Premier League final day and play-off finals: How to cope with crippling tension before a big match


There is a particular problem when you care deeply and emphatically about a football club: they can absolutely ruin your day, even before they’ve played.

The hours before a big one, hours that you might be experiencing right now, are absolutely hellish. The crippling knot in your stomach, the inability to concentrate on anything useful, the pointlessness of trying to properly explain to outsiders why you’re not quite yourself today.

If you’re not careful then the day before a game that will decide your club’s future in some way – titles, relegation, cup finals, Champions League qualification – can be an absolute write-off and make the whole business even worse than it has to be.

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But there are things you can do to survive the day of a pivotal match, a few ways to mitigate against the inner turmoil.

First, be prepared for the apprehension to flow over you in waves. You’ll probably forget about it for brief spells but at various points, it will become too much. Just sit there and ride that out, maybe by staring blankly at the wall like some sort of incarcerated serial killer, because it will ebb eventually. But brace yourself for the flow.

Burnley fans have an anxious wait to see if they will survive in the Premier League (Photo: Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Decide early on where you’re going to watch, and stick with that decision. You’ve got enough to be worrying about without that sort of uncertainty adding to it.

Be patient with people who ask how you are coping because there will be a lot of them, unless you lock yourself up in a single room, like Renton trying to detox in Trainspotting. For the most part, they’re just trying to be nice, even if it’s the ninth time this hour that someone has inquired after your nerves.

This is particularly tricky when, as probably applies to too many of us, you have made supporting your team more of your personality than is probably ideal, and even more pronounced if yours is a smaller team. The messages from people you haven’t spoken to in ages, who have thought of you because they know your team has a big one in the offing, are genuinely lovely but can get a bit much if they arrive in sufficient volume. All that said, do not be afraid to answer the question, “How are you feeling?” with “Absolutely awful”. This is no time to pretend.

If you have a partner who does not share your nerves, do not let your tension lead you to snap at them. In all probability, they are trying to be kind, to soothe you in some way, trying to empathise with something they may not truly understand.

If things get too tense you could try what is known as the “Paul Hunter Approach”, but be warned it’s a high-risk gambit. Hunter was a much-loved snooker player who turned around a couple of Masters finals in which he was trailing after he retired to his hotel room with his partner between playing sessions, emerging refreshed, relaxed and able to refocus.


Tottenham fans will hope to see victory over Norwich to seal a top-four spot (Photo: Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)

That sort of thing could well help soothe your nerves, but it could have consequences: only try it if you are absolutely confident that you can concentrate on the matter at hand. If your partner suspects you only suggested it to take your mind off football-related nerves, then it could be curtains.

Think very carefully about pooling your nerves with a fellow fan. It might help but it might make things worse for both of you. If you do, try to pick someone who is of opposite sensibilities to you: if you’re a pessimist then buddy up with an optimist and see if they can lighten your mood, but if you’re an optimist then spend time with a pessimist so you can distract yourself by telling them to stop being such a miserable bastard.

Exercise, if you’re into that sort of thing. Not only will it kill time, but there’s half a chance that some endorphins will be released that will smooth the rough edges of your foul mood. And you’re going to be sweating anyway so you might as well get something useful out of it.

Work, if you think you can concentrate. Maybe not if you’re a taxi driver or a brain surgeon because if you drift off into some sort of tension mind palace, there could be greater consequences than if you’re filling in a spreadsheet or writing a light-hearted article for a subscription sports app / website.

If you can not / do not want to work, distract yourself with menial, repetitive tasks. Nothing that requires a lot of brain power, because let’s be honest: that ain’t happening. But something that is going to eat up some time and some concentration. Paint a fence. Reorganize a bookcase. Iron all your clothes. Cook an enormous stew that realistically you’re never going to eat.

Ah, yes, food. Do not force yourself to eat. You might think that sustenance is a sensible option, and in most cases, you’d be right, but there’s also every chance you’re just filling yourself with more stuff to vomit up. Your stomach will probably be about the size of a walnut, so don’t try to cram anything in there that won’t go.

You will almost certainly be confronted with the urge to drink. Trust that urge. You know your alcohol tolerance better than I so pace yourself accordingly and don’t go too early, but there is comfort in oblivion. Even if you do not get that far, it will take the edge off. If you do not drink, have an orange juice, or a Yop, or whatever it is you people order at the bar.

Seek comfort in friends. Hopefully, you have someone, or someones, who can say calming things to you, who will give you a hug, or make you a coffee, or just know when to shut the fuck up. Equally, if you have a friend you think is likely to engage in unwelcome banter, from pre-match jibes to post-match memes riffing on your pain, do not be shy about giving them a preemptive warning to knock it on the head.

But above all, know that it will be over soon, and you’ll either be left with the profound joy and relief of success, or the deep emptiness and despair of failure. One is preferable to the other, obviously, but even if it is the latter you can take comfort in the knowledge that your team will be there next season. They’re always there, whether they’re a source of constant happiness or bring you nothing but pain, at least they’re always there.

Good luck, and be kind to yourself.

(Top photos: Getty Images / Design: Sam Richardson)



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