Football

Standard

Think of the classic grudge matches in football (even though there wasn’t much opportunity for England to put them to the test in this year’s World Cup) and there’s a pattern:

  • England v France
  • England v Germany
  • England v Argentina
  • Scotland v England
  • Poland v Russia

Where countries once fought against each other on the battlefields or struggled with perceived oppressors, they now fight for supremacy on the pitch. Neighbours – step forward Brazil and Argentina – dispute in the stadium, not on territorial boundaries.  Football has become the expression for national rivalries and – usually – contains them very neatly.

I watched some of the football with the sound turned off – do not ask, but do try it – and the rituals embedded in the game became more pronounced. There are the anthems, of course, but substitutions had a process that seemed to be adopted by all of the teams.

The player coming off went through his own high-five with the substitute, who disappeared onto the pitch, crossing himself, kissing a cross or charm or whatever other totem makes up his personal game-on superstition. The player coming off hand-checked everyone on the bench and was given water.  Depending on his position in the team hierarchy and how touchy-feely the manager is, he might also have warranted a quick hug from the manager or one of his side-kicks (pun intended).

Goals were celebrated with leaping, more hugs and bonding, replicated by the fans in the stands.

And the fans were decked out in tribal uniform – shirts, kit, hats, face(war)-paint – colours demonstrating allegiance to the rightful cause. Identification extended to projection into the team, if not onto the pitch – “we” played Italy and “we” qualified, although it was less common to hear “we” lost.

So, if there weren’t football or another sport that can elicit such emotions and unite a country, what would be the forum for group identity and national bonding? And where would battles be fought?  That’s for another time.