Friday, 19 December 2008

The Culture of Football and Why You Don't Insult our Game

If you ever felt so inspired as to read my profile, you can see that I have a background in Anthropology. What this actually means is that I have a degree that is fairly useless for employment, but it does help me to evaluate certain situations differently. When I travel, I can help subside culture shock, but attempting to look at things through a cultural lens; it’s the social scientist approach to life. Last year, while in Guatemala, I was driven crazy by a woman who constantly compared everything to Canada.
“Oh my goodness…look at that…we don’t have that in Canada.”
“Look at the poverty! We don’t have that kind of poverty in Canada.”
“Look at the children! Our children our so much better off in Canada.”
“Oh look at the school…our schools are so much better in Canada.”
“F*ck Canada.” (did I say that?!?!)
Finally, driven to the brink of frustration, I finally had a bit of a falling out with her after an argument over the situation on our northern Reserves. Afterwards, I did my best to avoid her (mainly because I did not want to act on my desire to slap some sense into her). My feeling is – if you want to travel, you have to be prepared for the fact that things will be different, and that you can’t evaluate “them” based on “us” (yes, you might know this mentality under the formal name of the us-them dichotomy). Casting judgements leads to ethnocentrism. Instead, we need to look at different cultures through the realm of cultural relativism (pardon the anthropological terms…I studied anthropology for a long time; using three anthropological terms in the course of this blog posting makes me feel somewhat better about my education).

While teaching in London, I was initially struck by how different things were. I would not say that I had culture shock – believe me, after the amount of time I spent in New Orleans, London is far from a culture shock! The toughest thing I experienced in London was adapting to an urban setting; traffic without trees. It cannot be denied that students are challenging – especially compared to what we are used to in Thunder Bay. In order to understand it, you must take a cultural approach – there is more at stake than what is simply seen on the surface. London, being the melting pot that it has become, experiences a vast array of cultural influences. So you must remember; every culture evaluates structured education differently; as such, these differences play out in the classroom.

That’s not the point though…football (European not American) is my point. Recently I was told by a Brit, that hockey fights are staged for the audience. They are nothing more than scripted fights as those witnessed in the WWF. Of course, being a Canadian, and a fan of hockey (and admittedly someone who enjoys a good hockey throw-down), I defended our national pastime (not to be confused with our national sport, which is actually lacross). Come on – what does a Brit know about hockey??? K…so that p*ssed me off a bit, and I’m still bitter.

When I began this whole British experience nearly a year ago, I decided that I would learn about their pastime – football (which I still referred to as "soccer"). This was mainly because I find that male students are easier to deal with when you can engage them in sports talk. I was also perplexed by soccer mentality. It is a scary, scary world! While we North Americans are avid followers of our sports leagues (NHL, NFL, NBA, etc), we tend not to bleed for our sports. Though I do recall a drunken night, during the Lewis-Tysen fight, that a friend (who was a Lewis fan) decided to brawl with a Tyson fan - luckily vodka and the crowded bar made this nothing more than a talked about idea (but don't think that our cab driver wasn't amused by my friend's drunken rage)- but that isn't the norm...European football fans are a whole other story!! It is life or death. No…I’m wrong…Bill Shankly once claimed that "some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that. " And it is.

I am not sure there has been such a violent sport in recent history – and no…not out on the field, but between the fans. The same person who insulted hockey has also attempted to educate me on football. Unfortunately, he being a Liverpool fan, and me being me (meaning I like to prod the bull), I quickly learned that the fastest way to p*ss off a Liverpool fan is to cheer for Manchester United. Insult hockey, and I will find a way to retaliate.

I am a foreigner who was not brought up in the ways of football, and as such, I will never truly understand it. So here is what I know about football (in a nutshell). I know some of the top names now (unfortunately the majority of these names are associated with, or have been associated with Liverpool, so I can’t say that I have had the most unbiased education), I know the standings, and the difference between the Championship League and Premier League, and some of the basic rules. But the sport itself is of little interest to me. Watching guys running up and down a field, while kicking a black and white ball is a tad bit redundant (when the score is 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining, and the commentators can predict a victory, that is a little bit…boring…) – but the fans – that’s where the true action is. So here is what else I know: if you are a true fan, you must be prepared to bleed for your team. You wear your colours proudly, and when enemies stray into your territory wearing their colours, you must be prepared to kick the cr*p out of them. If you are caught in enemy territory, you must be prepared to defend your team diligently. Life or death and so much more. We as Canadians tend not identify ourselves based on our team affiliation – football fans do. That’s commitment.

I now leave you with quotes and links that best show footballer mentality.

“I know this is a sad occasion but I think that Dixie would be amazed to know that even in death he could draw a bigger crowd than Everton can on a Saturday afternoon.” (Bill Shankly at Dixie Dean’s funeral)

“The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn't move, kick it until it does” Phil Woosnam

“I loathed the game, and since I could see no pleasure or usefulness in it, it was very difficult for me to show courage at it. Football, it seemed to me, is not really played for the pleasure of kicking a ball about, but is a species of fighting.” George Orwell

“I'm sure sex wouldn't be so rewarding as this World Cup. It's not that sex isn't good but the World Cup is every four years and sex is not.” Ronaldo

“In Latin America the border between soccer and politics is vague. There is a long list of governments that have fallen or been overthrown after the defeat of the national team” Luis Suarez

“If this can be termed the century of the common man, then soccer, of all sports, is surely his game.... In a world haunted by the hydrogen and napalm bomb, the football field is a place where sanity and hope are still left unmolested” Stanley Rous
As I find better links I will update :-p

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