Fan Culture

On Spirituality and Football

The BBC World Service recently ran a segment concerning the confluence of faith and football. It was interesting in that it depicted how nuanced and sophisticated, as well as deeply entrenched, one’s spiritual beliefs can be with their sporting life in the beautiful game. The discussion ran the gambit from small town English clubs that are inseparable from the local church (in a manner akin to Everton’s start, as they related) to the use of juju by African footballers.

The piece, in many ways, spoke to the psychology of the game, in that, regardless of one’s beliefs in a higher power, it did demonstrate the need for mental preparation that permeates all sports. And in that regard, the skeptic who would decry any benefits as stemming from a “placebo effect” would be well placed to level judgment on where demonstrations of faith belong in the game, since as with anything divisive, religion always needs to stick to the sidelines ( sorry Kaka, but come June, FIFA would be sagacious to explicitly ban any religious displays on the pitch).

On par with this notion is the pointlessness of trying to link the beautiful game with one’s spiritual understanding of existence (as one Christian commentator does in the segment). With so many interpretations out there since time immemorial, any attempt to assign one’s own beliefs to the game detracts from its underlying principle: unity. Feel free to personalize football, though the sport is more akin to the implicit underlying reality rather than something we can readily define.

Must we always delineate sheer awe? The game approaches the sublime by not only being comprised of universal joy and experience, but also by mirroring existence; the struggle of life is contained within every 90 minute sequence, with the greatest of human potential put on display to send thousands (and millions around the world) to their feet.  No matter where you’re from or what you believe in, you’re affected the same by a perfect 50 yard cross or diving header through traffic. Why try to dissect the sport then and add superfluity? As Platonists and Zen masters have said, there’s no need to try to discern the heavens when you can’t define your own world.  Study the game- and improve your own play while you’re at it- but don’t bother trying to infuse it with anything extraneous, since anything superfluous would mar both the execution and appreciation of many a Beckham cross or charging dive through space by Ronny.

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