Devoted Football Fans Experience ‘Dangerous’ Levels Of Stress, Study Suggests

Cameron Frew


Stressed Football FansBBC

If you’ve been to watch a football match, you’ll be familiar with a few things: ebullient cheering, rock-bottom sorrow and a constant cascade of furious, bad language.

Picture the scene: you’re watching your local team in a cup final, as the match enters injury time, it’s 3-3 – all to play for.

Tensions are running high, with every misstep, failed shot on goal, tackle and foul provoking a gut-wrenching reaction from either side. Then, in the last seconds, the opposition scores. Funnily enough, it turns out fans of the beautiful game can experience ‘dangerous’ levels of stress.

Brazil World Cup 2018: Public Viewing in BerlinPA Images

Researchers at the University of Oxford took it upon themselves to have a look at just how exasperated footy fans can get while watching their team. Despite the common idea that men are more passionate about football, the study, published in the journal Stress and Health, found no discernible difference between male and female stress levels while watching a game.

Dr Martha Newson, researcher at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, at Oxford, said: 

Fans who are strongly fused with their team – that is, have a strong sense of being ‘one’ with their team – experience the greatest physiological stress response when watching a match, Fans who are more casual supporters also experience stress but not so extremely.

In order to establish the exact rippling effects of a devastating match, the study examined the saliva of Brazilian fans during their devastating 7-1 loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil Germany 7-1 ESPNESPN

Dr Newson noted in the study that ‘cortisol rocketed during live games for the fans who were highly fused to the team. It was particularly high when their team lost’.

Cortisol is a hormone and extreme levels of acceleration can allegedly be dangerous. The potential effects include increased blood pressure, constricted blood vessels and the risk of damaging an already weak heart. High cortisol can also give people the feeling of impending doom.

‘It was a harrowing match – so many people stormed out sobbing,’ Dr Newson said of the infamous 2014 face-off. However, she noted that fans consoled each other effectively after the game was over, using humour and hugs to alleviate the despair.

World Cup 2014 - Brazil - GermanyCameron Frew

Dr Newson added: 

Clubs may be able to offer heart screenings or other health measures to highly committed fans who are at the greatest risk of experiencing increased stress during the game. Strategies that aim to reduce stress hormones following particularly intense matches could help reduce incidents of hooliganism and violence.

Too much cortisol over a sustained period of time can also have a number of other effects, from weight gain to a higher risk of heart disease. But hey, that’s football for you.

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Topics: Health, Football, Heart Attack, Research, Stress, World Cup


Stress and Health
  1. Stress and Health

    Devoted fans release more cortisol when watching live soccer matches

Cameron Frew
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