Mistakes are part of what makes us human. We all make mistakes. Mistakes can make us much stronger, it can change who we are and what we think, it can create self-confidence and empower as we take responsibility and learn from it.
Mistakes are in the same way fundamental to football. The legend Johan Cruyff famously said: “Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins.”
So why is it when Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Loris Karius, made two incredible mistakes in the Champions League final handing the win to Real Madrid, he faced the response he did – including death threats! – and he now finds himself on loan at Beşiktaş?
We accept that mistakes are part of life, so that means they are part of football, but can they afford to be part of professional football?
By this, I mean with all the money and importance attached to winning such a prestigious competition such as the Champions League – where clubs are often run by rich business people wanting a return on their investment, which you can get by doing well in the Champions League when looking at the prize money – can players, often paid tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds a week to do a job make such significant mistakes as Karius did?
As I saw many on social media say when it happened, if they made the equivalent mistake at their own workplace they would likely face the sack or at the least disciplinary action. I remember at the time feeling really sorry for Karius but equally finding it hard to ignore the fact that he is paid £25,000 a week to do a job he failed to do in the most important game of his career!
This then creates the question: should being a footballer be considered a job in the first place? It makes us critically consider the effect of increasing amounts of money in the game and how this affects people’s expectations of people playing the game. The pressure this places on people such as Karius to perform and not make mistakes is immense, and I really don’t know how they cope the way they do. Given Karius doesn’t seem to have started too well at his new club either, maybe the effects of these mistakes are going to be career-defining for him.
At AFC Unity, we emphasise the importance of mistakes and how they can be valuable lessons and help you grow as a player and as a person. It’s something professional sports psychologist Dan Abrahams speaks a lot about. But missing a penalty or letting in a howler at grassroots, when you are playing solely for your love of the game, is different to making a mistake that costs you and the people around you money, prestige – and also results in weeks of media abuse. If we make a mistake at grassroots, people can be annoyed, feel sad about it, but ultimately we know there are more important things in life than to worry about that one mistake, and also the ramifications aren’t that bad, as it’s a game that you can’t always win. Can the same be said for professional footballers who have so much more riding on it than we can even imagine!?
Of course, the higher you go the better you are assumed to be and thus the less mistakes there are expected to be. But football being what it is, there always will be mistakes! The problem is that we face a contradiction between expecting perfect performances because the players are paid lots of money to fulfil a job but then equally knowing that sport is a game of mistakes. We can’t stop mistakes from happening in football without turning players into robots; players don’t set out to make mistakes, and also the drama caused by mistakes are partly why we love the game so much!
That was a truly gripping men’s World Cup. I enjoyed watching all the games I could – work depending – and the dramas that unfolded as the weeks went on. The opportunity to watch the best professional men’s players in the world is probably the biggest interest for me, alongside watching how different teams approach the games tactically, psychologically, technically and physically.
The tournament had everything. It had the underdogs story, the introduction of VAR as a crucial talking point, the inability for the players considered the best in the world to shine like they do for their clubs and obviously England’s success engrossing a nation.
I want to look a bit further, and critically, at the tournament and explore a few key talking points.
Teamwork and Collectivism
For me, the tournament epitomised the concept of the individual as part of a collective rather than the individual over the collective: the inability for Messi and Ronaldo to single handedly take their teams through the knock-outs, and not even score in the knock-outs to break their own bizarre record on this (given their achievements); the success of Sweden without Ibrahimovic; the attitude and performance (being the crucial word here) of Neymar not being able to overpower a phenomenal Belgium team (those counter attacks!) and for the winner of the Golden Ball to be the player that was during the tournament the symbol for the collective, especially in how he never stopped working and running despite his ability and talent. As a culture, we are obsessed with comparing, with the aim of finding out who or what is ‘better’, but I enjoyed watching a World Cup that was more concerned with recognising how systems worked – this relates to England too, which was clearly influenced by the success of teams like Manchester City – as shown in the final, with Croatia in a more enjoyable attacking sense, and France in a defensive and counter-attacking master-class sense.
Nationalism and Patriotism
Sport can be a powerful platform for encouraging social change and raising awareness of issues, which is something Pussy Riot tried to achieve through their direct action at the World Cup final against human rights violations and abuse of power within Russia. Politics is everywhere, and affects everything, whether people want to admit it or not. The sense of place and community, relating to national identities, obviously is a big part of this – but debates around nationalism, patriotism and football aren’t straight forward. The World Cup can bring people within a nation together, but we have to be critical of what this means, what we want our nation to represent or what we believe it represents, recognise that this is a political issue and also acknowledge and be aware of the potential for this to be abused – as it has already been historically – and take responsibility for this. Some of these issues are discussed well in this article, with a key part of it included below:
But patriotism need only be worrying when it morphs into nationalism, an ugly brand of politics that is rather different. A patriot can celebrate the things in the country if it isn’t then used to project supremacy over others…Nationalism is something else, when pride and love becomes a hatred of others and a refusal to acknowledge that with every cultural history comes the darker moments that we would rather blot out. A patriot acknowledges that the Empire happened and with it uncountable atrocities. They love Britain but do not use it to demonise immigrants or those who don’t look like them. A nationalist does all of these things and more.
The difference between patriotism and nationalism is important. The World Cup engaged a lot of people in football, a lot who wouldn’t be usually interested too, because people felt a sense of pride that our team was doing well. But you have to be critical. You have to be critical about what being English can represent, the history we have as a country, the history of oppression and colonisation we have imposed across the globe and how our flag can make people feel. Jumping up and down in Ikea when we beat Sweden is more nationalism to me, especially when you consider the tweet Ikea did after the game. Jumping up and down on a taxi and an ambulance is more nationalism to me, it’s taking these feelings of pride in your country to the next level, where respect for others goes out the window. Obviously, not nationalism in its extreme, but its behaviours and attitudes that link into that feeling of supremacy and lack of accountability or respect.
As Lipkis explains, patriotic behaviour at the World Cup doesn’t have to be a 100% positive one either, as it can actually be a trigger for protesting against injustice: Pussy Riot did at this World Cup’s final. Lipkis explains, referencing the Brazil 2014 men’s World Cup:
“Though a different form of nationalism, and unity, Brazilians have come together to protest what they view as rampant waste and corruption.”
I remember being a lot more bothered about whether England men’s national team won or not when I was younger. This is slightly frustrating given that my childhood was basically marked by seeing England under perform at international competitions and feeling perpetually let down and frustrated. However, I find it hard to be as proud or interested now (even though winning a penalty shoot out for us is impressive!) and rather focus on what it means as a nation to do well at such an massive event, with a critical eye. I mean for starters, the national anthem sung at the start of the games is championing the monarchy, something that isn’t exactly a universal value for the nation, as many of us work to further democracy and campaign against unelected officials. But we only have to look at the abuse Corbyn received for not singing the anthem to understand how tied up with nationalism the anthem is. You can’t even begin to critically consider the wording without being considered as a traitor to your country, even though the anthem itself is outdated, and not in touch with modern democracy.
I have read interesting things by people regarding how the World Cup is a way of highlighting the diversity of nations, and I can totally see and appreciate that – especially when you consider the influence of immigration and the high percentage of Muslims within the winning French men’s team and how important it is to recognise that within a context of increasing intolerance and racism in France. It is noticeable that, as Jaishankar outlines in his article, “French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen once called it ‘not a real French team.’”
But I always get a bit uneasy when I see the English flag, it’s taken on far too many negative connotations when it comes to nationalism, right wing agendas and racism (consider some England fans have been accused of performing Nazi salutes at this World Cup). I am also uncomfortable with the dialogue and narratives around England being a great country to be proud of (which I saw many tweet and say), when we have record levels of food banks, people dying through work capacity assessments, an NHS on its knees and an increasing gap between the rich and poor. I know people’s response is “don’t bring politics into it”, but it’s hard not to when considering things such as the anthem directly championing a system of hereditary rule from a Feudal era, contra to democracy.
I think it is interesting to consider this in line with the discussions above regarding such critical thought and protest being rather about patriotism and promoting a place, society and living for all that you can be proud of – protesting against injustice and oppression is a way of trying to create a better country, and world, for all – it’s about caring how you are represented on a national stage and how people living in your country – all people – are treated. It’s about being proud of the good things that make your nation up, such as the NHS, but also being critical and honest about where we are at. These contradictions are talked about in some critical detail in a great article here:
As a woman of colour who fiercely opposes banal nationalism, toxic masculinity, and Britain’s penchant for taking over literally everything – I’ve found myself cheering all of these on. During extra time when the team seemed to be shying away from the tenacious Colombian team who were ready to fight until the end, I texted my friends: “Where is that same energy they used to invade most of the countries in this tournament?” I was willing them to be bullish while also taking the piss. “Serves England right. Terrible at its own game.”
There are interesting arguments about the World Cup being more a symbol of globalisation than nationalism, but even these arguments tend to acknowledge the nationalist limits of the World Cup (see here for instance, and here). As argued in this article, nationalism is a key part of the World Cup:
Whether it’s a country’s desire to show that it can pull off hosting a major international event or a people’s desire to show that they can compete with the world’s superpowers — even if it’s only on the soccer pitch — nationalism is the common thread. The World Cup is intrinsically a nationalistic event, and it has often been exploited for nationalistic or political ends…A 2014 study by Andrew Bertoli, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, considered that nationalism tends to surge in countries that qualify for the World Cup. Looking at data from 1958-2010, Bertoli found that countries whose teams qualified took military action more often — and more violently — than those that did not. Bertoli managed to replicate his findings in other FIFA regional soccer championships.
These are things we can’t shy away from and have to address.
If you are interested, I wrote an article for my MA about the concept of globalisation, which itself is a debatable term, that can be found here.
Russia itself has big problems with gender equality and sexism. Consider the shaming that Russian women have faced for dating visiting fans from other countries, as discussed here. But gender inequality and sexism is something that is a problem for all countries, to varying degrees, including the UK. Even FIFA themselves said that sexism was a massive problem at this World Cup, however, their response has been criticised for being sexist itself:
FIFA, football’s governing body, has acknowledged that sexism is a problem during the World Cup. It recently suggested a few remedies, including making sure that fewer attractive women at football stadiums are shown on TV broadcasts of the matches. One Russian feminist noted that even FIFA’s solution is sexist. “Publicly dividing women into attractive and unattractive ones is as bad as it can get,” Anna Fedorova wrote on Facebook. “In other words, if you are shown on television sitting in the stands, hooray! FIFA has judged you to be unattractive enough.”
Aziz’s article is a great read for understanding how widespread, endemic and serious the sexism in football, worldwide, is – with a summary from it included below:
There was the sexual harrassment of Colombian correspondent Julieth González Therán, Brazilian reporter Julia Guimarães had to move away quickly from a passerby trying to kiss her, with such harrassment being sadly common place for women journalists and women in general…Videos of female fans being asked to repeat vulgar phrases and words with sexual connotations in a foreign language are also doing the rounds on social media…Photo news agency Getty Images published and later deleted an all-female picture gallery titled: “The Hottest Fans” at this year’s World Cup…Jason Cundy, a former Chelsea and Tottenham defender, stirred up controversy for saying that he preferred to “hear a male voice when watching football” and that women commentators are “high-pitched”…British veteran journalist Simon Kelner also criticised women giving their insight into men’s football, saying it is “like getting a netball player to discuss major league basketball”…Fast-food chain Burger King offered a cash reward of three million Russian rubles ($47,000) and a lifetime supply of free Whopper burgers to Russian women who get impregnated by World Cup stars…A month before the start of the World Cup, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) sparked outcry when it released a manual with tips on how to seduce Russian women.
The fact that media reports and people talk as though this is the first time England has reached the semi-finals of a World Cup since 1990, ignoring the women’s bronze achievement in 2015, is one thing – and then when you see people’s responses to this fact (you just need to look on Twitter for this) it becomes even clearer how far we have to go, as people protest that ‘women’s football just isn’t the same, it’s not as good as the men’s you see’… The fact it is called the World Cup, not the men’s World Cup, when ‘women’s’ will be added onto it next year when talking about the competition and the national teams is incredibly important too – a great article on this can be found here.
There was the offside rule explanation for women using shopping as an analogy, then there was the sexism towards female pundits, even from the male pundits on the same show – just look at the treatment of Eniola Aluko for example (see here for more). Also consider how “Of the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the World Cup in Russia, just 14% are women, according to FIFA” (source here).
There’s then the uncomfortable occupation of public space by groups of men, often shouting very loudly with beer in their hands, with no awareness of how this could be imposing for others. I have seen some argue, ‘don’t tar us all with the same brush, masculinity isn’t the problem, it’s just some idiots.’ I have to disagree. I touched on this in my analysis on the women’s 2015 World Cup:
If we are going to get theoretical about it the theory of a heterosexual matrix is useful as it relates to the idea that sexuality, gender and sex are all ‘naturally’ related. So for instance, women (sex) are feminine (gender) and are straight (sexuality) – when this is broken, so women playing football (wrongly considered masculine) then this breaks this so-called ‘natural’ connection. In fact such a connection is key to so many problems and divisions in society and it is totally socially constructed, it does not exist as a fact.
That’s not to say all men and women act according to this, but it’s important we all acknowledge the existence, dominance and the related problems of such inflexible and damaging pressures and conceptions of sex, gender and sexuality. Femininity is considered ‘inferior’ and ‘weak’, like women, and this argument underpins the sexism towards women’s football as well. There are obviously the problems around big spikes in domestic violence related to football too, with NHS England running a hard hitting campaign during the World Cup highlighting these statistics.
You Must Conform
It got quite oppressive for people who weren’t interested in football or watching the World Cup too. The idea that you weren’t painting a flag on your face and throwing beer in the air whilst watching Kane slot in a penalty created some strange reactions from people, as though it was a national duty to watch England in the World Cup even if you didn’t like football. Much like Christmas, there wasn’t an escape either, with the streets, shops and transport dominated by it – including shops saying they would close early if England made the final. I love football and I loved watching the men’s World Cup, but there has to be some limits on this – no-one is obligated to watch the World Cup and they can’t be bullied into thinking they are letting their country down by not.
I would argue this relates to the debates regarding nationalism and patriotism and the respect we have for others; making people feel like they have to watch a sporting event to show pride, respect and care for their country is nationalism, not patriotism, and has no place in a respectful society. I think it also relates to issues regarding gender equality and sexism, as I have never seen anything like it when it comes to women’s football – there wasn’t the same response, atmosphere and environment when the England women’s team made the semi-finals in 2015 and then won Bronze by beating Germany.
Anyway, it might not be coming home this year, but it’s in France ready for the England women’s team to bring it home at next year’s women’s World Cup.
In October 2016, after a particularly physical 11-a-side game, I found myself unable to kick a ball in training, as every time I kicked it it felt like my leg was going to rip in two! This followed several months of my knee buckling on me in games, with it leading me to fall onto the floor a couple of times too. I kept this mostly to myself and strapped it up with some tape hoping it would just get better, which was silly, but I couldn’t ignore the pain I got that training session. Thankfully, an appointment that I was supposed to be having with the physio in December had been moved forward to an appointment with a rheumatology doctor, as they thought looking back on my notes I should see him instead (as I had been to the doctors a few times over the past 2 years or so complaining about knee pain, with several doctors and physios telling me my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) seemed lax). When I saw the rheumatology doctor he pretty much told me that it was a problem with my ACL, and even if it wasn’t and I didn’t have surgery I was out for the season given how poor and weak my muscle were. I was absolutely gutted, that was when it really hit me, before this point a private physio had told me it was going to be around 3 months because of my MCL being torn (which it turns out the MRI showed it wasn’t) and so this was hard to take. I then was sent for an MRI and had to wait for a long time until I got the results. In fact, it wasn’t until after Christmas that I got the results over the phone that I had a chronically ruptured ACL. Thankfully, especially given the chronic nature of it, there was no other damage to the knee. I then had to wait a month or so until I saw the surgeon where I actually saw the state of the damage. This last bit of waiting for the surgery was the quickest as I asked to be put on the late notice waiting list, so if someone else cancelled their spot I could potentially get it instead – which I am thankful for my self-employment for – and I had the surgery 1 month and a bit after seeing the surgeon, with it taking place on the 5th of April 2017. The journey has been a long one, with many ups and downs, and one that has changed my perspective and identity.
I have now been cleared by my physios to start gradually returning to 11-a-side games after returning to full on contact training and so it is a perfect time to reflect on this process with the new year upon us! In this article, I reflect on some of the things I have taken from the process:
One of the hardest things you learn through this process is the importance of patience and being thankful of every little step forward you take towards full recovery. For me, it took longer than most, as it turns out I’ve been playing without an ACL for some time and given the chronic nature of my injury it took 5-6 months to work out exactly what was wrong with me and get me in for surgery. Those 5-6 months were so much harder and challenging than the months recovering – well mentally that is. I had to learn a great deal of patience as I battled with feelings of utter frustration, immense sadness and anger, as I was in a situation of limbo where I didn’t feel like I could move forward. To deal with it, I did lots of prehab going to the gym several times a week and doing prescribed home exercises 3 times a day. The ACL Club, an invaluable support group, was so important for me during this time too, as I listened to their podcasts preparing myself mentally for the surgery and recovery, and even messaged the ACL Club website before one of my team AFC Unity’s 11-a-side games when I was particularly struggling mentally to face turning up. The support system provided by the ACL Club is something I can’t really put into words and do justice to and would recommend to anyone going through injury recovery.
Given that you learn how to walk, run, jump and turn again and you need someone else’s help to be able to do basic things such as clean, get dressed, eat and shop for the first couple of weeks or so (or maybe longer), it is a process that really humbles you and really does teach you about the importance of appreciating the things you take for granted and also makes you so thankful for the people that are right there helping you through such challenging times. Little things that I used to take for granted, such as walking, running, jumping, bending down, twisting, carrying and lifting things, dancing, washing pots, vacuuming, putting my clothes away, sleeping comfortably – they were all made difficult or impossible for a certain time in the process, which is why I found the first few weeks actually better than the middle part of the rehab, as the progress and change is more evident, whereas building muscle back is a lot less noticeable for instance.
The 5-6 months period where I was waiting to have the steps for my recovery confirmed were the hardest. To deal with the loss of not playing football I started to isolate myself as a player not taking part in activities as a team member. This didn’t help me, and it was due to my partner but also club manager Jay Baker, who was pretty much my rock during this whole experience, that when the new 2017/2018 season started this feeling of isolation reduced as he made sure I took part in as much of the training sessions I could as a player, even if that was just in the discussion element or calling offsides, and this enabled me to feel more like what I did when I played football. Obviously, it’s not the same feeling that you get when playing with your team mates on the field but just being able to take part in trainings, as a player, despite being injured helped so much. It was hard seeing people trial for the club and know that I couldn’t show fully why I should be signed, thankfully I was signed and people were really supportive and never brought up the fact I hadn’t trialled like them up. It was hard though. People might argue, well you are the co-founder of the club so what does it matter – but I have never seen this role as justification for me having any more rights than any other team member. Everyone should be treated the same, as that is a key part of the club’s ethos and identity. My team mates helped a lot with humour and talking to me as a player, not just an injured person on the sideline, and for that I am really grateful to them all.
Linking in with other themes, it really is a process where you appreciate those people who are there helping pick you up from some really low moments. I can’t thank these people enough, and they know who they are – well they should do! I have learnt a lot through this process about how I will be with others close to me if they experience long-term injuries, but hopefully that doesn’t happen. There were so many people that helped me in different stages of the process and I am grateful to every single one of them. I am especially grateful to my closest family for picking me up in those really low moments I had from time to time. I also want to thank The Office and Parks and Recreation for the important role they had in making me laugh in my low moments – I binge watched The Office often during the initial post surgery process!
Before the operation I was having a bit of a panic attack from the fear of not knowing what to expect. Suffering from OCD made the whole experience a lot harder really, as anyone who knows the illness understands it comes with obsessing about all that could go wrong to the point it feels like it has actually happened! The ACL Club really helped here, as I put the quote “I cannot control exactly what happens in life, but I can control how I respond to it all. In my response is my greatest power” on the fridge, in front of where I did several of my early rehab exercises. I was obsessed with damaging the graft, and the impact this would have on my life given the time it had already taken to get to the point of being on the recovery journey. Walking into a washing machine and slipping in the street when walking on some soggy cardboard resulted in absolute meltdowns, the fear of not knowing if I had done something and the fear of knowing the set back that would result from having to start again really affected me. Thankfully, I had people around me giving me truth bombs and reminding me that it is all beyond my control and all I really can control is my response to this.
This is a feeling that again was worse before surgery; once I woke up from surgery in the recovery room I was crying because of the immense sense of relief that I felt for finally being on the path to recovery – the pain and medication didn’t help either! This feeling of loss reduced but is something that doesn’t ever truly go away. Low days happen, and a feeling of just wanting to be able to kick a ball again has been difficult to deal with. I think if you can replace the feeling you get from playing football with something else – this is something a lot of people who have gone through this process have found helpful – that is great, but I just couldn’t seem to find something that had the same effect or feeling and there was always a hole that I couldn’t fill. I found the worst times being every Sunday morning, when I would usually be getting ready to play football I was getting ready to watch and times like this were the hardest to keep a positive mindset in. I was glad I went to the games though, I have shared some of my best moments in football on the sideline this last season with fellow players and no matter if you are on or off the pitch you are still a team mate and you want your fellow team mates to do well. The football we have started playing as well has been great to watch.
The ACL Club also encouraged the importance of daily reflection in this process. I signed up to the ACL Club Journey Journal where I got regular mailout prompts challenging me to write about different things, such as what keeps me motivated, what I am thankful for and what quotes I can use to aid my recovery. I have completed 4 note books, and counting, of reflections during this process and it has helped me keep perspective when getting frustrated on how far I came, and also helped me process my thoughts and feelings. I really recommend reflection journals if you are going through injury recovery.
There is no miracle cure to this process; if anyone was to ask me for my number 1 piece of advice going through this though it would be that you have to work hard, really hard, you have to work hard when you don’t want to too. You have to be prepared to push yourself. I had all my exercises on my phone as notes in a checklist format. For most weeks I went to the gym at least 3 times and up to 5 times, which included a weekly trip to the NHS physio at the Hallamshire. When I woke up from surgery, the first question I asked the nurses was where my exercise booklet the physio gave me before was so I could get started straight away – they told me to relax!
During the first few weeks my rehab was based at home, where I did exercises every hour or so; this included learning how to balance on my operated leg again – the joy that I had when standing on it for 30 seconds was unreal. It also involved regularly stretching my hamstring, trying to encourage the bend to come back in my knee by doing knee slides and also doing my step down exercises, with a stepper I invested in after advice from one of the physios before the operation, 3 times a day to build back the strength in my quad. I also tried to wean myself off crutches – it took me until the end of April until I stopped using crutches – I had a great limp for a good few weeks until I could properly walk again too. I had to do leg extensions using furniture to create a gap that forced my knee down to the floor – to help increase normal movement – which resulted in all the bruising going behind my knee and meaning for a week or so I couldn’t move very well because of the pain in my calf, which resulted in me ringing the surgeon’s team as I was scared of having a blood clot – thankfully I didn’t.
My home became a gym, with elastic bands tied to furniture to help me do single leg stands working on my balance and control and heel kicks to help my hamstring movement and strength, whilst using footballs against walls to enable me to do squats to build up my lower leg strength and doing hamstring curls on the bed. I iced my leg all the time for the first few months, helping me to get control over any swelling. Ice was the only way I could get out of bed for the first couple of weeks too, as it was too painful to move otherwise.
I gradually increased my programme in line with what the NHS physios said, going to the gym for the first time on the 2nd of May and keeping up going to the gym at least 3 times a week – no matter how I felt – and doing my home rehab pretty much everyday, except Sunday, several times a day.
The first time I ever did the bike I was crying with how much pain I had and it felt like my hamstring was burning when I got off it. I have now got up to a point where I do 10 minutes before every gym session as a warm up. I also did regular hamstring, thigh and calf stretches and eventually when able I started using the foam roller to help with muscle tightness and pain. At the end of June I started the stepper machine at the gym to get used to running, that was one tiring machine!
In mid July I was able to jog again, building up my minutes on the treadmill – that was such a scary but exciting feeling; I felt so vulnerable jogging but also it was so freeing not to restrict my movements the way I had before. It was a very humbling experience. I also around this time started to do some turning and cutting work, getting my knee used to quick movements again. I still feel humble every time I do the treadmill at the gym, as I am reminded of how long it took me to build up to being able to do the 20 minutes I do regularly now.
When running I had to deal with my right arm seemingly sticking in one place. No matter how hard I worked on this it didn’t go away until I returned to football and I started to forget about it. I am not sure why this happened but it made me feel quite rubbish but my physio helped put it into perspective and forget about it. I also tried running outside when I could to get used to uneven ground, also using the opportunity at training and games of AFC Unity to get used to football surfaces again.
At the start, I was on 20/25kg for single leg presses on both legs and I have now worked up to being able to do 60/70kg on both legs! I never had much muscle in my legs before my operation so this has been a real benefit from this whole process. Other things I did to work on my lower leg strength and control included bridging, moving to single leg bridging, single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, hamstring curls, rower, bosu ball squats, alongside using the cones at the gym to work on movement and control.
In September I started jumping, which was the hardest part of the physical rehab process and it is still something I struggle with whilst working on box jumping and single leg jumping at the gym. I also feel very humble and grateful to be able to jump again. It took me a while to trust my right leg when jumping though, and this really was the hardest thing to re-learn. I am thankful for this though as the physios helped me learn about the best way to land, as my landing previously had poor form and created more chance of injury. I practiced this at home as much as I could too. I also worked on turning in the air and landing on my leg after jumping from a box at the gym – I never really mastered this, it felt too forced and made me think too much about my knee and risk of re-injury.
It took me a while to start dribbling again – I started off doing this too quickly and fast because I was too eager which meant I had to not do any rehab for a week because I was in so much pain, especially with my IT band. After rest, I worked up my dribbling from a walking speed over weeks until it went to a normal speed. That was a really hard process but a very rewarding one. To help with dribbling, I found practicing side stepping, cross stepping and doing hip exercises really helped, as it enabled all these muscles and joints that I needed when dribbling to wake up and start moving better – again these were things I did at home as well as at the gym to try and work on this as much as I could. It just required patience.
I had help from Jay, my sister and teammate Claire, and teammates Jodie and Charlotte when it came to getting used to tackling in football again. That really hurt my leg at first but the more I did it the better it felt. As my physio said, you really just need to go for it when doing this, as hesitation or pulling out of a tackle will just make you more likely to re-injure yourself. I really missed tackling during the non-contact phase of my recovery, and will never take the ability to tackle for granted again!
The thing I have struggled with the most is the ongoing nerve damage in my leg, it has had to get used to the new sensations every new exercise and movement created – I still struggle with this but no where near as much as before. My poor bone that was drilled into for the operation also still hurts as it gets used to new loads and impact, again this is something that still troubles me but I know it just needs to get used to things again and get strong again. Patience again is key.
Rehab is also mental as much as it is physical, and this was something I have really benefited from during this experience, as I kept a journal of the process, alongside listening to ACL Club podcasts and studying Dan Abrahams book on sports psychology – all to become a better person, player and also to cope with the mental struggle that came with the injury.
I still continue doing most of these exercises at the gym to keep fit and reduce injury likelihood. I also take my fitness and health much more seriously now and don’t want to be like I was before: weak and unfit.
This injury has certainly changed me as a person. I really got time and space to evaluate quite a lot of things. One of the things I spent time working on is my soccer brain, and Dan Abrahams’ work has helped a lot here. I really got to understand how important the mental side of football is and reflect on how before the injury when I was playing this was the weakest aspect of my game but I never got chance to work on it, but through the injury I got the time and space to really work on this. I definitely see the game differently now.
I found this one really hard sometimes, but staying positive and thinking positively is so important for any form of recovery. I wanted to make sure I projected positivity at all times, even when things were challenging, but I wasn’t always that positive to those closest to me and I am incredibly thankful to those people for putting up with me when I burst into tears like I randomly did, got angry with the situation or just obsessed about my recovery and timescales or whether my graft was in tact! Regardless, I am proud that I kept my rehab up no matter what the mood or feeling – the only thing that stopped me was physical barriers but my rehab was something I importantly wouldn’t let my mood stop!
I have learnt a lot about myself through this process. I have also learnt a lot about the effects a long-term injury can have. Missing over a year of football through injury isn’t something I wish on anyone, but if it does happen it’s about trying to make the best out of the situation and working on what you can and finding the learning points from the experience.
Don’t wait for something to happen before you start taking care of your body. The doctor that pretty much told me I had ruptured my ACL, before the scan, did tests on my leg muscles and was astonished at how weak and unconditioned they were. I never took any real care and time to look after my leg muscles or my physicality but this injury has meant that even now I am back I will keep doing exercises that strengthen my quads, hamstrings, calfs and glutes – all so key in protecting the knee muscles. Give your knees the support they need and train those muscles! Don’t think “it will never happen to me” as hopefully it doesn’t, but it could so do all you can to make sure it doesn’t.
I am so grateful to all the people that have helped me along the way. The NHS is such an amazing organisation with every single person I have met during this process so incredibly lovely, supportive and helpful – they all need a pay rise and more funding. I am grateful to the people who have listened to me complain, comforted me when I got angry or when I cried and those that have kept me going through making me smile and laugh (including at myself)! Perspective is everything.
On returning to non-contact training, after my third session back I lost perspective. I was frustrated at not being able to play at a level I knew I could, passes that I could make before my injury were way off, I couldn’t make any tackles, dribble, shoot – I just felt so frustrated. My knee kept hurting and that added to this feeling. But then after feeling sorry for myself, I remembered how much I would have given just to be able to kick a ball again a few months/weeks ago, and how far I have come. I remembered what Dan Abrahams had said on an ACL Club podcast in that as long as you put in 100% it doesn’t matter if you are 50% of what you can do, it’s going to take time. I remembered that I had to keep a sense of perspective and be proud of getting back into non-contact training and that the rest will follow when I am ready. This was the same attitude I took when returning to contact training – I am rusty and I know it is going to take time to really feel like me again, but how grateful I am to be given this chance to return and play the sport I love. Be grateful, humble, enjoy yourself and keep perspective.
Bring in the sniffer dogs and army, fund more fences, use degrading language (e.g. swamped) are all things either being suggested or being done to ‘deal’ with the so-called Calais ‘migrant crisis’ whilst people who are escaping situations of absolute destitution are left to fend for themselves. There is no care or concern for understanding why people make such a dangerous journey to the UK (western intervention in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. leading to social, economic and political chaos with people wanting to flea persecution for a better life but also be in a country, the UK, where they can speak the language – unlike in France). Rather, we are more bothered about how much it’s going to cost to stop vulnerable people from coming in – like they are a dangerous virus or something – and how we are going to ensure that people can still go on their holidays too. Priorities hey.
It ties into the increasing divide and rule culture we are breeding in this country. We see the usual suspects such as Farage being taken out for a spin by the media to reinforce the racist narrative. It’s a bit like asking Hitler to talk about Jewish people, it’s not going to be anything but hateful and irrational. I think it’s quite ironic also that we promote ourselves as a ‘free, democratic country’, you know the ‘end of history’, capitalism beat communism, woohoo type of rhetoric. But if you look at what happened in Berlin during the Cold War, when people were leaving the East to go West in order to access things they couldn’t under the communist regime and also see their friends and family, you know for a better basic life much like the people trying to get to Britain, they built a wall. A wall the West condemned. What are we doing in Calais? We are funding more physical barriers and security to build a wall to stop vulnerable people accessing our services and support. What’s the difference? Why are we suddenly against people accessing a better life? They are different times and contexts but the principle is very much the same. There is nothing democratic, free and fantastic about that. Why do we not want people to come to our country? Why do we hate ourselves so much we’d rather build a wall and get sniffer dogs to attack people desperately trying to have a better life?
No, before you say it, it has nothing to do with us having ‘no money left’. We have heaps of money left, just look at how the rich have got richer since the 2008 financial crisis. This government is relying on an explosion of personal borrowing and debt, through mortgages (you know, Help to Buy), credit cards and loans whilst claiming that they are tackling the debt crisis. What they mean is they are cutting the state, this is purely for ideological reasons too as private debt – which includes personal debt that is rocketing and needed for the Osborne so-called ‘recovery’ to work – is around 450% of GDP whereas public sector, state spending, debt is only around 80% (it was over 250% after the Second World War and we built the welfare state and the NHS!!). In terms of welfare, migrants put well more in than they get out and we have more unclaimed benefits than we have fraud. It’s all ideology, whilst the rich get away with reduced corporation tax, income tax and lax consideration of tax evasion and avoidance as HMRC is cut in terms of staff and resources to be able to track this down.
For me it relates back to a very simple but important concept of ethics by Judith Butler. For her, ethics is about considering everybody’s vulnerability to things they can’t control – and let’s face it that’s a lot of things in life. When someone’s or a group’s vulnerability is discarded, say for instance people trying to cross into the UK to access better social, economic and political support, they are treated as having unliveable lives. People’s whose vulnerability is respected, of which the list is rapidly decreasing, are seen as having liveable lives. This is where Jeremy Corbyn’s quote on welfare resonates a lot with me.
All of us are an accident away from needing a benefits system that sustains us – Corbyn.
Corbyn’s simple quote makes a very important point. The very reason a welfare system exists is to ensure collective help for people that need it say if they experience a tragic accident or if they develop a mental health condition etc. People that have little control over what has happened to them, say they have been forced into redundancy, need that support available. And we are all vulnerable to these forces in life. There are plenty of stories of people that we’d considered to have ‘made it’ then went on to lose all their money to an addiction or just through bad luck, for instance. Yes, there are people – people like those stuffing the current cabinet – who are less likely than others to be vulnerable to such changes but we are all vulnerable to some extent.
What we have seen is this respect for vulnerability, the care for the fact that we help each other out in hard times, is quickly being replaced by a selfish, individual ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude. This is something that has obviously been happening since the 1980s but it’s getting worse under this current government who care for nothing more than cutting the state to a bare minimum. Whether that be through so-called devolution where a lot of resources will not be matched with new responsibilities, or whether that is through instigating additional cuts to non-protected departments up to 40% to a point where even Robert Peston says will see services we take for granted being fundamentally changed (or most likely gone) this government is making sure to cut collective support. We are being left to fight it out whilst also being encouraged to hate people that the government conveniently scapegoats for this supposed ‘needed’ set of changes. This is what happens with Calais where scapegoating, divide and rule and media sensationalism make people ignore the real causes of people fleeing for a better life. We forget what we say we actually stand for: equality and fairness. We fail to empathise with other human beings and think about what we would do in a similar situation. Rather we choose to see such people as having unliveable lives, we do not respect their vulnerability or desperate need for access to basic rights and support. We forget our responsibility, as a country, in causing this.
We have to fight back against this hate and fear and promote a sense of collectivism and hope so that everyone is considered within a fair and balanced vision of ethics.
The Women’s World Cup is now over. What a tournament that was. Myself and Jay Baker tried to watch pretty much every game and thoroughly enjoyed the experience (despite the tiring days following!). The England women’s team managed to have a run that will inspire a new generation of girls and women to get involved in the sport and the way they went out, through an unlucky own goal, should also be something young girls and women should grow and learn from – mistakes happen in football and the best thing to do is not fear it, embrace it as sometimes those risks pay off but if they don’t you are human, you’re not a robot, and team morale and community spirit should be high enough to see you through it. After all, it’s just a game. But that’s the problem, at the top it’s a business now, not just a game.
This links to my own involvement with AFC Unity, an alternative women’s football club based in Sheffield. Myself and Jay set the club up in 2014 as we married our passion for the sport, especially women’s football, with our passion for social justice, feminism and community activism. Key to this vision is also the idea of taking fear and pessimism out of the game. There’s so much money involved in the sport now people involved are losing a sense of what the game is supposed to be about: having fun, enjoying the game and bringing people together. However, reflective of our culture and economic inequality, money has seen an ethos spread into the game where how many cars someone can afford is becoming more important than the unifying potential and purpose of sport.
For me, grassroots football epitomises what the game is about. People pay to play football because they love the game. Look at the women involved in the World Cup, many women involved in the competition either had jobs to go back to, jobs they had sacrificed to take part in the competition, whilst women that are professional earn considerably less than the men. This isn’t necessary a bad thing though, as the tournament lacked the cheating, melodramatic hysterics of the men’s game and you had more pride and respect for the women who you could tell were so honoured to be playing in such a prestigious competition. They weren’t being told by their clubs to forget about playing for their country because they have too many important games coming up.
It was great to see female role models in the sport being promoted as people such as Lucy Bronze captured the imagination of so many girls and women. It was uncomfortable though to hear comparisons being made to male footballers in such a way that the men wouldn’t experience. For instance, Brazil’s Marta has won more best player in the world trophies than Messi but you wouldn’t hear the latter being compared to the former, especially with the word “mini”. Thus, whilst it made the headlines the use of “mini Messi” to describe Fran Kirby I think was a disservice to the women’s sport. There’s two things here that really concern me. For one, what “mini” means here is “female” and it thus can be equated to “lesser” in the sense that because she’s a woman she couldn’t possibly be too much like Messi. Secondly, why compare her to a man? Why not to a woman such as Marta? But then, why not make Fran Kirby her own role model and icon without the use of male or female comparisons. This is where the women’s game needs improving, as girls and women need to know that they don’t need to be like male players to be considered a good footballer. They can be themselves. Too often girls and women are told to be like someone else or something else, empowering women and girls is so important – it’s central to what we do at AFC Unity – and thus comparisons to men is not helpful.
If we are going to get theoretical about it the theory of a heterosexual matrix is useful as it relates to the idea that sexuality, gender and sex are all ‘naturally’ related. So for instance, women (sex) are feminine (gender) and are straight (sexuality) – when this is broken, so women playing football (wrongly considered masculine) then this breaks this so-called ‘natural’ connection. In fact such a connection is key to so many problems and divisions in society and it is totally socially constructed, it does not exist as a fact. In football you can face such divisions from other women yourself. For instance, last season I experienced a couple of digs about my make-up – one player told me to get rid of it in response to me asking them why they were attacking their own team mate, as I didn’t understand why you would want to tear strips from your own team mates (feminism after all). This can be seen as an example of me going against the expectations that women that play football need to be masculine as it’s a ‘male sport’ when really, as many women during the tournament have shown – wearing make-up, false nails, nail varnish, having awesome hair cuts – women can play football and have whatever style they feel comfortable with. The idea there is a certain style or look women that take part in football need to have is a social construction and relates to the dominance of male culture in the sport.
There has still been discrimination and stereotypical views from men through mediums such as Twitter during the World Cup but I have seen a noticeable switch to this being less prominent. I grew up facing abuse for playing football, including being called a “man beast” for simply wanting to kick a ball around. Many women in our team will have stories to tell you about their own experiences growing up facing such expectations. I do think with national campaigns such as This Girl Can and We Can Play the FA and country is starting to encourage more women to get involved in the sport. But I do think we have to learn from the male game and how money, fear and individualism has affected a game that is based on community spirit, solidarity and unity. The World Cup with its largely fair play, respectful and passion based football shows you how different women’s football is and how it’s been nurtured in opposition to the restrictive culture of the men’s game. However, with many women’s teams being simply add ons to male dominated clubs there is a long way to go until we break down barriers and assumptions within the game itself and make it a non fear based and freeing, fun experience for all involved.
Are you a woman over 16 years old based in Sheffield or near it and want to get involved in football? AFC Unity have something for women of all backgrounds, levels and experiences so please get in touch for more!
When trying to complete my ballot for the upcoming South Yorkshire PCC election on the 30th of October, I had a moment of panic thinking that I HAD to have a second choice. Given my options for this second choice were UKIP, Tories and the English Democrats the idea of putting an X next to any of those hate driven parties was a pretty sickly feeling. After digging around and eventually finding a couple of blogs written about it I realised that I didn’t actually have to have a second choice.
I really shouldn’t have to research online and find out from bloggers whether or not I need to vote for two parties in a PCC election. This shows how badly designed the postal vote is. I consider myself to be one of those people who would be described as being very politically active and it stumped me; I know of others I would describe this way and they were also confused by it and so I imagine it is something that has thrown quite a few people off and potentially distorted the voting so far.
Therefore, I decided to send a complaint through the Sheffield City Council and help raise awareness of this. This doesn’t mean I am blaming the council, it means I think they are the best people to help bring it to more people’s attention and hopefully stop it from happening again and even make more people aware of it before they send their postal vote in or vote on the 30th. I’ve included a copy of the complaint below:
To whom it may concern,
I am writing to express concern regarding the wording used on the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner postal ballot paper and the accompanying instructions. The instructions given and also the wording on the actual ballot paper made it look like you had to have a second choice and that also this second choice had to be different to your first.
After researching this online, I found it not to be the case but I know of people who are heavily involved in politics that did think the wording used in the postal ballot meant that they had to vote for two different candidates and thus did so despite not wanting to.
I recommend in future it says clearly on the ballot paper that you have the option of two choices but that you do not need to have two choices. Currently, such wording makes it look like you have to pick two, and frankly given that my other choices were the Conservatives, English Democrats and UKIP the idea of ever voting for any of those turns my stomach.
I hope you make the necessary changes to the postal ballot wording in time for future elections. I imagine the wording is on the ballot for those voting in polling stations on the 30th of October too, so if there is any way to make it clear to voters on this day across polling stations that they do not have to vote twice that would be really useful.
Update – 24th of October:
The response to my PCC ballot complaint is very interesting – looks like once again it’s a central government made problem:
“I have contacted our Electoral Services and they have informed me that the wording used and that used on instructions in the polling stations is stipulated by the Police & Crime Commissioner Election Order 2012 and so we have no power to use different wording.”
US hegemonic power is increasingly debated in terms of whether it is still strong or whether it is in a state of decline with the rise of developing countries, the underlying weakness of the dollar and the crumbling legitimacy the US faces as a country on the global stage. However, what recent events such as the international paralysis and inaction towards Israel’s ongoing siege and despairing occupation of Gaza and the West Bank shows is that the US’s power is still strong.
I studied US hegemony in one of my Politics MA modules at The University of Sheffield finding myself arguing that whilst the US can be still considered a global hegemonic power, it is minimal hegemony based on non-ethical deception relating to the increasing legitimacy crisis of neoliberal policies, especially since the ongoing financial crisis and the rise of developing countries – and related global imbalances – such as China.
In other words, US’s power is based on lies and misconceptions promoted through channels such as the bias media that furthers the neoliberal agenda through institutions such as the IMF or now through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership where US power is still very strong. The ideology of the ‘need’ and ‘naturalness’ of the free market – despite this in reality not really happening, with vast amounts of corporate aid sustaining such ‘free’ markets – is rampant throughout these global institutions as the US as a state still has a lot of international control through such institutions with voting power and veto rights.
Whilst there are challenges to the US dollar in the long-term, there’s not too much cause for concern for now. For instance, China has a weak financial sector and also dollar depreciation would threaten China economically too given their vast amount of US bond holding and China’s use of sovereign wealth funds to increase their power but also vulnerability in the US. There is also the recent development of fracking in the US that will help reduce their dependence on using foreign policy to ensure their economic power, given that petrodollars finance an estimate of 45% of the US’s current account deficit.
Since the Nixon Shock in 1973 the financial markets have grown increasingly powerful, the US has become more and more reliant on finance as a symbol of ‘power’ and ‘success’, as has the UK, and the world has become an increasingly unfair place with US sponsored structural adjustment programmes making sure of this. With such hegemony becomes no responsibility. There is no responsibility from those at the ‘top’ that through ‘innovative’ measures such as Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps created a financial crisis that has been sadly but cleverly blamed on minority groups and ordinary people that had nothing to do with it. The divide and rule tactics have worked on many, and we now are in a system with unsustainable, unequal power divisions with a mass media that deceives and manipulates, and powerful countries that don’t use their power responsibly.
Rather, we see as through the TTIP such countries – despite such hegemony and power – surrendering their soft and hard power to corporates and profit making entities because they ‘need’ to as otherwise we are told that there will be a ‘brain drain’, the economy will stop working. We have to give up accountability, fairness and common sense because this is a ‘natural’ part of ‘globalisation’. Globalisation in this sense being a nice ideological tool to take attention away from the fact that it is a term used to refer to a magnitude of factors that aren’t inevitable, but rather ideological and policy led choices. That is conveniently ignored though when frightening measures such as TTIP are discussed.
Minimal hegemony sees a selfish country having the most international, especially ideological and institutional, power and influence with limited oppositional forces to it. The more the lies are exposed, the more people will hopefully start to realise that what is happening is unfair, unequal and not inevitable and this leads to cracks in this hegemony with the potential of a counter hegemonic bloc there. What this counter hegemonic bloc is, is up to us.