the release I normally get from groundhopping. So when I wasn’t working or moving, I tried to find alternative sports, activities and means to feel better in my mind. These are the things I tried in order to find a different source of high stress therapy.
Cricket World Cup
A friend at work suggested attending the Cricket World Cup which was taking place across England and Wales. Neither of us had ever been to a cricket match before – or even really followed the sport – but being part of a major international sporting event appealed to us. We managed to find tickets to see the hosts play Afghanistan at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground and gleefully told our boss we were unable to work the overtime he had planned for us that day.
There was a good vibe around Manchester when we arrived. Lots of banners were on display advertising the tournament and everyone from fellow fans to the helpful tram workers were in a jovial mood. We got to Old Trafford just after England started batting and I was blown away by the popularity of the match. Afghanistan were the minnows of the World Cup having not won a game and yet a giant temporary stand visible from outside the ground was practically full, while there were more people coming in from the tram we just vacated.
Our seats were located near the top of that temporary stand and we quickly discovered how precarious our vantage point was as we stood at the bottom of the 30-foot maze of scaffolding keeping everyone ‘safe’. It was an exciting climb, though, and despite our tickets warning us about a ‘restricted view’, we could see all the action perfectly.
Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow put England into a decent lead but things really starting kicking off when Eoin Morgan took to the crease. We were busy buying refreshments and taking in the range of facilities inside the ground when the England captain began smashing sixes on the big screens around the ground. We quickly rushed back to our 100% safe seats and witnessed a record-breaking display.
Morgan broke the record for the most sixes scored by a player in a single match with 17 before he was caught on a score of 148 from a mere 71 balls. It pushed England’s tally up significantly and some more fantastic hitting from Moeen Ali set a new record for the most amount of sixes by one team in a one-day international and helped the team post their highest batting total at a World Cup.
That was the peak of our highlights, however. Despite the energy on display from the pockets of Afghan fans around Old Trafford, their team’s batting performance (and England’s bowling) failed to provide a thrilling conclusion and we left on a whimper – but satisfied to have seen the hosts win and some sporting records broken during our first ever live cricket experience.
A week on from visiting Manchester, I returned to the North-west of England to see my favourite band play live for the first time. Tame Impala – a five-piece who perform songs written by lead singer Kevin Parker – were warming up for their Glastonbury show at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool. It felt like a strange location for a band who headlined Coachella earlier in the year, especially when my girlfriend and I walked around the streets prior to the gig.
Blackpool didn’t thrill me. The beach and the tower are picturesque but everything further inland is very run down. It’s also difficult to relax on said beach due to the sad-looking donkeys being forced to trot back and forth with a child on its back and the beefy seagulls surrounding you while you’re eating (if you’re extra lucky, you may even see one regurgitate in front of you and then eat what came up).
Having said all that, our hotel was decent and the sight of young, indie music fans wandering around a town dominated by retired northerners amused me. Plus, the venue turned out to be top drawer. The interior was grand and ornate. Long, decorated, tiled hallways took us to the ballroom and we made our way to the front of the stage.
We watched support act Mosa Wild perform a chill set that included an immense cover of The Waterboys’ The Whole Of The Moon with a segment of The Who’s Baba O’Reilly sandwiched in the middle. I particularly enjoyed the facial expressions from the chap on the synth.
When Tame Impala made their way on stage about half an hour later, I had to really compose myself as I couldn’t believe Kevin Parker was stood right in front of me. This is an artist whose music helped me through the toughest periods in my life. I discovered his second album, Lonerism, when I felt at my loneliest. It allowed me to feel connected. The fact that other people enjoyed the album so much convinced me that people were out there who felt like I did. His other releases, InnerSpeaker and Currents, also contained many songs that spoke to me and helped me understand that being introverted was okay.
When they started the show with an outrageous, confetti-filled rendition of Let It Happen, I quickly began to leave my sentiments behind and embrace the live show. I bopped and sang along to my favourite tunes – Mind Mischief, Apocalypse Dreams, Nangs, The Less I Know The Better. The lights, lasers and smoke were so atmospheric and the ballroom setting kept the sound reverberating around the room.
When Parker ended the show by declaring he hadn’t ‘felt this way in a long time’, I felt his sincerity and a part of something special.
The night continued when we left the ballroom. A crowd gathered around a street performer called ‘Busker Joe’ who kept the good vibes going and then we headed to the beach to admire Blackpool Tower lit up against the summer night sky.
When we walked back to our hotel, we checked out the venue one more time and found people were waiting for Parker to appear outside. About 45 minutes had passed since the gig finished so we figured he’d be out soon and waited with them.
It actually took a further 45 minutes before he came out and the fans swarmed him despite his obvious drunken state. The first one asked if Parker could draw an elephant on his phone, while the rest forced themselves into a photo with him as he swayed and squinted. I didn’t want to get a photo with him at that point but I thought I’d try and thank him for his music.
We waited at the back until his entourage said he needed to go. As he came my way, I shook his hand and tried to tell him the above paragraph about his music’s positive influence on my mental health but midway through my hasty speech he pointed at my Tame Impala shirt, said it was cool and then thanked the fans as he got into the back of a Bentley.
I felt a little despondent immediately after that. I really wanted to thank him for helping me get through some dark times in my life, while I also wish I’d have told another Tame Impala member, Jay Watson, how much I rated his solo work but he never emerged. I don’t have much ground to complain, though. It was the best gig of my life and I have a pretty cool story to tell people. Plus, my t-shirt is now 100% approved by the artist.
Netball World Cup
Following on from the football and cricket World Cups I’d seen a month before, I completed a hat-trick of World Cups attended this summer by taking in some elite netball at Liverpool’s M&S Arena.
I’ve had a soft spot for netball since my days reporting on my old university team for the student radio. This would be my first taste of top-class netball, though, and I was eager to see how the game played out with the very best teams in the world competing.
Having tickets to see Session 10 meant there were three matches for my girlfriend and I to watch, including Australia and New Zealand’s respective games. The Oceanic pair have fought out the last five Netball World Cup finals and were among the favourites to go all the way again in 2019.
We arrived in Liverpool a few hours before the session started at 3pm. There were several banners up around the city centre advertising the tournament, which made me particularly pleased as Nice failed to properly acknowledge the World Cup taking place in France when we were there.
There was no fan zone or big screen showing live games in Nice but Liverpool, thankfully, had both. Many young girls were in attendance taking part in netball sessions at the fan zone and there were as many inside the M&S Arena.
First on court was New Zealand, who faced Northern Ireland. Goal shooter for the Kiwis was Maria Folau, whose husband, Israel, was sacked by the Australian Rugby Union for Twitter posts condemning homosexuality. Although Maria has not received any punishment from Netball New Zealand for supporting her husband as he raises money to fight his dismissal in court, I didn’t feel comfortable backing her and didn’t applaud her goals. But she did play very well in the Silver Ferns’ convincing 77-28 win.
The next match saw world number one and 11-time champions Australia take on Malawi. Even though the African team were ranked sixth in the world rankings, the Aussies blew them away 74-25. Both results from the Oceanic teams weren’t really a surprise considering their domestic leagues are considered the best in the world. It was still very impressive to see such sporting class on display. However, the real entertainment came in the final game between Zimbabwe and Barbados.
Both sides had accurate goal shooters that kept the contest exciting but as Zimbabwe began to extend their lead, their fans became the biggest stars of the day. A whole corner section of the arena chanted, whistled, cheered and waved flags throughout the duration of the match. People sat around us showed equal levels of passion whenever Zimbabwe scored and it all gave us a lift heading home on the back of their 66-41 victory.
Although I really enjoyed going to these events, unfortunately, none of them gave me the same release as groundhopping. Despite seeing teams that eventually won the World Cup, the cricket and netball didn’t provide enough of a contest or atmosphere for me to get invested. Meanwhile, even though I sang hard during the Tame Impala gig, I didn’t fully feel free.
The only thing that relieved my stress significantly this summer was being in the countryside. I visited the Stiperstones in the Shropshire Hills for the first time this summer and when we got out of the car, the silence that surrounded us was golden. That escape from the urban world was great for my mind. Even taking a bike ride to the side of a sparsely-used country road or just sitting in the garden listening to summer swifts screaming made me relax and unwind more than the above three events.
I would definitely do either of them again. Seeing a test match in cricket, a domestic league match in netball or a gig from another one of my favourite artists would be highly enjoyable. However, I will treat them and any future new experience as something fun, first and foremost. For my high stress therapy, I will continue to find a seat in a football stadium on gameday or that solemn spot in nature.