Winter Well: Sport and Mental Health

I spent three months of one winter never seeing daylight: getting up at 7am to go to work, spending the day in a windowless room then returning home around 6pm. It was a profoundly unpleasant existence and I spent those walks to the train station thinking about Summer.

In the grips of icy, black winter one thing I noticed was that I literally couldn’t imagine what Summer was like: the idea of walking around in a t-shirt and shorts seemed utterly impossible. In much the same way the thought of a better day can seem similarly remote in the blackest mood.

It’s not news that longer nights and lack of daylight can affect emotions or even mental health. But in Winter socialising is harder, there are fewer holidays and events. And there’s no cricket.

Much like the shortening days, cricket in itself might not be any great loss. But the end of the season also means a jarring break from friends and teammates. Often I view the end of the season as a release from aching joints and Saturdays that are not my own. But I know there are some who view it with dread. A support network suddenly vanished, regular contact with friends ended and the structure cricket can bring to long weeks collapsed.

I’ve often mused on this oddity. I spend six months playing cricket, drinking and carousing with my teammates. I share some of the most intense, joyful and depressing moments of the year with them. We go out to bars together, long days chewing the fat on the field or in the pavilion. I’ve been on holiday with my cricket comrades for many years. It’s occurred to me that there’s probably good mileage filming the conversations that go on in a pavilion, on a balcony or in a changing room.

Last year I spend a good deal of time listening on in what might be called ‘locker-room talk’. But I also discussed politics, race, economics, science, literature. I found out about the ten – or 21 – other people I happened to be sharing my day with and was enriched by the experience. And then, in September, it all stopped. I’ve barely seen any of them since.

There are plenty of reasons why cricket can be a positive force in the lives of those who play. Socialisation, fitness, positivity, endurance, collaboration… But there’s something that is often overlooked. Cricket’s ability to give a coherence to people’s lives: to force them out once, twice or three times a week to share company and endeavour.

Think about how hard it can be to arrange for a group of friends to be in the same place at the same time. In an age of social media and the perception (often illusory) that we don’t have time to fulfil our comradely obligations, playing a team sport forces people together.

I suspect we all recognise the value of this, whether we admit to it or not. And I also suspect that we all miss it when it’s gone. Shorn of the social pressure to turn up every Saturday if your name is on the teamsheet, it’s too easy to let friendships and solidarity slide twixt September and April.

Many a teammate has spoken about not knowing what do with themselves on the first Saturday without a fixture. They might miss the cricket, but they’re missing their friends too. And looking apprehensively to a long winter.

“Winter well”. It’s no coincidence that this is how cricketers say goodbye to one another. They know better than anyone what an isolating place the longer, darker days can be. Already they’re looking forward to the sunny days ahead: of leather, beer and collective spirit.

Originally written for Opening Up Cricket

Automotive Industry: A Hard Brexit’s Gonna Fall

Originally written for the Q1 2017 edition of Professional Manager

Brexit automotive

Theresa May’s government, trapped between a rock and a hard place, seems likely to plump for a ‘hard’ Brexit, meaning Britain is likely to leave the single market in order to guarantee more controls over immigration. Conversely it’s the soft option, at least as far as a test of the government’s mettle is concerned. It knows that the single market is invaluable to the UK, but at the Tory Party conference in October the government signalled that it is not prepared to make the argument for staying in it.

Business is virtually united in opposing a hard Brexit, because they know it will make trading with Europe – far and away the largest economic partner GB has – much more costly and expensive. Unfortunately it’s a double-edged sword too. In making it harder for Europeans to live and work in Britain, the government seems set on depriving British businesses of both unskilled and highly-skilled workers alike. The vast sums in R&D funding that have flowed from the EU into Britain will also be lost. No wonder just 3% of SMMT members, the automotive industry’s UK trade body, were in favour of leaving the EU when surveyed in 2014.

The automotive industry has already signalled its intent. Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s biggest exporter of any kind to China (our great saviour, according to Brexiteers) has made its feelings clear already: the tariffs that would hit British exports without single market access would directly ‘damage business and British jobs’ and be ‘frankly disastrous’. Nissan’s declaration that it will suspend investment in its massive and highly productive Sunderland plant is a similar warning shot warning shot. And no empty threat.

The automotive industry is hardly socialist, but it is internationalist. Without access to the single market and facing the prospect of more costly, time-consuming and inefficient factories and working processes, it will simply leave for the continent without huge public subsidies.

Quite how the Prime Minister would present the flow of billions to foreign-owned companies remains to be seen, but the alternative is a sector that accounts for 4% of GDP, 10% of the UK’s trade in goods, providing around £5bn in added value to the economy and supporting around 800,000 jobs simply leaving the UK.

As far as bewildered foreign car companies are concerned, the UK has voted to saw its own legs off. Much like the European Union itself, the automotive sector will drive a hard bargain with the government in exchange for a hard Brexit.