Culture of Soccer Final Essay (Emotional Impact on Soccer Culture)

Our second essay question and my response:

Drawing on relevant course readings, write an essay that critically evaluates at least four different ways in which individual and collective emotions shaped, and continue to shape, the culture of soccer around the world.

The game of football impacts different people in a multitude of ways.  For some it is a living, others a way out.  For some the game is joy, others despair.  To still others the game is merely a diversion while for some it is an obsession.  The game has power and the assigned readings explored many facets of how a simple game can affect individuals, groups and even countries.

As the European Championships and World Cups are awarded to areas of the world where soccer has not reached the level passion and infrastructure in others, there is the opportunity for special moments of awareness, healing and hope.  FIFA assigned the World Cup to the United States in 1994, a region of the world considered the backwater of the footballing landscape.  After record setting attendances, the legacy of the tournament was the formation of a professional league, an improving National Team and a growing interest in the game around the world.  The World Cup is going to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, which are regions for further spread of the soccer gospel.

The book Africa’s World Cup focused on the events surrounding South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup.  Examining events on the ground and abroad from a variety of perspectives, the selections gave real insight into how the month long event impacted the locals, the visitors and the participating teams.  Focusing on Roberts and Bass’ chapter, the atmosphere at Durban was a microcosm for events in the country.

Despite a complex series of factors operating in and around the event, the authors said that “the success of the World Cup in Durban was largely the result of Durbanites choosing to engage in public spaces with diverse people at unusual times of the day” (Alegi Bolsmann 50).  Local fans, unfortunately priced out of attending games at the new and renovated stadia, were drawn to fan zones, which “brought locals and fans in new and unusual ways” (Alegi Bolsmann 42).  Although these areas were FIFA controlled, “the public viewing areas in greater Durban had a different texture that seemed slightly more organic than the highly corporate and exclusive stadium experience” (Alegi Bolsmann 44).  The long term outcome remains to be seen, but there is hope that the “urban identity of the city is made and remade through a diversity of individual and collective experiences” (Alegi Bolsmann 48).  Providing fans a central area to assemble provided a sense of hope in healing the country and the continent.

Simon Adetona Akindes’ chapter examined macro patterns in the game that we have studied for the class through a personal prism.  In other readings and assignments, we learned about the political aspect of the game, such as the Italian hosts of 1934 (Goldblatt Section II), the West German victory of 1954 (Goldblatt Secttion I), and the Argentinean junta who ran the 1978 World Cup (Duke Crolley 113).  For the 2010 World Cup, Africans had to confront the apartheid past and look ahead to a better future, so Akindes travelled to South Africa hoping to participate in a “new dawn” (Alegi Bolsmann 120).

There is also a societal element to the beautiful game.  The results of matches impact countries and large fan bases, but in the end each individual experiences the game.  From fan zones to millions of people watching on TV, support in large groups helps fuel the game and atmosphere.  For Akindes, the tournament offered a chance to deepen the bond with his son, to not only pass on the game of football, but to provide “an opportunity for my son to experience a different part of Africa, a richly diverse continent of nearly one billion people living in more than fifty nations and speaking more than two thousand languages” (Alegi Bolsmann 121).

Finally, the nature of the supporter and how that supporter expresses his love for this game was addressed.  Throughout the class we discovered ultras, barras bravas and supporters groups from around the world, gatherings of people with passionate, and sometimes violent, support of their team.  The term situational support was used by Akindes as he described why he would root for one country over another.  He felt this ever-changing support was not only natural but revelatory—“Situational support reveals various aspects of one’s individual identity and sense of collective belonging but not their messy totality” (Alegi Bolsmann 125).

But why do we follow the game?  Bromberger addresses this in his article, which was one of my favorite of the entire class.  Starting with the question—What is the point of taking an interest in the apparently futile game of football?—he proceeds to examine fans’ engagement with the game on sociological, sporting and religious terms.  I encounter this last aspect from time to time attending soccer matches.  For instance, Le Rouge, the supporters of DCFC, illustrate what Bromberger identifies as “the sequential framework of the match” (Bromberger 308).  For each home match, the most ardent supporters follow a fixed pattern—meet at Harry’s Bar for a drink and chat, march to the game complete with flags, songs and banners, cheer the team on and then meet at a designated bar afterwards to break down the match.

These rituals are examples of “the ways which loyalty, support and identification are built up” (Bromberger 303).  The more an individual supporter goes, the more that supporter is inclined to go.  The more individuals that assemble, the greater the size of the group.  The greater the group, the more attention is garnered.  This increased attention impacts the players, the opponents, and other fans—for, against or neutral.  In a short time, this supporters group has created an atmosphere and culture that is unique and recognizable.  Individual fans, hungry to support futbol, have organized a larger group that allows a fervent, vocal and identifiable culture.  Media outlets are noticing and their influence on Metro Detroit soccer culture and American soccer culture at large continues to grow.

Another question that can be asked is, What makes the perfect match?  Depends on the point of view—coach, fans, players.  Depends on what you want out of a game—goals, emotional variance, the game as art.  There is no one answer, which is another way fans, both collectively and individually experience the game.  Bromberger records that “the Brazilian style of play sets a high value on the art of the feint” which is an insight into Brazilian society (Bromberger 303).  He also states that the industrial world stressed “team work, solidarity, division of labour and collective planning” (Bromberger 296).  In commentary on Italian calcio, teams sometimes have a mentality of entering into a match with one point which they do not want to lose.  But what about those fans that want to enjoy the “beau jeu” described by Harpham (Alegi Bolsmann 89)?

Nick Hornby makes brief forays into the nature of supporter several times in Fever Pitch.  Focusing on matchday ritual and game elements (Hornby 51), he articulates his sense of the ideal game.  Later in the book he defines his criteria for a memorable match.  Again an individual’s perception of what is needed from a game, both sporting and emotionally, can be expressed in as many ways as there are fans of the game.

Taking Hornby’s conditions for a memorable match, namely “goals, a noisy crowd, opposition missing a penalty, member of opposition team receives a red card, and some of kind of disgraceful incident” (Hornby 235-237), and linking them to the 2010 World Cup, examine the Ghana v Uruguay quarterfinal David Patrick Lane states, “Suarez epitomized selflessness, surrendering himself for the team” (Alegi Bolsmann 143). The ensuing penalty gave Ghana a chance to advance, with Africa, on home soil, literally 12 yards away from their first semi-finalist, but the chance went begging.  However, a continent divided by economics, ethnicities and races became united, even for a brief moment.  The power of sport.

Despite the advancing corporate control of the game and the stunning athleticism of footballers, fans make this game what it is. Several of the authors touched on this throughout the readings.  In terms of the World Cup, Mark Perryman stressed that his group “declared at every opportunity that the World Cup is not owned by FIFA but belongs to the people” (Alegi Bolsmann 160-161).  At club level, Goldblatt stated that “what breathes life into the sparse institutional shell of a team is the collective emotional investment of its fans and supporters.  The people who have decided that, for whatever reason, the historical legacy of a club and its contemporary narratives of winning and losing really mean something” (Goldblatt Section I).  Supporters continue to influence the game in unique and unexpected ways, and one must never lose sight of their impact at a personal, local, continental and global level.

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