In the week that sees the first fixtures in the FIFA World Cup, some of us are fully focused on football and some of us are ... not so much. In this week's Open University social psychology blog, David Kaposi, a DD317 author and member of presentation team, reflects on the meanings of football, past and present, and why they might have changed.
These are the days of obligation. We are all supposed to have a team – however weak our connection to it – a team to announce, a team to follow, a team to love. Whether you like it or not, are male or not, interested or, in fact, not, you cannot escape from the question “What’s your team?”, ”Who do you support?”. You are of course, allowed not to answer, and if you don't no further judgment will be pronounced but there will be a momentary silence. You will understand what that means. It's not a crime, of course. It is just, you know, curious.
The oppressive reality of what has become present day football, much like the weather (but, then, who has ever asked anyone whether they support summer or winter?), is inescapable. You will enjoy the World Cup! Even if you don't enjoy it then you will follow it, and if you don't follow it then you will at least know about it.
How has this come about? Because, some of us still faintly recall, it was not always like this. There was a time when football belonged to some people, much like cricket or collecting stamps. The people football belonged to were not particularly glamorous and the accusation of hooliganism or barbarism was never very distant from the discourses around football. “You throw a ball and twenty-two men start running around it after it. What is there to like about that?”, as a family friend used to ask every Sunday.
And if football lovers could always offer ripostes like “Football players are privileged interpreters of communities around the world” (Menotti, manager) or “Everything I know about morality and obligation, I owe to football” (Camus, goalkeeper), there was also the feeling that stamp collectors too must have these kinds of justifications to comfort themselves with.
So, what happened? In place of anything resembling an analysis, I offer two observations.
I once met a man, dressed in red. He professed himself to be a Manchester United supporter, indeed he said he “LOVED Man United”. I used to know a thing or two about United so I engaged him along these lines in a relatively short conversation. At the end of it we had established that he had no knowledge of any recent scores, let alone actual games, and he had no clue who his team would be taking on in the near future either. All that was left was the love.
Of love, of course, we have plenty. That, and passion. There are constant reminders of them in the hype around football, but one also cannot escape the feeling that even before the propaganda of love and passion, there actually was love and passion in football. Yet somehow, the words came to replace and in fact destroy what they were supposed to merely report. Is this a lesson about the destructive power of discourse, as if all the exaggerated talk eventually killed the real sentiment?
This capacity of words to take over something else brings me to my second observation. This was a short comment I overheard from the then-manager of Arsenal FC, Arsene Wenger: “It is difficult to play football”, he opined, “when the opponent does not want to.” Those following football used to get amused/irritated by such remarks from Wenger, inevitably offered following a 0-0 draw against Blackburn. He was just whingeing, trying to find excuses, they would say. Yet whatever language game Wenger was playing after disappointing results, his critics or commentators were attempting the self-same thing. What was wilfully ignored was that having exactly eleven blokes on one side and eleven blokes on the other no longer in itself constitutes fairness. It also does not constitute a level playing field, where the possibility of a good competitive game would solely depend on Blackburn’s intention to play football (or not).
Blackburn did not destroy the game. What did destroy it (or, at any rate, the feelings with which the game has traditionally been imbued) was not Blackburn’s intention on the pitch but the financial reality of obscene inequality off it. The rest is… noise.
This week's blog has links to ideas discussed in the new module Advancing social psychology (DD317), an interdisciplinary Level 3 module for people studying psychology qualifications or interested in psychology and social issues. For more information about the module, you can watch a video here https://youtu.be/dbzF4hBeBkk You can also look at the new Open Learn course course DD317_1 Social psychology and politics: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/social-psychology-and-politics/content-section-0