Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The existential comforts of football

This weekend I was quoted in a Financial Times essay by journalist Simon Kuper, author of Soccernomics: 'Fandom - it's bigger than football'. As the FIFA World Cup begins, Kuper asks: why be a fan? What is so appealing about fandom?

It's a big question, and Simon and I spoke at length about sport and community. Simon has distilled the finer points into a sharp commentary:
Being a fan...connects you to your own past. In life, everything changes: you grow up, and people divorce, move away and die. Only your football team is for ever. The England team in 2014, for instance, is still recognisably the same animal as the England team of 1954. Football allows you to be eight years old again. 
Another joy of fandom: it offers a reassuringly comprehensible world, says the Australian philosopher Damon Young, author of How to Think About Exercise. Young explains: “The rules are clear. You know what it means to score a goal, get sent off, to win or lose. Sports decrease the painful ambiguity of life. They give us existential clarity. When you invest in your career, or your family, you get a constant sense of disappointment.” Only sport offers clear wins.  
And the final reassurance: you know that football doesn’t really matter. When England get knocked out in Brazil, the TV cameras will pan to stricken spectators, heads in hands. But to some degree, these extreme emotions are a performance – even a rather enjoyable performance. The next day, everyone in England will come to work, grumble, “Typical!” and get on with life, fortified by the communal experience. Except for a few damaged fanatics, fans lose and move on. 
“I would tend to say that fandom is not life-and-death,” says GarcĂ­a. Young adds: “It’s a world that you can walk away from. It’s part of a consoling fantasy: this isn’t really your life.” In fact, fandom is rather more appealing than life.
(Photo: The FA via Getty, courtesy of The Guardian)

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