For all the glamour of the Premiership, the real thing that gives the Beautiful Game its beauty is the indelible joy of playing the game. From a kick-about in the park to Villa Park, the actual joy of participation tends to outweigh watching others play the game. Which is why – during summer Olympic, cycling, cricketing or tennis glories – it’s frustrating when the behaviour of a few in the upper echelons of the game gives people a stick to beat football with.
In fact, next time someone uses the glory of a British success as a stick to beat football with, you could do worse than direct them towards iPlayer to catch up with director Kate Taunton’s Football, Madness and Me.
Football is a game with a troubled relationship with mental illness. From the more minor, like David Beckham’s OCD, to the more severe, such as the case of German international goalkeeper Robert Enke, who took his own life after suffering with severe depression. But that’s not what Football, Madness and Me is about.
We’re on Hackney Marshes with teams from the PMA League. If you remember the “if you want to be like Linford, you’ve got to think like Linford” Persil ads from the mid-Nineties, you’ll know that PMA stands for “positive mental attitude”. The PMA Sports Academy is a charity that uses sports to help people with mental illness.
Jamal from Haringey is staying in a secure hospital to treat his paranoid schizophrenia. His psychosis leads him to think at times that he’s a professional footballer (which, equally, is a misapprehension most regular amateurs have been known to labour under). But for Jamal, the chance to get out and play with his team, PMA Haringey FC, is one of the few ways he can get outside and be free. “I need more football, that’s the truth,” was his succinct take.
Jamal’s story was woven with two others. The first was Hayley, whose football skills were good enough for her to win four junior caps for England. Sadly, the onset of depression when she was 18 stopped her from playing more, and now, when her mood dips, she punishes herself by getting rid of her trophies and – heartbreakingly – her last England shirt. Meanwhile, Adam’s OCD is so severe that he can’t touch many of the objects in his own home, including the entire kitchen for fear of being contaminated.
For both, playing football becomes a big part of their recovery, Hayley even battling her anxiety about speaking out loud to take her first coaching exams and Adam able to negate his problems through getting mucky playing football (as well as being near the grubby handrails of the Piccadilly Line).
At times, it was difficult to watch them all struggle. At others, it was life-affirming to see them trying to get better. Although the hardest part might actually have been watching Haringey getting a 10-0 walloping from league winners Wakefield, a match that led Adam to substitute himself while denouncing his own ability. We’ve all been there, Adam. Well, I have.
Frankly, I chose to watch Football, Madness and Me because I thought it would be a film about football. And it was, of course, but it was more interesting as an insight into a world we don’t often see, particularly that of Jamal and the people trying to make his (and others’) lives better. Which is what good documentaries should do. And, rather than football, it is the people helping Jamal and co, like PMA coach Janette, making the real difference here. But the game helps too. So next time someone whinges about divers, players’ wages and Luis Suarez’s transfer manoeuvrings as reason why football is A Bad Thing, send them down to Hackney Marshes to meet Janette and her team.
- More about:
- Film Directors
- Stephen Carter
- Wood Green