The Long Game – Introduction

Football was never merely a sport to be enjoyed for its own sake, either for me or for anyone else, and I am fascinated by the minutiae of why we follow football and how we interact with it. For me, football has been first and foremost a learning tool; for geography, politics, religions, languages, human nature and above all for history.

History is an impossibly vast subject. My favourite metaphor for history is that of a building the size of a continent. This building is filled with rooms, some bigger, some smaller, most visible through the windows on the exterior, a few completely hidden deep inside. There are no doors. All you can do is look through the window or windows you think show you best what it is you want to find out about the rooms you want to look at. The size of our building means that one only has time to truly gain expertise in what is visible through two or three windows. The rooms contain the events of the past. The windows are the types of historical investigation that are open to us.

Football is my favourite of the windows through which I choose to look at history. But in the same way that one’s hobbies can provoke or aid an interest in formal study, so those studies can influence the ways in which we interact with our hobbies. My fascination with history, and the history of football in particular, has a huge influence on my attitude as a fan of the sport[1]. My desire to understand where the sport came from, and how the society in which the sport resides came to take shape, provokes a fascination on where this society and the sport within it are going. My happiness or sadness at the outcomes of matches, tournaments or seasons take up relatively little of the time I devote to thinking about football, such is my interest in the more long term developments.

These pieces are thoughts on – and hopefully in some cases answers to – some of the questions I have asked myself over the last few years. In most cases I am simply writing, from a starting point of relative ignorance, articles that I would prefer to read. Where I have strayed unknowingly into ground that has previously been explored in greater depth, further contributions and corrections are of course welcome.

The issues I will deal with in this series will be fairly specific, but the underlying questions that provoke them are much broader. What state is football in? How did it get to that state? Where is it going? Are there lessons from history generally or the history of football in particular that can help us to understand the sport today and in the future? This is the brief; to study the game as one that lasts longer than 90 minutes.

Bobeto

[1] Especially as someone who no longer follows a club side and who never felt particularly comfortable in the world of partisan support.

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