We glance at football culture in the world
Football is passion, it is mass sport, a social phenomenon and a business worth millions, all in one. Today the show offered by one ball, 22 players and two goals has become a thermometer of society, capable of breaking down borders and keeping up a large part of the population with events like the Russia World Cup or the Champions League.
Origin and evolution
Although the beginnings are associated with the mid-19th-century British Isles, the sport known as the King’s sport finds its roots in millenary celebrations of different cultures. The oldest evidence of a similar game dates back to the 2nd century BC in the China of the Han dynasty, when it was used as a means of military training. There is also evidence of similar practices in ancient Greece, Rome, Japan, Korea, Greenland, Oceania, the villages of the Amazon basin … Since its most rudimentary beginnings, several sparks of football have been present on the five continents. Maybe this is one of the keys to its present success.
After the 8th century, new varieties began to appear that were played in the different regions of the British Isles. The “ballgame”, later known as “carnival football” (or calcio in Florence), was still based on a violent dispute between two teams for a ball, and could be played with hands and feet. In some cases, these practices became so popular that Kings decided to prohibit them, like Edward II in England, James I in Scotland and Charles V in France. The number of players was unlimited and whole villages fought against others to get the ball into the opposing net.
And so we reach the 20th century with sets of rules in which force began to give way to skill. It is at this time when it became a compulsory practice in British schools and the first official rules were recorded to unify the different codes in the islands.
In 1863, in the Freemason’s Tavern in London, the set of rules of “association football” were established, separating it definitively from rugby. A sport had been created conceived to foster mutual collaboration, the ability to sacrifice and subordination of individual talent to the idea of a team.
Emigrants and British soldiers spread this new sport around the world, and the first associations of clubs in the different countries founded national international competitions. Football therefore fast turned into the most popular sports event in the world, especially in Europe and Latin America, where the first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930.
Since then, only the world wars have cancelled an event that today is followed by more than 3,000 million people on television. Only the Olympic Games achieve similar world repercussion.
The king’s sport is not only a mass spectacle. This is its most visible side, that of the stars lifting trophies and the goals filling the front pages of the newspapers, but it hasn’t reached this status only thanks to marketing. Football holds this place in society because it serves as an escape valve to daily problems and appeases a desire to compete, the maximum expression of which is war. It was said by the writer Paul Auster: “football is a miracle that enabled Europe to hate itself without being destroyed”.
Footballers now take a place traditionally reserved for warriors and gods. This is what is maintained by the author of Héroes (ed. Mont Ventoux), a book that compares the role of football stars in popular culture and the super heroes of comics.
The classical myths are now “projected as sports idols and spectacle thanks to the media”. In other words, football is also a story that has to do with determination, epic, teamwork and individual qualities that often make us seem superhuman.
Another important facet to bear in mind is the emotional bond generated between the fans of a team. The colours, the flag, the songs and rituals allow all kinds of people to feel part of the community, to integrate in an informal family with which to share experiences. To a lesser or greater extent, even though we might not follow the competitions, we are all identified with the values or the image that is transmitted by each team. Football can therefore transcend economic, racial, gender and nationality differences, by offering a universal inclusive feeling, a place to promote educational values, healthy lifestyles and clean play.
In recent decades, a whole entertainment industry has been built up around football, an economic factor of great impact in some countries. Football has transcended its sports nature and has become a decisive element for the local, national and even continental economy at key times, such as in the organisation of a tournament or in the winning of a World Cup.
The optimism derived from winning a title (or the pessimism following an unexpected defeat) can have direct consequences on consumption and the performance of the economy. Its turnover has grown constantly, and, if it were a country, it would be the 17th world economy, according to a report from Deloitte consultants.
Obviously football also has its negative aspects. Its strong social impact has been used by different dictatorial regimes and democratic governments to “anaesthetise” the population and to quieten their legitimate claims. Such is its ability to unite under a same flag and to eclipse other concerns of citizens that it has often been spoken of as “the opium of the people”.
Another concerning phenomenon occurs when it exercises as a vehicle for violent behaviour, both of the main figures themselves on the field and the fans of the rival teams. This is something that continues to happen with a certain frequency and must be eradicated as soon as possible.
In short, football is much more than a sport or a mass spectacle. It is a culture that reaches all levels of society; that can serve as a bearer of progress and foster basic values. Albert Camus, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, had a very clear idea about it. “After many years in which the world has given me a variety of experiences, in the end what I most know about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football”.