With the release of FM21 this week, I just wanted to share the following personal story about how Football Manager was instrumental in helping with my mental health this year.
2020 has been a huge challenge for all of us. No one could have imagined coming into the new year that we would be having to deal with a global pandemic and putting our lives on hold. This year/18 months has also been challenging for me for another reason. My mental health has been the worst it has been for years. It took a good while for me to do anything about it, which is something that I always do. Mental health wellbeing is so important to me, I am a Mental Health First Aider, so I am trained to spot signs in people and signpost them to the help they need. Do you think I use this training and advice to help myself when I am struggling? Do I bollocks.
I was just spiralling further and further down towards darkness. This all peaked back in January when I was walking home from work one evening, and I just burst into tears. I could feel it coming, a bit like dropping a glass that you know as soon as it hits the floor, it’s going to smash, and there is nothing you can do but wait for it to break. I got back into my flat and knew I needed help. I called my mum, who came straight over, and like she always does, made me feel at ease and suggested I need to speak with someone. So, that’s what I did, made an appointment with the GP and for the first time in many years, I was back on antidepressants, but I was absolutely fine with going back to them. You may be thinking why is this article appearing on a gaming website? Well, apart from the love and support of family and friends, and my medication, there was another huge reason as to why I am sitting here now some 11 months on from that crying in the street fiasco in a better frame of mind. The aforementioned Football Manager.
I have always loved playing Football Manager. It is a game I can get lost in. Some may find that strange and have no idea how staring at spreadsheets and little dots moving around on a screen can engross you like, say, something along the lines of Skyrim, Red Dead, etc. I’d argue that if you’re bit by the Football Manager bug, it can hands down beat any game on the planet for grabbing your attention and never letting go. This year was different though. With the lockdown and my mental health being as awful as it was, Football Manager became a beacon. It helped to quiet and settle my mind, not only when I was playing it but, more importantly, when I wasn’t. This was so important for my wellbeing as it is the quiet times when my mind would start to go to dark places.
A game hasn’t hooked me like this since, well, probably Skyrim. No matter where I was or what I was doing, there was also a small voice in the back of my mind working out formations, squad rotations, transfers, training schedules, mentoring groups! It was completely and utterly therapeutic. Then the time came to fire up my laptop and play. Hours could go past. Day would turn to night, night would turn back to day. Now, I know playing a video game for that long is questionable, but I hadn’t felt that good in so long. My mind would finally stop the internal battle that had been raging inside my head all those months. I am also lucky enough to have some extremely close friends who also play Football Manager, so talking with them about my game and theirs was another form of therapy Football Manager bestowed onto me.
This year’s Football Manager also gave me my favourite save I have ever done in an FM game; FC Nordsjælland from the Danish Superliga. It’s a team that I was recommended to try by my best mate, Liam, and once I started that save, there was no looking back. Ten (in-game) years I was manager of FCN, where we won 7 league titles, 3 Danish cups and made it out of the group stage of the Champion’s League twice, achieving famous victories against Dortmund and Juventus along the way! All this was achieved without buying superstars. I promoted younger players from our academy, took a few talented young players on loan from big clubs from the (English) Premier League, and I set up one of the most thorough scouting networks I have ever done in Football Manager, and the world’s most promising youngsters all wanted to start their careers with me at FCN. Case in point: Dennis Acosta, an Uruguayan regen/newgen (every in-game year, newly generated players are created) who would become Nordjaelland’s highest goal scorer and was the leading goal scorer in the league for five years in a row. I bloody loved that boy, and he loved his boss just as much in return.
My Nordsjælland save brought general excitement and a smile into my life for the first time in a long time. Even if I was having an off day, all someone would have to do is mention my FCN save, and like a flick of a switch, I was enthusiastically talking about how one of my scouts found a brilliant left back from the Ghanaian Premier League who I bought for 45k. That save has meant so much to me that now I always look out for FCN’s results in the real world, and as soon as it is safe to do so, I will be flying over to Denmark to watch a team that (via a computer game) has helped my mental health so much this year.
A massive thank you to Football Manager and FC Nordsjælland for helping me through an incredibly tough time x.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please know you are not alone and help is there if you need it. The links below are national go-to services for mental health help/advice. It’s okay not to be okay, and it is never a sign of weakness to ask for help.