CRAIG PRIEST BLOG: More than a game

The charity walk group prepare to leave Chesterfield.
The charity walk group prepare to leave Chesterfield.

Game by game I read comments on social media about the previous match, I have conversations about the match with friends, and of course I talk all about it on the Mansfield Matters Podcast (Thursdays 6.30pm!) – but to be honest, I rarely get the opportunity to talk about the more humble side of the game.

I could sit here and fill this column with my thoughts on the local derby, in brief – disappointing and without fight or an acceptable amount of desire, Chesterfield will survive – but I’d be wasting everyone’s time.

On Saturday, I was part of a 48 strong group, predominantly Stags fans and two Chesterfield fans, who made the 14.2 mile walk from the Proact to The One Call all in aid of two excellent causes, and it got me thinking about how football was more than just a game.

Nathan Edge, who was one of the walk organisers, is a good friend of mine – I’ve watched how Guide Dogs have helped get him back into going to football and in turn, find his confidence again.

Joining us on the walk was Stags legend Kevin Bird who sadly, like many former footballers, is suffering from dementia. To see Kevin chatting away with fellow fans over the course of the walk was humbling, but what puts everything in perspective is a comment his wife Sue made the following morning on Facebook – Kevin couldn’t remember a single step of the walk.

During the match itself, there were two separate minutes of applause in memory of a brave little boy from Mansfield and a brave young girl from Chesterfield – both of whom lost their battles with illness, two lives taken too soon.

Football is just the game which binds everything together, for Nathan it gave him the confidence to find himself again, for Kevin it was the game which made him loved by many. For me, it’s given me pretty much everything, a career, a focus, friendship and even love and family. Would that matter or change depending on a result? Of course it wouldn’t.

Tonight (Tuesday) the Stags will send a strong side to Clipstone to support a local club in need, a club who are struggling in form but who are still well supported and held in high regard – but a club hampered by mindless idiots.

Yet the power of the game and what it stands for, community, friendship, love and hope all shine through – how many clubs at a higher level would help their lower league neighbours?

We all crave success, we all live for the highs and have nightmares about the lows – it’s fact, it’s emotion and quite easy to get swept up in the drama of it all, which is of course fair enough – but it’s not the be all and end all.

Walking away from the game (well I say walking, I mean hobbling slowly!) I overheard conversations about the match from a group of “supporters”. I won’t repeat the conversation in print, but it centred around the fact they were only there for a fight.

After the game I sat nursing a cup of tea at a service station reading arguments over social media, I wondered there and then why knocking someone’s front tooth out because of the colour of their shirt was seen as big, or why it mattered what weight the opposition centre-half was?

Whatever happened to the thrill of the chase for the result on the pitch rather than the pointless trivial matters afterwards? Win, lose or draw – football is always a beautiful game which leads to so many wonderful things – forgive me, but for a moment, I just wanted to reflect on that and enjoy the journey as it unfolds.