Charlie Beaumont is a Consultant Child Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic and Head of Psychotherapy in Islington CAMHS. Charlie reflects on the impact of COVID and the lockdown period on the experience of, and enjoyment of sport.
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Hello, I’m Charlie Beaumont Consultant, Child Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic and Head of Psychotherapy in Islington CAMHS. I am known by friends and colleagues for my enthusiastic interest in sport both participating, and spectating, with interest in a broad spectrum of events.
As the gyms and swimming pools and stadia of the country have been closed since March because of COVID 19, and as we eagerly await reopening, however tentative and limited, I would like to share my own response.
COVID-19 first made an impact on me when the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta caught coronavirus and Arsenal’s game, due to be played the following evening, was cancelled, swiftly followed by the suspension of all premiership matches. At the time I remember some sense of relief that the football association had taken it upon themselves to stop playing football when most of Europe was in lockdown, whilst the UK government hesitated.
Being at a football match the previous week, as I sat in the crowd of 60,000, I had wondered to myself whether it was entirely sensible to go a mass gathering when there was a virulent and highly contagious virus beginning to spread across Europe. Two weeks later as the country was placed in lockdown, I began to have a more profound sense that I was going to really mind the absence of any sport to watch, which has been a staple of my everyday life since I was a small child, but I would also miss the ordinary participation in sport which had always been a part of my life. My sporting life was going to have to change.
In addition, I worried how my children would cope. They had all been committed rowers often training 5 times a week: how were they going to fill their time? They were used to getting up very early, often before dawn in those dark March days, spending a part of every day with their friends and their coaches on the water or in the gym, and if not on a sports field of some description with a ball.
Being a football fan, when things are difficult you quietly enjoy the struggles of others teams: so there were many rather too eager conversations about what irony it would be if Liverpool, who had been waiting to win the title for almost 30 years, were denied by the virus.
This feeling soon passed, and rather than points and positions, runs and innings, I came to be obsessed with death rates and infections, vaccines and PPE. Questions about when football might start again seemed trivial, in the brave new world of loo roll shortages, and empty supermarket shelves.
Interestingly conversations about football continued in the absence of the leagues: a regular Zoom quiz about football was quickly established. I even the purchased cones and training equipment to practice skills in the park.
The absence of my exercise makes me aware of how often I use sport as way to shut down and escape from the moment. In my mind, being consumed by and passionately involved in sport helps as a way of maintaining a sense of perspective in life. Football can really teach one about losing, however painful, and perhaps losing something together with fellow fans, or team mates, is easier than losing something alone?
I miss the odour of cheap burgers and greasy chips, as we approach the ground. I miss the smell and noise of the crowd. I miss the lunatic fan who hates all of his own team’s players. I miss the small children complaining about the game and hugging complete strangers when a goal is scored.
My sense of relief that football has returned is immense: it is not the same as before, but at least it is back. You realise how important the presence of fans are for the game – it’s life blood in a way, but I also find myself being just as bothered about how my team play now.
The exercise, my personal regime, has been more complicated. When lockdown began I decided I would train every day. A new YouTube workout every morning with some bright young things contorting their body into impossible positions, and then me trying to imitate with the eager assistance of the dog.
My wish to hold on to the exercise came in the face of anxiety, terror and also a worry about how long the virus would continue to limit our lives in a myriad of ways. I wanted to hold onto doing something physical, pushing myself and not just giving up and feeling “what’s the point”. At times, this is indeed exactly what I have felt. But in the main, trying to hold on to the idea of some form of exercise, and to be active most days, seems to have allowed me to stay in a more positive mindset than some.
In my sporting life before lockdown, I swam at least twice weekly, but the highlight was my regular Friday football game, 11 a side, played with a groups of fellow middle aged men, always with an injury, and often a pint. I also cycled around 50 miles per week, just for transport.
So what has replaced this major part of my life? Regular walks with the children, the quality of interactions between adults and children seems to have been one of the great gifts of lockdown, we are no longer in a rush to training, or cricket, to swimming or the dock. I have seen this in others too. For the children, sporadic training seems to be the pattern, it seems much of their training was about friendship and shared endeavor, though they have competed in a virtual regatta against a club in Boston Massachusetts.
So what will remain in my memory, when this is over, will be a couple of evening trips to the beach after work, for a late swim with my family. We all swam, liberated, in the sea, for ages, and then hungrily ate fish and chips, on the shore. The beach was deserted by the time we got there, and we relished the freedom of the water. Similarly we walked an unknown path in the Essex countryside, we would not have ventured so far, had the parks and marshes of London not begun to be crowded as the summer heat encouraged conviviality, and gathering, whether permitted or not. It was beautiful and freeing, and we saw no-one other than within 100 metres of our parked car. Of course this took place once permitted as lockdown has gradually lifted or loosened.
I will be delighted to return to the football stadium, and the swimming pool, but I’m grateful for some memories which wouldn’t have otherwise been made. My children will be grateful to see their friends and they will be back on the water next week.