Originally posted on Storymoja

“It is just a game.” This is a retort that usually signals the end of a fervent debate on football. But is the statement true or simply a fallacy? How do events featuring 22 people kicking the ball around cause so much grief and joy in equal measure? How can event taking place a continent away make someone take his or her own life? How can someone place his wife and car on the line due to the unflinching faith on 11 people who don’t even know you exist? These are all sane questions that belie the phenomena football is but the simple fact is football is not sane.

Football is more than a game. It’s like an eternal debate whereby there are 90 minute breaks for the moderator to provide another aspect of the topic of discussion. Footballers are gods who possess power to make or break the day for the fanatic. The skills and touch possessed by this super humans like Thor’s hammer strikes fear to the opponents like lightning. Fans dreams are their reality. The fandom could however turn their loyalty in an instant. A misplaced pass, a remark taken out of context could attract the wrath of the unforgiving crowd.

Football is simply life. It’s the teacher of what life is, the strength of the underdog, the injustice you will encounter. It embodies what life is, a series of disappointments punctuated by bursts of joy and happiness.  Football is the closest sport to realism. The lack of replays or TMO (television match officials) ensures the criminal goes unpunished and this arbitrary nature retains its authenticity.  And no true fan would call for such changes to be effected in football anyway because there is simply no replay in life. A whimsical action or inaction carries unprecedented consequences.

The loyalty that football breeds is pure. It’s not based on blood, financial gains or the promise of a better after life. It’s based on simple hope of a fulfilling journey, that even with the bumps the vehicle meets it will be strong enough to carry on to the next barrier. Football fandom is the unique and quintessential union fostered by an allegiance to a philosophy they aspire to. They stand united in time of grief and joy and therefore a brotherhood cemented in what always appears to be a bumpy journey. They learn to appreciate the wins in both life and football and always pick themselves up after failure just as they expect their idols.

The drama involved in football also offers priceless entertainment.  Aside from the footballing brilliance on exhibition, the players and coaches also tend to carry their crazy to the pitch. From Maradona’s hand of god in the 1986 World Cup enroute to winning the cup to Suarez biting shenanigans, football has always attracted players who are talented and crazy in equal measure.  Zidane’s head-butt on Materazzi is also an example of the human side that comes from the emotions that are usually running high.  . These players will pull out all the stops to win for their team and this makes them invaluable or dangerous depending on which side of the halfway line you are. Celebratory dances that have come from football have been numerous. Caught up in the euphoria of scoring a goal, players tend to bust a move as they show their talent is not limited to football.   

There is however a parallel humane side to footballers.  Self-proclaimed fascist Paolo di Canio shunned a clear cut goal scoring opportunity against Everton because the opposing goalkeeper was down injured on the edge of the box and this earned him the Fifa Fair Play Award. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk midfielder Jaba Kankava after a collision with Oleh Husyev recognized the immediate danger his opponent was in and as the other players went on to contest the match he instead flipped the Husyev over, put his hand in his mouth and pulled Husyev’s tongue out as he had swallowed it and was blocking his airwaves. The examples of fair play and sportsmanship are infinite and are one of the things that make football beautiful.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that” Former Liverpool coach Bill Shankly famously stated this sentiment which seems some fans have taken to heart.  Not many will understand that men (and women) will always act like children because of people kicking a ball on a pitch. That tears of joy and grief will be shed for an occasion whose outcome will not affect the path of one’s life. The reasons are as abstract as they come and no amount of words could really explain it. All in all this could be summarized by the words of St Thomas Aquinas (13th Century), to one who has faith, no explanation is necessary, to one without faith, no explanation is possible.
Do you have faith?