The beautiful game... it’s not about billionaires

Football gave the hope of the downtrodden to register a victory over the much better off – a hope that springs eternal in the human heart

In the space of a few days a controversy involving football – also known as soccer in the US  – erupted and was quickly extinguished. In my opinion it was an attempt to Americanise the beautiful game.

The origins of football in the UK and Europe was never the result of some business venture and one cannot act in a way as if football is just a money-maker while ignoring its history and its anthropology. In its origins, football was the ordinary workman’s spectator sport. Making money from it came much later.

The relationship between the club and its supporters cannot be thrown down the drain for the pecuniary interest of some American billionaire or some oil-rich sheikh. Disregarding the anthropology of the development of the game was the major mistake of the proponents of the so-called Super League.

It is short-sighted and idiotic if, when thinking of Celtic and Glasgow Rangers, we consider them as just two rival football clubs founded in Glasgow. Their story reflects the history of religious differences in Scotland. Similarly, Roma and Lazio are not just two teams from Rome – their history includes nuances of fascism and anti-fascism.

I can go on and on. The rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City or between Liverpool and Everton did not originate from the fact that they are two cities each with two rival football clubs. The reason why these cities had to have two rival football clubs is anthropological not financial.

Football is the beautiful game because it perfectly balances luck with skill. And with luck a less skilful team can beat a much better team – witness the giant-killers in FA Cup history.

Football therefore gave the hope of the downtrodden to register a victory over the much better off – a hope that springs eternal in the human heart.

The idiots who proposed the Super league giving guaranteed places to a number of particular famous clubs, ignored where football comes from and considered only the recent development of some famous clubs becoming money-making enterprises.

To many, football is more than just a sport and more than just a game about which one follows news, articles and rumours. It also has sociological, economic and political aspects. In many countries football is immersed into the national culture – witness how many people normally disinterested in football express joy when their national team wins a game!

Football has a great importance in today’s society. It has had a magnificent history, with the emergence of a diverse culture.

The fans idolise players practising to improve their skills and enjoy the rivalry with fans of another team – especially with teams coming from their own city in so-called ‘derbies’.

The behaviour of fans resembles political and social battles, rather than just a match. The historical aspect of derbies is emphasized by the fact that most rivalries are based on traditions.

Football clubs also carry political traits based on their traditions. Their rivalry can be affected by territory, history, and political differences. Football has economical traits as well, with the huge industry of merchandise with the team symbol and various indications that show support for ‘their’ team.

Anthropologists have studied the analogies between the game of football and its rules with rituals of so-called primitive cultures. The anthropological study of football today has developed into a relatively encompassing approach which includes interest in all the actors in the game: the public, the cultural good as evident in the acts of players, experts, supporters and journalists.

Just consider the rituals played over and over again in Malta by supporters of Valletta FC every time they win the local premier league.

Football has proved to be a tool for the construction of identity and cultural symbols, a leisure activity with ties to the economy and to humanity’s wish for a high level of glory. It has extended by the concept of globalisation because it is an exciting simple game that can be understood by everyone.

Billionaires trying to make money from football are seen as completely misunderstanding what football is all about. It is certainly not about profits and television rights  – as many of them seem to think.

Lay state

I rarely reply to comments on my articles – everybody is entitled to their own opinions. This time I am making an exception.

Dr Christian Colombo of the Malta Humanist Association reacted to my opinion piece published two Sundays ago in which I said that Malta is a lay state. I have always considered Malta as a lay state – in contrast to a confessional state that submits itself to the whims and fancies of some particular religious belief.

Article 2 of the Constitution recognises a fact that the religion of the majority of Maltese citizens is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion. It gives this religion rights and duties but it does not impose these on anyone. That is why, in my opinion, Article 32 which entitles everyone to freedom of conscience plus other recognised human rights, make it clear that citizens of Malta are not obliged to follow the religion that is recognised as that of the majority. Hence Malta is a lay state.

If the Maltese Constitution gave the Catholic Church more than recognition as the religion of the majority, it would not have been possible to introduce civil marriage, divorce, IVF, contraceptives, the teaching of ethics instead of religion in state schools and same sex marriage. In all of these issues (and others) the Church had her say but the State decided otherwise – a sure indication that Malta is a lay state without any obligation to follow the Church’s teachings.

Remember the Church is guaranteed ‘the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong’ but it has no right to stop the introduction of legislation with which it disagrees. Neither has it any right to impose its beliefs on others.

Since the State has no obligation to follow the Church’s teachings, I consider Malta a lay state, with freedom of conscience being recognised as a human right.

When a minister of the Republic panders to some voters’ pseudo-religious feelings such as the wish to install a ‘Way of the Cross’ along a public road using public money, the contradiction is obvious. The Church never imposed or tried to impose such an action. So it is the State that opted to contradict what is expected to be its stance on religious practices.