Anxiety trigger no 2: Good boy, go and boil your head


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This week: Graham Tosterone, the Friary's special consultant for Very Confused Sportsmen, writes

Hi there, sports fans. Those of you who haven't visited the Lillywhites special unit on the fourth floor are in for a treat. As you know, we get a lot of patients in here from the world of football, cricket and related activities, many of them temporarily in the thrall of narcotics, alcohol or reporters from the News of the World. We have facilities to treat all manner of sporting hero afflictions, including the awful Multiple Addiction Syndrome, whose sufferers experience feelings of disorientation because they were too drunk the night before to remember at which gambling casino they left a stash of amphetamine sulphate...

But the most pressing modern problem is Baffling Press Identity Confusion Anxiety, a state of schizophrenia which follows sporting triumphs. Typically, there are two "events" (or "anxiety triggers" as we call them) with different outcomes, one good, one bad. The reaction of the press to each is never quite what the patient anticipated.

Patient 86930 Keegan, K, who has joined us for three weeks' remedial therapy, is one such victim, for instance. He is the manager of the England football team. His job is to maintain a high level of morale and prepare players to win matches. When his team won 2-0 against Scotland, he received many plaudits in the press, comments that might have led him to believe he was quite an efficient manager. "Golden Boy Keegan Brings England Heroes to Heart of Europe" read one paper's headline. "Kilted Klowns Krushed by Krafty Kev's Konquerors" read another.

These public judgements often have a profound effect on the self-esteem of the people at whom they are directed. So it must have been rather a blow when, only a few days later, the papers made a different analysis of Mr K's worth. Although England had beaten Scotland on aggregate, and so qualified to take part in the Euro 2000 tournament, everything had changed. "Why it's time for Clueless Kevin to give up his Naive Struggle", said the headline in the Mail. "Go Back to Liverpool and Boil Your Head, You Blow-Dried Layabout", read another.

It does not take a genius to see that this kind of see-saw of response can awaken conflicting feelings in the sensitive manager. Patient 86930 has been sedated for three days, placed in the Kipling Room and subjected to corrective role-play treatment. He is visited by relays of alternately abusive and appreciative strangers; teachers, police officers, judges and women who remind him of his mother, are brought before him uttering such phrases as "You are a menace to society, Keegan", and "There's a clever boy to eat up all his din-dins", until he is able to greet both extremes of human contact with resilience.

We are also happy to welcome Patient 87314 Lewis L, a famous pugilist in the outside world, but a puzzled man. He is suffering from Not Being Able to Tell If You've Won syndrome, an unfortunate condition that coincidentally afflicted thousands of England and Scotland supporters in the streets of Wembley on Wednesday night. The pugilist has suffered recurrent feelings of stress because no matter how comprehensively he wins a boxing contest, somebody always comes up to him at the end to explain that he is not the victor. It has happened twice in America. Once his opponent was classed the winner, despite having been reduced to a bloodied mess and stretchered off to hospital by weeping paramedics. The second time, Patient 87314 was told he had won, but the newspapers later explained that the quality of his victory was in dispute, despite his opponent having been decapitated in round 12.

Poor 87314. He says he's not going back to the States again. He finds the pugilistic authorities there a bit hard to fathom. So we've put him on a simple regimen of Victor Appreciation: he has a nice Olympic plinth to stand on, and an enormously wide belt in garish shades of chrome and gold to wear when feeling insecure. A lot of actors walk past him all day giving thumbs aloft signs, exclaiming "You certainly trounced him this time, Lennox!" We look forward, in a week, to declaring him officially fit, well and cured. Unless we go and change our minds a few days later, that is.

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