Football and society
I am writing this blog in order to highlight the effects football has had on society and how society has changed or influenced football in a particular way. I have been a football fan for as long as I can remember and it has been a huge part of my life. It has affected the way in which I think and also my physical health. If I was asked when I was young what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would give the same answer as the majority of my peers, which was to be a professional football player, playing for my favourite team. This I’m sure made my father gravely disappointed as he would have imagined a completely different path for me. He would have liked me to be a professional footballer playing for his favourite team. The reason I say ‘completely different path’ isn’t just an attempt to be humorous it is an indication as to how seriously some football fans take the game. Calling it a game in fact would almost be blasphemous to some who see it as more of a way of life. Opposing sides are no longer commonly referred to as competitors they are known as your rivals, implying they are your enemy. Even in the lowest tiers of football, where your average working person plays, the game has been taken so seriously that people have been badly injured through ‘off the field’ violence, parents and supporters can be seen hurling obscene abuse at children and even members of the clubs partaking can be witnessed behaving in such a manner that they either have to be sent from the park by the referee or even by other, more sensible, club members. Although, so far, I am aware I am not painting a particularly pretty picture of what the dubbed ‘beautiful game’ is all about I assure you it is not all doom and gloom to follow. Football has also done a lot of good and I think the bad too often over shadows the good in its representation. For every one ‘nutter’ that behaves like an entitled idiot on show, there are ten good people that are not putting themselves on display to be noticed and or more importantly to be heard, but are simply there for the love of the game. For every violent act that stems from a football match there are countless humane acts performed, made possible, only by the platform Football provides. In the following blog I will discuss in depth how society perceives Football and its professional players, noting the changes from the 50’s up until the current day. I will explore the dangers of how football can be exaggerated into violence, whether it be intentional or unintentional. I will look at how football has affected people financially and I will look at the good that football has done, be it either by individuals, clubs or the game as a whole.
Football has changed drastically in the past sixty years, both as a spectacle and what people perceive as the correct way of playing it, but perhaps the biggest change is the perception and attitude of its athletes. Today it is reported that the Premier League gets 4.7 billion viewers alone. This change is obviously due to the enormous increase of television owners and the broadcasters reach over the past 60 years. The drastic change in exposure has influenced how professional football players are perceived today, some being just as, or in some cases more, famous than any movie or pop star. This is also down to the dramatic change in lifestyle of the average professional footballer. The financial situation of football has allowed the professional players to live a very flamboyant lifestyle, where as in the fifties and early sixties a professional football player was just your average person, living no more extravagantly than any local business owner in their area. Yes, a local football star was admired and put on a pedestal, but was not placed on top of the world like the ‘celebrity athletes’ of today. The amount of money a professional footballer can make today is enormous, some making €400,000 a week for as long as they can fulfil their contract. I think knowing that they have the potential to make a fortune by the time their career has ended, as well as bolster their stardom, has made them vie for more protection on the pitch than what you would have seen even ten years ago. This makes for a much more ‘stop-start’ style of football. Due to the exposure of the professional game this type of football and the way it is refereed has filtered down into the amateur game, which I think is ultimately a safer style of play for everyone involved. However, this is not the only way in which the style of football has changed drastically since the fifties. Due to improvement in facilities and staff and the growth in stardom of the players, the game of football looks a completely different spectacle than it did 60 years ago. To be blunt, if you watch a football match recorded in the fifties you are likely to see 22 un-groomed men running around in a large puddle of muck kicking around something I would be hard pushed to describe as a football. Due to the terrible conditions of the pitch, football was played more directly and the ball was passed around less, thus allowing for less potential to design ‘moves’ in order to break down the opposition and hindering the players potential to develop the technical skill we see on show today. With more and more money being made by the game, we see more and more facilities, which leads to more people playing the game, which leads to more competition to become a top professional player. This means that today’s top professional footballers must not just be exceptionally talented but must be ‘super athletes’ to have a chance at top level success in the game. I feel the kind of dedication to become that type of athlete means they should be respected as much now as they ever have been if not more so.
In the this part of my blog, I will be exploring the darker side of footballs influence and the effect it has had on behaviour in our culture. As I said earlier, football has become a massive part of a lot of people’s lives, so much so that people will go to extreme measures to defend the views and beliefs regarding it. A long trail of violence follows football in which vandalism, serious injuries and even deaths have been among the consequences. No other sport in the world has been linked to as many violent incidents among fans as football has. There are many different pieces of evidence to refer to when trying to explain the magnitude of the violence associated with football. One example is when Argentine side Boca Juniors minors played against a local team and a fight broke out on the pitch involving the two sets of players. In a match that was being played for no other reason than to showcase the local talent, fans became so outraged they began to riot and attempted to tear down the steel fence surrounding the pitch in order to attack opposing players. This incident resulted in two deaths, one being that of a nine year boy who had been shot. This incident was a direct result of the indiscipline of the players on the pitch, although of course not all of the violence can be blamed on the players. As is well documented, organised hooliganism has been connected to football in Britain since 1970. These Hooligans cannot be described as fans of football, they are more like members of a cult dedicated to worshipping ‘their club’ and feel that dedication exonerates them from accountability for their violent actions. A lot of these cults or ‘factions’ as they have been dubbed don’t even attend the football matches, they simply travel to meet up with and then brawl with rival factions. This type of behaviour seems to be that of desperate people who simply use football as an excuse to hate someone, and therefore allow themselves vindication for assaulting them. It goes without saying that all football fans are not maniacs, although it is clear that even the rational minded person can get caught up in the crazed senselessness that can occur during a match. A case where this became evident is one where a full stand of rival club fans where mixed together accidentally. This resulted in one set of fans chasing the other to the far end of the stand wall, resulting in said wall being put under so much pressure that it collapsed, killing 39 people. The abuse connected to football is not just limited to the physical however, with the game also having an embarrassing history connected with racism. The most recent case publicised in the media occurred after a match in Paris, when a group of English fans would not allow a Parisian fan aboard a train due to his ethnicity. This violence seems to be decreasing more and more as time goes on, with football clubs and associations doing plenty to combat all of the viciousness associated with the game which I will discuss in more depth in my following posts.
With the ever growing popularity and exposure of Football, the amount of money going in and coming out of is ever increasing. Players who play for the top teams in Europe have been given a value by their clubs and or agents. The highest of these valuations that has transcended into an expenditure happened in 2009 when a single player was bought for £80 million (€94 million). This fee, at the time, was ‘just’ £20 million less than what it would have cost to buy a certain established premier league football club. Although this type of fee seems astronomical, since then these type of huge money transactions are becoming more and more common and although this may seem a ludacris type of ‘investment’ it can pay off for the football clubs. The value a player can have does not just depend on a player’s ability on a football pitch. Shirt sales bring in huge amounts of money to a football club if a player has the right type of reputation. It is reported by Real Madrid that the £80 million transfer fee they paid was almost recouped after two years on shirt sales alone. However, this does not cover the vast amounts club pay out on player wages each year, as I mentioned earlier, some players can make an excess of £400,000 per week. Figures like this make it hard to fathom how these football clubs can sustain themselves, however, top Football clubs can bring in £400 million per year sponsorship deals, shirt sales, Merchandising, stock sales and much more. For example a certain football club has agreed a deal with Adidas which will bring them £750 million over the next 10 years alone. These increases in the amount of capital have also affected the fans of the game. Ticket prices have of course increased over the past number of years, as well as shirt prices and even football equipment for the amateur player. The role money is playing in football seems to be growing with no signs of it decelerating. Even with the introduction of the new ‘financial fair play’ rules put in place in order to keep clubs from spending outside their means, I feel money will continue to have an enormous role in football.
This is the final entry to my blog and I am dedicating it to some of the good that has been done through football and the good football continues to do. I will begin with the obvious, football is great for your physical health. I played football all throughout my youth and along with many other alike it was part of my daily routine. I find that advancements in technology are hindering young people’s desire to play sports now, and more and more youth football teams are disappearing in my area. I think that this lack of availability of football will inevitably affect the physical health of today’s youth. It is not just a person’s physical health football can affect though. There are many charities set up around the world with the aim of encouraging under privileged people to get into the game in order to teach them some of life’s key skills, as well as bring a little more enjoyment into their lives. From my experience, some of the key skills football can teach are teamwork, discipline, ambition, responsibility, modesty, communication and compassion. There are thousands of charities connected to football all over the world, which take advantage of its power over society. One such charity is The Didier Drogba Society, which is dedicated to improving the living conditions of people all over the Ivory Coast, gaining global recognition due to its link with its namesake, professional footballer Didier Drogba. This charity has received, and continues to receive, donations to its causes, which are noble to say the least. It has already helped in numerous ways like setting up a hospital, supplying a young girl with leukaemia treatment and setting up structures such as the Red Cross and orphanages. Other charities like KitAid have been set up with the purpose of getting football fans to donate their so called ‘old kits’ to those in need in Africa. These so called old kits may be considered old to a football fan on our side of the world but a shirt that only gets worn maybe once a week for less than a year and then is never used again is certainly not old to those in need. The power of football and its influence in our culture extends beyond that of charitable work however, it has also has a surprising effect on politics. One such example is when in 1967, Brazilian footballer Pele came to Nigeria, at which time was in the middle of a civil war. Whilst there, he inadvertently caused an agreement to a 48 hour cease fire, in order for both sides to enjoy watching him play (in Nigeria’s most populated city!). This wasn’t the last time a football player would stop a war, believe it or not. Again, Didier Drogba is involved. In 2005 there was an ongoing civil war in the Ivory Coast, and using the influence and respect he had earned through his footballing exploits in the country, Drogba was able successfully end the civil war simply by asking for it. It was mere moments after Drogba had led his side to successful qualification for the World Cup that he asked all members on both sides of the war to lay down their arms, and in less than a week his plea was heard and subsequently granted.
Ultimately, I believe this Blog displays the magnitude of football’s effect on our culture, and when this effect is employed in the right way it has a wide spectrum full of potential to better all of our lives.