Big Hearts and podcasts team up to help supporters missing football interaction
They may still be getting to see the games but it isn’t the same, they are not getting the full experience watching it via a stream or following it online.
Thousands of fans across the country are missing out on the connections and friendships they have built up. The social side of the game, it has transpired, is perhaps the most important aspect of being a football fan.
HeartsTV commentator and host of the Scarves Around the Funnel podcast Laurie Dunsire had been in conversation with Big Hearts general manager Craig Wilson about supporters perhaps missing the ability to talk all things Hearts.
With that, Big Hearts, the official charity of the club, have been reaching out to supporters in a way to help bridge or even fill that gap.
Partnering with a number of podcasts dedicated to Hearts, they have been running a twice-weekly community well-being initiative called ‘Talk o’ the Toun’.
Dunsire, along with Daniel McIver, Liam Corbett, Robert Borthwick and others host 90-minute Zoom calls on a Tuesday and Thursday evening with other supporters keen to chat about Heart of Midlothian Football Club.
"This last year or so has been extremely difficult for many people, not just because of the economic impact and potential concerns about the virus, but also the mental health aspect; feeling lonely, isolated or just in need of some positive interaction," Dunsire said.
“Social media is great, sometimes, but to actually be able to have a conversation with people is something that a Twitter interaction just can't replicate. So the idea behind the Big Hearts initiative was to try to provide people with something that resembled the social interaction they'd have experienced when attending the football or catching up in the pub before and after a match.”
He added: “We can't go out and meet friends at the moment, we can't travel anywhere for recreational purposes, many of us can't see our families; if football gives us at least something positive to focus on, something to keep our minds occupied, then it's doing something quite important for a large chunk of the population.
"Taking that focus and the sense of community between fans and turning it into open sessions gives people an opportunity to engage with one another and hopefully enjoy themselves, maybe allowing a little release or taking the edge off an otherwise difficult period."
Football brings people together
The sessions which have been run so far have usually had between 10 and 14 attendees with Big Hearts estimating that up to 50 fans have benefited from the calls.
“The beauty of this is completely using football to bring people together,” Craig Wilson, Big Hearts general manager said. “It wasn’t necessarily about saying if you have mental health struggles this is for you or if you are isolated. We were hinting at those stuff but actually the general idea behind it was to bring people together. I think that is where the response has been really positive.
“A few of the things we had were people telling you it was the highlight of their week. It was potentially the first social thing they have done for weeks, replacing the football chat which doesn’t exist other than the written word on Twitter or fans’ forum.
“They are meeting new folk, getting a bit of chat they otherwise wouldn’t get. That’s what football does.
"It is easy to underplay the impact not going to Tynecastle has. Folk are missing out on a moan but actually folk are missing out on an interaction. That might be the one thing in the week somebody does as a leisure activity. Being able to replace that just a wee bit is excellent.”
The calls have even been boosted by Hearts legends with John Colquhoun and Andy Webster, both keen supporters of the charity, dropping in to interact with the fans.
The duo have added to the enjoyment of the sessions.
“Andy seen it on Twitter and was in touch straight away to say he was really keen to support,” Wilson said.
"John Colquhoun over the course of the pandemic was doing phone calls to vulnerable fans back in the early days of lockdown.
"Someone who is really active and cares about the football club and community around that. You can’t buy that.”
Dunsire added: “The main idea was to create an open forum and something that encouraged engagement, and not just the hosts turning into presenters as such.
"That's exactly what we got, with a group of like-minded individuals, albeit from different locations and of varying age, enjoying a relaxed conversation about Hearts, football in general and anything else that happened to crop up.
"We were extremely grateful to them for giving up their time and I know the fans that signed up for those sessions were delighted to hear from a couple of guys who pulled on the famous maroon jersey.”
No pressure, no expectation
Big Hearts and those involved are continuing to run the session twice a week with sign up available via the Big Hearts website.
Dunsire said: “The feedback we've received from the participants to the sessions has been very positive so far, so we're continuing to organise two per week at the moment, which will increase if the demand continues.
"These aren't therapy sessions and the people hosting them aren't mental health professionals; they're just relaxed discussions, with no pressure or expectations attached, with a focus on our beloved football club.
"If they help even just a handful of people then that's fantastic.”
To find out more about the sessions, visit Big Hearts.