Sunday 30 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Café
A woman sees an old man sitting next to an empty seat at the FA Cup final and asks why he is alone, to which he responds that it’s his deceased wife’s seat. When the woman asks why he didn’t invite another member of the family, he explains they’re all at the funeral. An old joke, but achingly familiar to any serious football fan (and those that love them). From Bill Shankly’s famous quip that football is more than a matter of life and death through to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and the alleged ‘baby boom’ effect in World Cup host countries, football fandom is known to excite great passions. But is it worth it? Or is obsession with football an unhealthy condition?
The energy fans put into football is even stranger, perhaps, when one considers the likely disappointment for most fans, who will rarely see their team win the league, a trophy or even successive games, and could well see them relegated or, in these recessionary times, even go extinct. Yet obsessive support and devotion for unsuccessful and small, local clubs is often hailed as a greater mark of honour than ‘glory-hunting’: how many southern-based Manchester United fans claim they just so happen to have a great-grandfather from Old Trafford? More recently, the notion has been taken even further with supporters’ clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, Man U’s ‘Green and Gold’ anti-Glazer protests.
Has football always provoked these displays of seemingly crazed devotion, or is it a much more recent trend? Is the violence and verbal abuse associated with football hooliganism an inevitable extension of these passions? And does supporting your national team equate with an irrational patriotic loyalty to your country, right or wrong? Has football’s transformation from working class pastime to the national obsession damaged the beautiful game? Is there a particular type of person prone to being a football obsessive, and do they need to get a life?
Listen to session audio:
writer, broadcaster and teacher; author, The Ball is Round: a global history of football and How to Watch the Olympics; regular writer, Prospect magazine
senior lecturer in sociology, University of East London; Arsenal supporter
educational consultant; former teacher; advocate, Greenwich Advocacy
director, Lokaalmondiaal and Coolpolitics; editor, Africa United: the road to 2010
writer, actor and broadcaster
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
What is it about politicians and football? Tony Blair bragged of growing up as a Newcastle United fan, and made sure he was seen heading the ball with Kevin Keegan, then the England manager. He even invited the England squad to Downing Street after they had been beaten by a Brazil side playing just ten men in the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup.Michael Henderson, Daily Mail, 27 September 2011
Most of football's great rivalries involve clubs thrown together either by geography – Arsenal and Tottenham, say, or Dundee United and, er, Dundee – or by years of high-profile, high-intensity competition for the game's biggest prizes – which explains Liverpool ongoing ding-dong with Manchester United, or Real Madrid's with Barcelona.Simon Burnton, Guardian, 27 September 2011
Spenny Larham has seen all his dreams come true - though perhaps annoyed his family slightly - by moving out of his town-centre home and into a one-bedroom flat built within the ground of his favourite team, Wisbech Town.Emily Hewett, Metro, 16 September 2011
It would be nice to think that I could enjoy football without all that partisanship and prejudice. But the truth is the demented rivalries are the most essential part of being a fan. There are those who say the game can be appreciated on a purely aesthetic level, but they are almost always posturing liars (or Arsenal fans), or people who haven’t seen enough football in their time.Sam Delaney, New Humanist, 5 September 2011
A Barcelona fan crossed the fine line between bravery and recklessness when he played the club's anthem at their arch-rivals' stadium.Daniel Bird, Daily Telegraph, 8 March 2011
It is a book of stories, primarily by African journalists and photographers, about the love of football. It shows Africa as we rarely see it: as a continent bubbling over with talent, ambition and opportunities.
Stefan Verwer, Marc Broere & Chris de Bode (Editors) , KIT Publishers, 1 January 2010
The fan, as most Britons have come to think of him, is a creature tied for life to the club he first “fell for” as a child. Hornby says his love of Arsenal has lasted “longer than any relationship I have made of my own free will”. But is Hornby’s fan found much in real life? Or are most British football supporters much less loyal than is usually presumed?Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Financial Times, 7 August 2009