Prisms of Perception 5: The Dark Side of Football

Prisms of Perception 5: The Dark Side of Football

The topic of football is the last thing I ever thought I would write about, but with so much of a vibrant atmosphere surrounding it these days, and the outcomes that that hexagonal-printed ball seems to conjure up, it seemed appropriate. And I would be naïve to say I wasn’t aware of both the positivity and the negativity that arises with sports in general, specifically, football in this case. The positive energy and happiness that comes from supporters are quite literally contagious. You can’t not smile or at least chuckle a little when you see everybody out having so much fun. But sadly, the negativity that arises from a loss can also be contagious. Dangerous in some cases. And it’s this negativity that can lead people, including myself, to be in two minds about football. The division a loss seems to cause isn’t some form of petty playground fighting. It’s expressed through racism, abuse, and violence, and not just toward the losing team. It can be towards anyone who has even the slightest association with the ‘opposition’.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure we’re all aware that the European Football Championships took place this year, a year late, thanks to our dear friend Covid-19, who’s far overstayed its welcome. I’ll admit, when the energy of the people around me started bubbling up in the beginning, I was far from interested, as always. I never cared about football in the past, so I didn’t think this year would be any different. But admittedly, when England started progressing pretty well, my attention was sparked, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And of course, this fuss is sparked with every football game, no matter how vast or small. While football itself doesn’t have a set history we can refer to, the simple concept of kicking-ball games can be associated across a number of cultures, and can actually be dated right back to 206BC. Now, hundreds of years later, the game is played by over 250 million people worldwide from amateur to professional level, making it the world’s most popular sport. But specifically talking about football in England, we can date any form of history right back to the eighth century, however, the oldest football competition wasn’t contested until the 1870s – the FA Cup. Now the competitions keep on coming, stimulating the same energy and passion every time, bringing together all kinds of people, but also dividing all kinds of people.

And that energy didn’t diminish even for a second. Every time I hear ‘Sweet Caroline’ (the Neil Diamond classic which for some unknown reason has become one of the many football anthems) I sort of get a nervous twitch in my eye now. I’ve heard it that many times that I may be singing it in my sleep. But all the cheering and the chanting was suddenly silenced for the final few minutes of the game when dear old England lost to Italy, in a very well-played game (well done, England). All the hustle and bustle of the happy, and very patriotic fans was just not to be heard. And afterwards, the shouts of support were very quick to turn to shouts of anger. And that’s what shocked me the most, as this was my first football-related experience. What happened to all the patriots? What happened to all the smiles? Was anybody even proud of how well we had played? If all the support was so quick to diminish, I began to question, was it even genuine in the first place?

Now admittedly, I don’t know the ins and outs of the lives of the England team players, but even when I saw that one of the penalty kicks was taken by a black player, it’s so unfortunate for me to even say that I knew what was coming if he missed. And he did miss. It took less than a couple of hours after the game, for social media to blow up quicker than anything, with an astonishing number of racist comments, abuse and just outright disgust, specifically targeting black players, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Jaden Sancho, and pretty much all the other players of ethnic minorities in the team. What interests me, is that if we had won, those lads would’ve been ‘English’, and they’re the ones who would’ve “brought it home”. But because we didn’t, they were immediately outcast. Yes, you can record a few videos of people singing together in a pub and say ‘this is what football’s all about’, and I’m sure it is, but is this abuse what football is all about, too? All that support and cheering had immediately gone down the drain. There wasn’t even a single ounce of consideration for the endless hard work and excellent skill that was manifested to even get to that stage in the first place. One of the victims of the racist abuse was just nineteen. It was all for a win. Now, I work at an Italian restaurant, and I am still laughing at the fact that we had phone calls from random people saying that we should be shut down and all sorts of other disgusting comments. All over a spherical ball.

Well, I see it as a spherical ball, but many people (250 million of us to be precise), see it as far more than that. They see it as something far more valuable, which then leads to extensive amounts of anger and aggression when their country or team loses. The loss is almost taken as a personal attack. Hooliganism is a term I’m sure we’re all familiar with. The first instances of hooliganism in modern football can be traced right back to the late 1800s, after a match where Aston Villa was beaten by Preston North End. Both teams were pelted with stones, both verbally and physically abused, kicked, you name it. But even though the concept of hooliganism goes quite far back, it wasn’t really brought to media attention until the 1950s, where the term “hooliganism” was actually coined by the English media, and became quite a topic of interest to report on.

Regardless of any outcome, this behaviour cannot be justified by any means. There certainly aren’t any justifiable “reasons” for hooliganism, but there are of course identifiable causes that lead to such actions. A big factor is political relationships, which is more so applicable if there are two completely different nations playing against each other, rather than two cities of the same country., Political conflict, then, branches off into a number of other categories, including race, ethnicity, and even religion. This was quite clearly the case with what I saw during the Euro 2020 games, with the young black footballers being so viciously targeted. All these factors seem to fall under one umbrella – identity. Many supporters can admit some sort of emotional tie to a sports team, according to the study conducted by Paul Gow and Joel Rookwood in 2008, Doing it for the team – Examining the causes of Contemporary English Football Hooliganism, and may feel some form of relationship, through sharing similar identifying factors. So, when two identities clash and are expected to manifest so much competitiveness, a sense of calmness is the last thing anyone should expect.

But again, this is not in any way justifiable. The punishment far outweighs the crime, if there even is a crime committed here. I’m all for a major event bringing people together, what could be better? But unfortunately, I have to say, the cons very much outweigh the pros in this scenario, regardless of the nature of connections between the supporters and the teams, and also between the teams themselves. A certain level of disappointment is to be expected, especially if many supports do associate themselves emotionally with their respective team. However, chanting ‘it’s coming home’ in no way makes up for disgusting levels of abuse. The atmosphere would’ve been incredible if we had won, and still should’ve been even after we had lost. The England team put on their best performance to date, and they shouldn’t ever have to apologise just because some anger-fuelled individual can’t seem to walk home without smashing a few glasses. So, this was my first experience of getting involved in football, and I don’t regret being part of all the positivity. But sadly, this will also be my last experience of getting involved, as in my opinion, support and cheers should remain no matter the outcome if the team means as much to one as they claim. And unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case as far as I see it. Congratulations England, it will come home one day.

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