Football social media is overflowing with overreactions, underappreciation, and instability. A footballer see-saws between hero and villain. Depending on the feelings of faceless Twitter accounts. The footballing community has been dehumanised and become results driven. Football has become a capitalist bureaucracy, as opposed to a medium of self-expression and creativity.
Results are important. They have always been important. The fate of Mondays rested on the performance of Manchester United. If we lost, I would spend the next week defending my team from the banter of my friends. If we won, I was the dispenser of banter. Win, lose or draw, I would spend break time and after school playing football with my friends. Yes, it was amateur football. But most importantly it was genuine. After all, football’s value is in play. In expression on the pitch. The aim of the game is to win, but we played for fun. Whether I lose or win on the pitch, I expressed myself.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has self-actualisation at the top of humanity’s basic needs. Self-actualisation is the desire to be the most that one can be. The need is not to attain the most, but to be the most. Football has always been the great equaliser. All problems are put to the side once the game begins. The goal is to be the most that one can be on the pitch. Football reflects life. The goal is to be the most that one can be in life.
The hyper-commercialisation and pseudo-reporting of football, has seduced fans of football into falling in love with winning, as opposed to falling in love with football. If the purpose of football was to win, fans would not be friends with rival teams’ supporters. If the goal was to win, then everyone would support the top 6 teams, while no one would be left to support teams that are battling relegation. Fans do not support teams because the teams are the best. Teams are decided based on whoever the fan connects to the most. Once a team is decided, there is no turning back. A true fan is faithful through the ups and downs. Although the primary pleasure of football is in winning, the purpose of football is in community and self-actualisation.
After years of flirting with relegation, Sunderland AFC got relegated in 2016-17. Even after relegation was confirmed, stadium attendance was in the 40 000s. Sunderland AFC even holds the record for the highest attendance in League One with an attendance of 46,039, despite suffering back-to-back relegations. The fans of Sunderland AFC realise that the joy of football is seeing athletes play for the badge (community) and expressing themselves (self-actualisation).
Sunderland hold the record for the highest attendance in a League One Match
While one can easily note that footballers are paid thousands of pounds to win, it is still important to be aware of the humanity of footballers. Life is sacred and has intrinsic value. A value that is not determined by winning or losing on the pitch, but by their self-actualisation and self-expression.
Dehumanisation of Footballers and Fans
The tendency to dehumanise footballers is thrust upon society. The structure of society dehumanises the average individual in the same manner. The sanctity of life is often exchanged for short-term financial gain. The structure seduces us into believing that human value is determined based on how much we earn or can achieve. Football reflects life. We need to realise that the only purpose is not to win trophies or accumulate money. For some people, it’s more important to be able to express yourself and proudly represent your community. The value of human life should not only be confined to concepts of money. In order to preserve the sanctity of life, the sanctity of life should be understood by everyone. Perhaps then a community of football on the foundations of love and respect can be achieved. The football that kids play. Perhaps then we could achieve a society built on the foundations of love and respect. The society that understands each other.
Betirri Bengston highlighting the dehumanisation of footballers
Creating a Community of Care
It is not necessarily easy to create a positive community in football. If it were so, it would have been done by now. Even the idea of community is almost utopian. When trying to build community in football we face the challenges of standards and pressures to win. Football reflects life. When trying to build community in life we face the challenges of standards and the (sometimes unnecessary) pressures to obtain wealth. Distracted by trophies in football or accolades in life, we often forget that the joys in life lie in the relationships we have with our friends and family.
Community comes from the old French word “comunete” meaning “to reinforce”. Thus as a footballing (human) community there is a necessity to reinforce each other and support each other to freely express ourselves. Not repress and oppress each other with the pressures of gaining money. Perhaps we have to support our footballers in the same manner. Even when our team is losing or a player is out of form, they need our backing if they are to fulfill their potential. Football reflects life. When a family member or friend is going through a rough patch, they need our support and reinforcement, if they are to fulfill their potential.
Daniel Torchia’s study “Creating and Managing Community in a Community Football Club” indicates that we can build community through micro-emancipatory mental shifts, and a redistribution of values. Placing emphasis on camaraderie and involvement instead of competition and individualism. Every football tournament has a player with immense skill and strength that only shoots and never passes. Even if one ends up winning, there is less reward and enjoyment than if one was playing in a team that shared the ball. After all the enjoyment comes from expressing ourselves.
Once that realisation is made, defeat becomes easier to handle. Football reflects life. When life is approached with the mindset of expression and not bottling up emotions, defeat, stress and anxiety become easier to handle. Football should be approached with the idea of self-expression and camaraderie. Football reflects life. Life should be approached with the idea of self-expression and camaraderie.