When it comes to matters of community, culture and collective narratives, the influence of sporting events and the sense of identity felt by supporters is hard to overstate. As an innately tribal species, we all crave inclusivity and intimacy (just ask any football hooligan). Just like your local village hooligan, we’re also pretty good at tearing each other apart over this and that.
Shared narratives and identity matter, and the more we can create the better. In football, wide varieties of community groups can come together under the banner of the same club. Whatever race, gender, social class, ability, sexuality or other category, football has the power to break barriers. Who could sum up the sentiment of an all encompassing identity better than a Frenchman who conquered England, loved and hated in equal measure, The King himself, Eric Cantona: “You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, never can you change your favourite football team.”
Football’s ability to excite and unite is why we love it. It speaks to us in primal ways, and conveys emotions that are hard to replicate elsewhere. It can also shine a revealing light on current trends and norms within a society. The eye watering finances involved in elite level football suggest where the priorities of neoliberal economics lie, and provide an interesting study of a self regulated, closed shop industry. Regular opposition from football supporters to changes within the game points to a need for continuity and stability during times of flux. At the same time community work through the medium of football, and direct engagement with social and political issues by professionals within the game, are becoming more commonplace as every day people feel the pinch, and certain maligned voices continue to grow in significance. It’s never just a game!