Watching a football game is a weekly ritual for football fans up and down the country - for supporters of big-hitting teams such as Manchester City, as well as lower league clubs such as Wrexham FC alike. But no matter how big the club, every game is likely to come with stressful moments, and some games, such as local derbies, can really cause fans’ heart rates to spike. Global tournaments can prove to be particularly anxiety-inducing, with intense group stages, semi-finals and the big final often ending in heart-stopping penalty shootouts.
While ‘match day nerves’ are something that may typically be associated with the sportspeople themselves, they can certainly apply to fans too. In many cases, the pre-match nerves can be quite intense, even going as far as to cause uncomfortable physical symptoms.
But just how many football fans experience nerves when watching a big game – and what can soccer supporters do to keep symptoms of stress at bay?
How Stressful Do We Find Watching A Football Match?
To find out just how stressful the average game is for a football fan, we surveyed 1,005 fans to uncover what symptoms they experience watching a match.
Shockingly, more than 4 in 5 (82%) of fans said that they experience stress or nerves while watching ‘the beautiful game’, with three quarters (75%) also experiencing these feelings ahead of the game. Given that more than 26.8 million people watched live Premier League coverage alone during the 2020-21 season, that’s a lot of stressed-out spectators.
For those that experience physical symptoms, feeling restless is the most common, with over a quarter (28%) of fans having these feelings. Stomach butterflies (27.5%) follows as the second most common symptom, with sweaty palms (16%) and tense shoulders and neck (15%) also occurring frequently.
At more extreme levels, 15% of fans experience stomach issues, such as stomach aches or diarrhoea, while around 7.5% of fans actually experience nausea or vomiting due to their severe nerves.
Even well-known Burnley follower and Radio 1 presenter Jordan North falls into this camp, with the Clarets fan confessing to being completely off his food ahead of Burnley’s relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Top 15 Most Common Effects Of Football Nerves
- Feeling restless - 28%
- Stomach butterflies - 27.5%
- Sweaty palms - 16%
- Tense shoulders and/or neck - 15%
- Sweating - 14%
- Heart flutters - 13.5%
- Faster breathing - 11%
- Shaking - 7%
- Headaches - 7%
- An upset stomach – 6.5%
- Stomach aches – 5.5%
- Nausea - 5%
- Short of breath - 5%
- Diarrhoea - 3%
- Vomiting - 2.5%
Although marriage, break ups, and moving house are generally considered to be among some of life’s most stressful events, our research shows that these can actually be eclipsed by watching a football match. Football fans found watching a match more nerve-racking than taking an exam (16%), a job interview (15%) and even public speaking (14%).
Fans find watching football more stressful than...
- Taking an exam – 16%
- Job interview – 15%
- Public speaking – 14%
- Moving house – 13%
- First day at a new job – 13%
- Driving test – 13%
- First date – 12%
- Buying a house – 11%
- Performing in public – 11%
- Meeting a partner’s parents for the first time – 10%
- Having a breakup of a relationship – 9%
- Getting married – 9%
Introducing…the Football Fears Massage
Match day nerves undoubtedly show a deep commitment and passion for your team, but experiencing them and their associated symptoms either regularly, or very intensely for the duration of the match day, will put the body under significant levels of stress, so it’s best to try and relax where possible.
With this in mind, and with the help of Chloe Weavers from The Spa at Laceby Manor, we’ve created the world’s first massage specifically for football fans to help target their match-day nerves. Each movement has been chosen for its relaxing properties, and ability to help remove stress and nerves either before or during a game.
The massage can be performed anywhere, without the need for any equipment, so whether you’re watching the big game at home or at the pub, you can take a post-penalty pause to experience the benefits. Importantly, the massage has a ‘solo’ and ‘for mates’ version - meaning that you can de-stress yourself if watching alone, or you can rope a friend in to help you out
Massage method to de-stress yourself
- ‘Tiki taka’ temple rubs: Place two fingers on your temples and apply light pressure and massage in circular motions for 10 seconds.
- ‘Nutmeg’ neck slides: Apply either 2 or 3 fingers to the side of your neck, starting at the base of the scalp. Gently slide them round to the back of the neck, then repeat again slightly lower until you reach the bottom of the neck. Repeat on the opposite side.
- The ‘hand of God’: Cup your hand and place over the opposite shoulder and start to rub in circle motions, apply pressure with your fingertips to work the muscles. Do this for 10 seconds on each side.
- Face ‘tap it in’: Gently and lightly tap over your face, one finger at a time and increasing speed so your fingers flow. Start at the top of your head and work your way down past your temples and cheeks until you reach your jaw.
Massage method to de-stress your mates
- ‘4-claw-2': Spread your fingers apart and bend slightly, so your hands are like two claws. Then place on either side of their head, with thumbs near the base of their neck and little fingers near the temples. Firmly move your hand in small circular motions, doing five slow circles.
- The arm ‘slide tackle’: Hold their hand with one hand, and with the other hand use two fingers to firmly slide up their arm – starting from their wrist and ending just before their elbow. Repeat three times.
- The ‘fingertip save’: Place your thumb and first two fingers around their knuckle, then firmly work your way to the tip of the fingers. Then gently pull on the nail area.
- ‘Get stuck in’ squeezes: Make a C with your hands and place them over their shoulders, so you thumb is on their back and your fingers are near to their collarbone. Start close to the neck and gently squeeze once, then move slightly down the shoulder. Repeat this until you reach the end of their shoulders.
- ‘Liquid football’ swipes: Then use your thumbs to follow the shoulder blade round in a swiping motion. Repeat three times.
Mindfulness Tips To Help Settle Your Mind
In addition to the Football Fears Massage, qualified mindfulness and meditation instructor Eloise Skinner has also shared her tips on how you can use the power of the mind to bring back some calmness if you find yourself getting particularly stressed or overwhelmed. Alternatively, why not give them a go on match day morning to help prepare yourself for the game during the calm before the score...
- Focus on your breathing - This can be as simple as following your inhale and exhale, perhaps trying to lengthen the duration of each breath, or visualising a deep, expansive breath into the centre of your chest.
- Bring yourself into the present moment - Try to focus your full attention on a current activity to help bring yourself into the present. For example, if you're watching a game in a pub with a pint or other drink, bring your full attention to every part of the drinking process - from lifting your glass, moving it up to your mouth and actually taking a sip.
- Use the present moment technique ahead of the game too - If you prefer a more physical exercise to help you relax ahead of a big game, you can apply the same mindfulness techniques (focusing on the present moment, bringing your awareness back to your body) to a physical activity. For example, if you start your day with a run or a workout, see if you can apply some mindful attention techniques - try to focus on the sensations and physicality of the activity, noticing how your body feels, how your breath changes, and observing your thoughts as they come and go.
If you’re someone that finds watching your team play particularly stressful, why not plan ahead to kick back and relax during the post-game period and give yourself a chance to recoup. A spa day or spa break can be the perfect way to wind down, with a relaxing treatment also helping to banish any last stress symptoms from match day and remove that tension once and for all.
Survey conducted using Censuswide, to 1,005 UK football fans.
We used our in-house expertise and insights of Eloise Skinner to create the Football Fears Massage and mindfulness tips to help football fans reduce their stress levels on match day.
Data correct as of November 2022.