Why the Euros meant more this year
End of lockdown, neurotransmitters, and the desire for ‘normal’
The fact that we made it to the final was only part of the reason why football mania is in full swing this year. After 18 months of intermittent lockdowns, social distancing, and a lack of real-life cultural events, getting lost in the moment 90 minutes at a time felt like a relief — even euphoric at times. For some of us, it was a chance to be among the hustle and bustle of a crowd of people. We got to feel the joyous chants of passionate fans reverberate our eardrums once again. Even seeing large groups of people together on the telly in stadiums or packed-out pub gardens, refreshed a distant memory of what life was like before the all-consuming pandemic took over our lives.
But why does football harness the power to bring us together after such a long time in isolation from one another? Why is it that we can turn a blind eye to 2500 UEFA officials that were allowed to break the rules that we regular folk have been told to follow? Economic incentive plays a role in the latter on the level of government. However, I believe football hacks our biology, taps into ancient tribal behaviours, and provides temporary relief from the daily grind.
We’ve all seen it before — grown men in floods of tears, singing that tests the upper limits of the human vocal cords, and the clattering of bodies coming together in celebration after sterling whips another one past our opponent’s keeper. These extreme emotions that would be unnerving on a normal day, but completely acceptable during a festival of football, have a lot to do with mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
When your team is playing well or score a goal, your brain starts to release dopamine and adrenaline which floods your brain’s reward and pleasure centres. This is what gives you the feeling of pure excitement and ecstasy when your team are winning. Excess neurotransmitters are not an excuse to pour a pint over your fellow fans, but it does in part explain the phenomenon that takes place after England scores. If you are supporting the losing side, adrenaline teams up with cortisol this time to evoke stress. You are probably familiar with the feeling of sweaty palms, tight muscles, and a racing heart that springs up when your team is a goal down in extra time.
So, yes football highjacks your brain and has your emotions controlled by 22 athletes chasing and kicking a ball. This year though, our social isolation and desperation to escape from the mundanity of lockdown life have exacerbated football’s ability to control our minds. The scenes of celebration that occurred during the Euros event and the amount of attention given to a game that is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, shows societies willingness to forget about what’s happened over the past 18 months, one game at a time.
Our ability to engage in cultural events and large festivals is integral to getting back to what we used to be. For Europeans this year, football (and adrenaline) helped them bump shoulders with 60,000 others and shake off some of the lockdown trauma that made them think twice about seeing friends and family. For many, the Euros will be synonymous with the dissolution of lockdown regulations and returning to normal, whatever that may look like in a post-covid world.
During the pandemic, our national football team and its players have helped to combat child poverty, they took a stand against racism, and have given us an excuse to come together to temporarily focus on something else other than COVID-19. However, now the final whistle of the euros has blown, and the end of social distancing is in sight, it’s time to look beyond football and — dare I say it — the coronavirus. Our country faces huge economic uncertainty and a mental-health emergency. While the humanitarian and climate crises that challenge our planet continue to rage on, regardless of the virus or footballing events. The Euros have been great, but now, can we come together with the same passion to resolve some of the existential threats that face our species?
Probably not, right? The Olympics is just around the corner, then the Premier League starts, then it’s back to school, then it's Christmas, and oh shit, then it’s 2022! That’s the downside to our highly entertaining, non-stop calendar of cultural events. Before you know it, another year passes without truly having to focus on the stuff that matters. So, yes, it’s great to have our events back, and I truly think they’re important to keep the world sane during insane times. However, if there’s one thing we can learn from their absence, it’s that when we have time away from distractions (like football) we have more time to spend on ourselves, our families, and others in need. But Goddam it, it feels good when England score!