A few months ago, not long after my dad had died, little moments reminded me what football can do even in challenging times.

Anyone who has lost a loved one will recognise those periods of suspended reality, with their long, idle moments when you feel you should be doing something but don’t know exactly what.

On one of those blank evenings, I did what most humans now do to fill time, and pulled out my phone. A few seconds later and I was down the deepest YouTube rabbit hole you could imagine.

What was I watching? Carlisle United games. And not the good ones. The fallow years, the patchwork teams; the early 1990s. Thanks to people like Geoff Jackson, there is a mine of footage out there from that gritty Blues era.

They were not seasons to be commemorated with anniversary events or nostalgic newspaper articles. I went there, I think, because they were less-remembered; they were my earliest seasons on the Paddock with Dad and it was a tiny, imperfect attempt to revive old feelings. To go back.

A few minutes with Richard Sendall, Tony Fyfe and friends had that effect. Those chaps might not consider they could be a portal from a murkier way of thinking, but that’s what football, if we let it, can do.

And so, anyone seeking refuge in whatever scraps of the game they can find right now, as the coronavirus spreads not just itself but anxiety and uncertainty, the best advice is: do it. Knock yourself out.

We all need a distraction at present, and anyone connected to the game can surely be heartened by the way football, maligned for many reasons, is also stepping up to be counted.

In some departments, the suspension of games has caused some of the trite obsessions to fall away, leaving the sport’s better nature in clearer view. Not in all cases, naturally, since you cannot quarantine all of the game’s venal chancers, and perhaps those given to public pronouncements on solutions to the Covid-19 crisis that, by sheer coincidence, would help their clubs avoid relegation or gain promotion could pipe down, just for a while?

Maybe those already lawyering up in case a new and incredibly complicated problem is not solved entirely to their liking could watch the news, then find a mirror?

Wishful thinking, yes. But for anyone tired of those attitudes, there are better ones. They might be in the simple sharing of happy memories – favourite games, players and goals – or the amusing sight of clubs staging Championship Manager seasons, games of noughts and crosses and so on.

It might also be in the proactive actions of a certain few. Some clubs and players are offering their services to the vulnerable in their communities, while if necessity truly is the mother of invention then a lack of games has certainly brought the best out of Leyton Orient’s media team, whose simple idea – an inter-club FIFA 20 tournament – quickly grew into a fundraising initiative.

Some 128 clubs have joined in and, yes, there are those not taking part on principle because of an association with a certain national newspaper, but good is still being done. More than £28,000 has already been raised to help fellow clubs, as well as people with mental health problems and those affected by the coronavirus.

Carlisle will be represented by Brandon Beech, son of head coach Chris, and watching it all develop has provided both a fun diversion and a sense of football pulling together.

There are other ways. Yesterday United expressed their thanks to people who had contacted them to stress they do not want refunds from season-ticket money. Keith Elliott, from the club’s away travel group, said their sponsorship of players will continue – and that the club can count on their solidarity next season, “whenever it will be”.

Clubs are going to need this – and so, frankly, are we. It is not overstating things to suggest the temporary loss of the game, or whatever other pursuit you prefer, will challenge and affect some people mentally. Yes, sport might be a glorious irrelevance, but take glorious irrelevances away from people’s lives and the harder reality is nearer to the surface.

Thinking about football, reminiscing about it, is known to help some people with dementia – check out the Football Memories project. Being around the game, as John Halpin and his brilliant United community sports trust team know, can boost in a way that should no longer surprise.

It may not be medicine, or be for everyone, but for those who build their lives around it, it helps. It is a crutch, often in spite of its lesser sides.

There are things we can’t do at the moment that would normally be a feature of March weekends: the walk to the ground, chatting to familiar faces, complaining about all and sundry, watching the game, unpicking it afterwards.

Perhaps, who knows, this enforced break will regenerate a love for watching football outside, locally. A nation waiting to burst out from their homes in a few months’ time might remember the best of the national game and want to take part in it.

Imagining it might also be an opportunity to recalibrate the sport financially, given the huge structural flaws being exposed already as small clubs toil to survive, is, again, probably optimistic. But with all this time on our hands, we can at least hope. And until then, still use football, bless it, for the glorious reason it was invented: escape, escape, escape.