Football, Religion Pure and Spotless

Albert Camus is famed to have said, ‘All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football’, famed that is in the world of football. I know this from a reliable and reputable source,www.philosophyfootball.com, which every year sells around 5000 t-shirts in fetching green of Camus’ maxim emblazoned across the chest. Reliable or not, the saying is of course true. Football – and to be clear here, I am talking about the global sport played with a roundish ball, not the American game played by men in tights wearing body armor – is religion, pure and spotless. I am a devotee and every year I am burned by an inevitable turn of events.
I am a Spurs fan. I have been a Spurs fan for the past 31 years. Through the course of those 31 years, Tottenham Hotspur have played something like 1250 league games and have won around 40% of those games, which means that as a fan, almost two out of every three games ends in disappointment. After 31 years it would seem reasonable that a person would give up hope based on such a poor rate of return. However, to think that football was a matter of wins or losses would be to miss the point. Football is not truly about the goal, it is about the pass – or at least that is what every Spurs fan has been telling themselves for the past three decades or so. Socrates, not the Greek philosopher but the Brazilian football star of 1980’s fame, said, ‘Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy’. Or as the stadium that Spurs play at, White Hart Lane, has in giant letters, ‘The game is about glory’.
The annual predicament that Spurs fans like myself find themselves in is of course the very same or worse predicament that the vast majority of football fans experience. Of course, only one team can win the league and only a few teams ever do. If sports fans watched their teams play because they expected them to win then the vast majority of the billions of people on the planet who enjoy watching sport would be sad, most to all of the time. It is always possible that this is the case and that this explains why our world is such a mess. Alternatively, it may be that there is something definitively human about dreaming of glory. Indeed, there is something uniquely powerful about collective hope. It has fueled revolutions, enabled war-besieged peoples to survive the most deathly of circumstances, and caused normally reasonable men and women to paint their faces, and scream strange and disturbing slogans at one another alongside several thousand other normally reasonable people.
Fanaticism has gotten a bad rap in recent years. To be fanatical is to be in our contemporary news cycle a religious zealot, bent on wreaking havoc and destruction upon unsuspecting bystanders. It has become the byword of a global web of terror and return. Yet, the etymology of ‘fanatic’ is festus, the feast at a temple inspired by God. We are made for fervor. We are made for passion. We are made to care deeply about things. If only footballers were priests, there would be singing in ‘dem pews. ‘Glory, glory hallelujah, the Spurs go marching on’. 😉
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