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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

How Arsenal WFC converted an introvert

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

Through football, I found my voice. Incidentally, I immediately lost it too.

Let me explain.

I suffer from panic attacks in crowded places. I get incredibly anxious in social situations with new people. As I got older, it's lessened, but it's there.

You'll understand, therefore, why watching football was never high on my list of potential hobbies. The noise, the mass of people, the aggression associated with the men's game. I have few friends that like football, and the thought of going on my own to watch a match live never crossed my mind.

Then, the women's Euros happened. Seeing the positivity in the crowds, I thought - let's get involved, let's be brave. I decided to go along to a game, in person.

I've been a North London gal for seven years so Arsenal has always been my first choice, my local team. The North London Derby (NLD), Arsenal WFC vs Sp*rs, was scheduled at the Emirates stadium in a months' time.

I got tickets, intending it to be a one-off, ticked-off-the-bucket-list type activity.

Once I'd booked, however, I got nervous. What if it was too much, all at once? I decided that maybe I should approach this with more caution.

I'll test the waters, I thought, with a smaller crowd first. I went to watch a game at the Meadow Park, Borehamwood stadium: Arsenal vs. Brighton.

It's lonely to go on your own on the face of it but, when you're there, you realise you're part of something. Everyone is together, backing their team.

The match ended. Arsenal won 4-0. I met Beth Mead, a lovely person.

I booked a ticket to the next match, one mid-week, before the NLD. Same fantastic experience, same atmosphere - even with a draw versus Ajax. I was hooked.

The day of the NLD came. A packed Emirates stadium.

I was front row - easier to ignore the crowd when you can't see it. The wall of noise was something else - and I loved it. The atmosphere was incredible. A crowd of 40,000 willing Arsenal to win.

I joined in the generic chants. Could everyone tell this was just my third game in person? Did I fit in? Did it matter?

I continued to go to games, but something was missing.

Anyone else like to analyse and discuss the film or series they just watched? Google reviews to see if everyone that had seen it was on the same page? Me too.

Going to football on my own was fun. But it wasn't enough. I wanted to be part of the discussions, to break down the match and understand the game more.

I joined the Facebook forum to read what other supporters were thinking and saying.

A bit of analysis here and there.

Then, the supporters' club popped up on my Twitter feed. I joined, and got the WhatsApp group invite. Thrown into a chat with 500 people, discussing all things football.

The following game, I recognised a couple of people from that chat and stood near them, in the North Bank. Turns out, they were loud.

Next thing I knew, we were singing throughout the game. They didn't know I wasn't "that" person, the one that's happy to join in and sing and shout. That made it easier for me. I could just be whoever I wanted to be.

That evening, an invite to another WhatsApp group, dedicated to singing and building an atmosphere at the women's games. I jumped straight in.

A pre-game meetup was suggested and I hesitantly went along.

Walking into a packed pub without knowing anyone - not my cup of tea. But I did it, found the right group, and immediately started chatting.

I opened this random spiel of my thoughts saying that I get anxious when meeting new people. Do you know what I discovered? Football is - at least for me - a great way to overcome social anxiety.

Part of my social anxiety hinges on organisation - need to plan ahead. With football, the time and date is pre-set. Going to the pub beforehand is someone else's job to organise, thanks to the supporters' group - I just turn up. I know what's going on and when. That makes it easier.

Football is also an ice breaker. You may have nothing else in common - but you have football. You don't have to be an expert, you just need to have an opinion and a passion for your team. That's a low barrier to entry, as social situations go.

I often worry about sounding stupid, saying the wrong thing, standing out.

That's why I'm often the quiet one in a crowd. I've never aimed to be the centre of attention, especially around people I don't know. Now, I go to football matches and sing my heart out - and I don't care what others think.

Do you know what happens when you sing one line too many of "ARSSSSENAL!"? You end up screaming "arssse..." very loudly, on your own. Do you know what happens then? Nothing, really. You laugh, everyone near you chuckles, knowing it could be them next time.

It's not the end of the world. It's just part of the experience.

I'm not saying that I find all social situations easy now, but they seem less daunting.

I'm now in the thick of it at games. I've learned to take more confidence in myself, and find my voice - both through singing and putting myself in social situations I would have previously avoided.

As for losing it - I'd never lost my voice through being too loud before. Then Arsenal won 9-0 vs. Leeds, and I sang / shouted for a full 2 hours. It was worth it though. If only I'd realised what I was missing out on sooner.

Photo by @kmaldephoto (Insta) / @kunjanmalde (Twitter)

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