Why hello “Capital at Home”, my old nemesis, we meet again. As you can see, I miraculously survived the unnecessarily convoluted end you planned for me the last time we saw each other and I have returned, once again, to seek the object of incredible importance we are both sworn to obtain so that we may fulfil our not strictly mutually exclusive destinies – yours being to rule the National Women’s League galaxy, mine being to write a blog post of dubious quality…
In case you haven’t noticed already, I tend to default to humour when things are tough. It’s a coping strategy straight out of Harry Potter. At Hogwarts, teenage wizards are taught to combat a Boggart (a creature that takes the form of the thing each individual fears most in the world) with a ‘riddikulus’ curse – a spell that converts their mortal fear into a figure of ridicule. What really finishes a Boggart off is laughter.
What I went through at Gower Park, in the 95th minute of last year’s equivalent fixture to this one, was no laughing matter of course. It was trauma – plain and simple. I had never felt that level and intensity of distress in my life before up until that moment. And the thing I was acutely aware of going into Capital at Home 2019 is the reality that with serious trauma, unfortunately, comes a deeply unpleasant beastie by the name of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
One of the symptoms of PTSD is “severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.” For me, it starts with a tingly feeling at the back of my head that builds to a crescendo like an invisible force constricting my brain. The world feels like it’s tilting on its axis as I literally relive the trauma, often in situations where I can’t show any outward indications of what’s happening on the inside.
A recent example was an all-day work meeting I was in. There was an object sitting on the table in front of one of the other participants. I won’t go into what or why, but suffice to say it was setting me off. And every time my eyes fell on it, I had another attack. There were dozens and dozens of attacks throughout the day. I could plausibly leave the meeting a couple of times to use the bathroom, but for 90% of the day I was trapped. There was nothing I could do except try to manage it in my head as best I could.
The trick seems to be knowing your triggers, anticipating when they might arise, and being ready with a coping strategy.
The closest football parallel I can think of is the ‘bogey team’ phenomenon. Lots of teams have one particular opposition club that always seems to get one over them whatever their relative strengths are on paper. Form, talent, tactical acumen, and every other advantage a side might have, goes out the window as mist descends and voodoo kicks in.
Thinking about this, I asked a friend of mine – former Birkenhead United assistant coach Andrew Parkinson – whether his double Chatham Cup winning charges had a bogey team and what, if anything, they did to overcome it. What he said was interesting, because his prescription for ‘bogeyteamitis’ closely matched mine for PTSD, albeit in coach speak – “analysis + preparation + execution.” And there was a dash of Harry Potter thrown in too…
Parky told me that Onehunga Sports was Birko’s bogey team, up until they decided to combat the issue, in part, by resting almost all their top players against them. Their ‘B team’ won 2-0. After that, a bit like a Boggart that’s been hit with a riddikulus curse, the mist lifted and Birko gained the self-belief they required to compete with anyone at any level. It wasn’t done on a whim though. It was a result earned by analysis + preparation + execution.
For me, it all boils down to taking the power back. Because being at the mercy of things you can’t control never works out well. You have to look for the things you can control and take control of them. In a sense, WaiBOP have been doing this all season. For example, it’s noticeable that the winter sidelines at John Kerkhof Park have been painted out and brought in to the bare minimum pitch width allowable by the laws of the game. Because when you can’t control the fact that other teams have more firepower than you, you can control how much space they have to build their attacks with.
And thinking about my potential triggers going into this game, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop Capital scoring goals. Well, maybe I could have but not if I wanted to be able to finish this project… There were lots of things I could control though.
I could control how worked up I would be on arrival, by taking a friend along on the road trip – someone who would make lots of car conversation that would steer my mind away from unhelpful ruts. I could control who would be around me if something traumatic happened, by watching the game with people who know what I’ve been going through and have my back. And I could control what I planned to do if I experienced an attack – for example, when all else fails I have a folder full of photos of my kittens on my phone that I can flip through for instant perspective.
Of course the best coping strategies are the ones you don’t end up needing, and fortunately none of the above proved necessary today thanks to my ability to control my knowledge that, regardless of this game’s outcome, Capital aren’t anywhere close to good enough to rule the National Women’s League galaxy this year, Yellow Fever’s chants aren’t funny, Wellington coffee is 1,000% overrated and, no matter how hard the hipsters try, WaiBOPians will always look better in a Swandri.
Analysis + preparation + execution. And humour.
WaiBOP 0, Capital 5
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]