Category Archives: Sociology

Notes on the Epochs of Football

Caveat: This piece is some ideas quickly bashed together.
I do not mention Calcio Fiorentino or Tsu Chu. This is an anglocentric piece.
But, additionally, there is no direct correlation that I know of between these games and it's codification by the British public school system.
Second caveat: In truth, Public Schools, Cities & National/Imperial have much common ground and there is great difficulty in separating them.

Village

Mob football. One parish versus another. Limited rules. Church spires for goalposts. Banned several times by order of the monarch. Often descended (ascended, surely!) into riots. Deadly. Only played once or twice a year, on public holidays.

Public Schools

(Private, actually…) Increased – but varying – codification, different school rules i.e. Rugby. Establishment fetish for young muscular Christian boys. Team-building. Leadership. Amateurism.

Cities

Urbanisation. Industrialisation. Limited space. Establishment fear of gangs and mobs. Development of spectator culture/vicarious leisure. Growing hegemony of ‘Association rules’. Formation of Britain’s still dominant football clubs. Muscular Christian boys, again. Many fans supporting two local clubs (on alternate Saturdays).

National/Imperial

National teams. National competitions. Growth of professionalism and subsequent prominence of northern clubs. The accidental spreading of football round the world. We needed those muscular Christian boys to deal with the Imperial  Other, by the way.

International

World Cups. European Cups. International transfers. Television coverage. Beginnings of sponsorship. Fan travel to away games. National support for clubs (i.e. Manchester United, Liverpool) particularly in international competition. Hooliganism.

Transnational

Bosman ruling. Champions League. All-seater stadiums. Devaluing of national competition. The power of sponsorship. Globalised deregulation, BSkyB etc. Megaevents, Game dominated by Global Cities and most marketable players. Huge inflation is supporters’ costs (gentrification?). Soft power investments (Man City, PSG etc.) Beginnings of a ‘postmodern’ detached football consumption?

And so… what’s next? The epochs listed above do correspond with the evolution of capitalism – not neatly, for these things never are, but identifiably so. There was even a period of crisis over the 1970s and early ’80s (poor quality football, declining crowds, violence etc.) that coincided with the difficult shift from Fordist/modernist/industrial capitalism to post-Fordist etc. etc.

And so, given we live in deeply troubled times, one should expect a subsequent shift in the structure of football.

But to what? A postnationalism of the two most marketable footballers oiled up and one-on-one from every conceivable camera angle every other summer? A fully realised neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics model of state-negotiated dominance? Or does capitalism collapse – and what then for a game that exists in the form we understand it today as a sub-development of that system?

I have no idea what will happen, other than that something will. Something, no doubt, utterly humanity-shockingly debauched… but with just enough nipple tassel of wow! factor to keep us watching.

Economic history is far from my forté, but what little I understand comes from looking back at the profanity of football.

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Filed under Capitalism, Sociology

Death, Ritual & Missing Two Riots (Part Two)

This is the second part of this post.

BUT! I didn’t go to the 26th March march either… After over a month of gradual excitement and being halfway through making a splendid protest sign (one side pink & blue, “THIS GOV’T IS SO BAD I’M FORCED TO MISS DULWICH HAMLET FC TO BE HERE TODAY“) I didn’t turn up.

Two days previously my mum had rung me to say my grandpa has been diagnosed with cancer. Pancreatic cancer. The “silent killer”. Undiagnosed, indeed, unnoticed, for a year or so, the black mass has taken hold of him from within.

I had the chance to be driven with family to visit him. On Saturday. The 26th. The day of the march. I had a second of “ahhh, shit…” A strange mix of selfishness and civic duty. But not for long. Of course I was going.

I’ve always viewed my grandpa as something of a great man. Strong. Quick-witted. Handsome. Humorous. Silly. Cheeky. Very very charming. (If I had half of what he has I’d have half of London following the ambitious guff I write here). And given certain family complications, he filled a fair few father figure roles.

This is a ritual. Another ritual. I didn’t go to the football. I didn’t go to the protest. But I did join my family in visiting my ill grandpa. There is a hierarchy of ritual. Some you only ever play with whilst some are so entrenched that they Simply Are. They feel natural, right, part of you. So much so that I feel deeply uncomfortable writing about dying and death in a knowing, rational way.

I fear I’m devaluing my experiences, those of my family and even grandpa’s own, with this Diet Roland Bathes decodifying…

But rituals aren’t a bad thing. They are a fact of life, a vital part of our existence as social creatures. Animals who live for meaning and the buzz of connection.

I feel ashamed to say family tragedies are rituals, but I should be even more ashamed at the thought of lying and saying they aren’t.

The undercurrent to this post, though I shirk from the agony of conclusively admitting it, is that the “realness” of the emotions surrounding death are as unessential, spatiotemporal and kind of pretentious as those of celebrating a goal at a football match… But two points:

(1) Without wanting to be too postmodernist, there is probably a lack of essential truth, and even if there is one, to adhere to it would be so Sovietgrey, so joyless, so rigid that I don’t think it would be living. What moves us is all important.

And (2) Death, “the cult of death”, is the most historic, the most enshrined, the deepest foundationed ritual of all. And therefore the least escapable (not that we should wish to…) Mircea Eliade noted that prehistoric burial sites, having lasted thousands of years for archaeologists or even passers-by have survived whilst the more practical day-to-day living quarters of those ancient societies do not. It “testifies to a very important cult of the dead.” Indeed it does. As does my family’s current activity.

In a thousand years time we won’t be discussing benefit cuts or even western liberal democracy. We certainly won’t debate goalline video technology or even association football. But we will go to funerals. And we will be funereal.

So, in the struggle of three rituals, one emerged gloriously triumphant over the others. I can put it in a league table:

1 Death
2 Politics
3 Football

And as football clubs’ fans tend to claim, but seems to be true in this case, the upper echelon of this table has more history, more tradition, and are – deep in your gut – more real.

I couldn't find a lovely picture of my grandpa holding me as a baby, so I've gone to the other, gratuitous extreme. Here's a Chinese funeral stripper. Enjoy.

Oh, and he votes Tory…

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Filed under Culture, Death, Dulwich Hamlet, Football, Personal Memories, Politics, Ritual, Sociology

Trying To Explain Millwall…

I recently moved to Dog Kennel Hill Estate. It’s between Dulwich and Peckham, in South London. The nearest professional football club is the infamous Den-dwelling Millwall FC. And so, with uncharacteristic trepidation, I’ve been to a few games, including the 2-0 win over “boutique football club” QPR last Tuesday.

Seeing Millwall is… amazingly good fun. Where I expected a repressive, scary miasma, I instead found a liberating atmosphere. It is, undoubtedly, the most communal football experience I’ve ever been part of.

Millwall fandom is spectacular, extravagant, dramatic. The chaotically compiled group identity is profound, loud, and has a discernible effect on the team. And, most importantly, it is relatively unique – a dash of heterodoxy in the homodox world of blandly commercialized football.

Millwall is what a lot of other clubs’ fans secretly wish they were.

I can’t claim an exhaustive empirical basis, but from what I’ve seen Millwall have a far more defined group identity and enjoyment of the footballing ritual than any comparable club.

This is a club that historically yo-yos from second tier to third. A club that has spent a mere two seasons in the top division. A club whose biggest achievement was losing the 2004 FA Cup final. In short, they are unsuccessful – especially compared to the few clubs who moribundly dominate English football.

But Millwall fandom seems to partially wriggle out of that logic. Not entirely – they cheer goals, they bemoan decisions against their side etc. But Millwall exists above and beyond the “sporting” hierarchy of being shat upon by the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools et al. Which all clubs do, really. But at Millwall there is a tangible sense of existing for themselves. “No-one likes us, we don’t CARE!!!”

Too many other clubs that size meekly beg, “Please like us and offer a few crumbs…?” Well, fuck that! Millwall provide the beginnings of the two fingered salutation – we exist for ourselves – that the rest of football deserves.

In terms of identity, Millwall are up there with the most successful clubs, which when you think about it is quite staggering. Those clubs have a lot to shout about – they’ve won football’s Harsh Economic Reality lottery. Millwall haven’t. So, I applaud them for Being. They are a great socio-economic anomaly, but so very social.

Former Millwall chairman Reg Burr described his club as “a convenient coat peg for football to hang its social ills on.” They should instead be a coat peg from which other clubs and fans hope to hang their own ambitions of a grand, encompassing and fun (!) ritual.

Notes

Racism – Was worried about this, but haven’t heard a peep. Not even when new pantomime villain Danny Shittu played up to the role on Tuesday. And the home fans cheered the shapes pulled by a half-time urban dance performance by a group of kids from a local estate. This is not the nightmare Millwall of people’s wild imaginations.

The Roar – This is surely the greatest (and most deconstructed) football chant I’ve ever heard. The crowd basically start screaming. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It whips around the stadium, like a disordered Mexican wave of Bermondsey banshees. It is worth a trip down the Den for this alone. I’m told it evolved from a simple chant of “Millwall!” Absolutely splendiferous. This video doesn’t do it justice:

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Filed under Culture, Millwall, Ritual, Sociology, Sport

In Celebration of the Vuvuzela

How very dare you, you sick fucking cunts!!!

There’s a buzz about the 2010 World Cup. The constantly wavering hum of the vuvuzela. More swarm of angry bees than musical instrument.

I’m quite amazed. Just when you though the FIFA World Cup was a homogeneous and sterile experience that would be the same in any city, in any continent, changing only over time with the desires & technological capabilities of the very many vested interests, such as Coca-Cola & Adidas… Just when you thought that was the case, here is something, some little tiny sensory invasion, that offers the difference that is promised in a World Cup but never delivered.

Rejoice! Rejoice? Television broadcasters, corporate sponsors, audiences and – amongst others – the frankly pathetic French national team want vuvuzelas banned from stadiums. And the World Cup organisers are considering it. But these lot are exactly the kind of distant power sources I thought us little people are meant to “reclaim” football from…

There is a lot of lazy fairytale talk amongst football fans about the game being, in essence, “ours”. Ignoring the historical problems of whether this has even been the case, there is a latent feeling that we have a right – as normal fans, whatever that is – to take football back. From the Glazers, the Murdochs, the Blatters and other pantomime figureheads of contemporary footballing hierarchy.

And yet it would seem that the majority of romanticist armchair-fairytale football fandom and it’s hierarchal masters/servants (delete as appropriate to your own view on simple pluralism) agree on the Sonic Plague of the Vuvuzela.

But I say, Gods Save The Vuvuzela!

My reasons? (1) We are lucky to be made to feel uncomfortable watching football on television. It’s a vulnerable position. There’s little else in the world that can so tempt me into such an open sluice of repeated attacks of advertising like football can. I suppose because it ensnared me, and most of us, in youth. Nostalgia. Knee-jerk romanticism. You’ve got my balls in a vice-like grip. The ease of consuming football leaves you openmouthed to the sluice. Yum.

(2) FIFA et al. got what they wanted. Or claimed what they wanted. They said they want the colours and sounds and happy poverty smiles of the negroes. They wanted this to be Africa’s World Cup. But the first hint of the developed world’s media and rape industries getting upset at the slightest hint of heterodoxy and it’s time to wipe that beaming I-can-beat-AIDS smile off that filthy negro face. Well done FIFA. Well done postmodernity. Well done all. Enjoy your identikit world and identikit megaevents. For me the vuvuzela should be merely the beginning. For you, you want it to be the continuation of the end. Or something that feels – and sounds – like the end.

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Filed under 2010 World Cup, Art, Culture, Football, Rebellion, Ritual, Sociology, Sport, Vuvuzela

The World Cup

There is so much awful about football. It is commercialised to a surreal but ultimately abusive degree. The partakers are far from the Cantona/Socrates ideal. The fans are sheep who don’t know what’s good for them (see: Manchester United fans campaigning against the owners dressed in official replica gear).

And the World Cup is the epitomy of it. A postmodern hypercapitalist slapgasm of mass-inescapability.

But it is also perhaps the biggest ritual in the world. Sorry to get all Durkheimian, but social life exists through and for these rituals. The point shouldn’t be to close off people’s participation in rituals, but to try to claim them, rebuild them.

I adore the World Cup – partly out of strong nostalgia, admittedly – but I hang a DIY glittered & sloganed St. George’s flag from my window, my skincrawls at every single “Official Butternut Squash Supplier to the England Team” type tie-in, I feel a strong sense of dislocation from many other fans.

But I refuse to give up my right as a social animal to this ritual just because it’s fucked up. Indeed, I feel a sense of both duty & fun in doing whatever little I can to deviate it, to Vaughanify it.

Every night I fall asleep dreaming of sporting deviance.

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Filed under 2010 World Cup, Cantona, Culture, England, Football, Manchester United, Personal Memories, Ritual, Sociology

The Bloody Anatomy of Albion

Here we go again. A couple of months back I wrote a blog post here called The England Shirt & The Invention Of Traditions. It was about how the recently released and very hyped England shirt was deliberately manipulating ideas of Englishness to… well, make sure it seems “English” (making sure it can be defined by what it’s defining, you see). Well, Umbro are at it again. They are beginning another process of teaser advertising for the soon to be released red away kit. Early signs are that an appropriation of early modern anatomy diagrams and imagery are being hijacked in the name of contemporary Englishness.

Golly gosh. Albion will never have throbbed with such darkly omnipresent mass-produced High Street vibrancy..

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Filed under 2010 World Cup, Culture, England, England Shirt, Football, Sociology, Sport

The England Shirt & The Invention Of Traditions

Half a year ago newly Nike-owned football equipment manufacturers Umbro climatically spurted (by which I mean “revealed”) the new England national team shirt after an increasingly frenzied build-up of teasing previews and foreplayful bullshit. All big-selling mass-consumed football shirts are overhyped before you can get the thing over your head, but Umbro seemed to up the ante entirely.

Check out the webshite: http://www.umbro.com/england/#/?country=en&page=home

Before the orgasmic reveal – 28th March 2009 – there was what is now generally considered to be the biggest fuss ahead of the release of a new football kit. were teaser shots, close-ups of “revolutionary” new fabric, interviews with tailors and designers, quotes from “excited” players. More incredibly, word of mouth promotion was deliberately instigated, via programs such as an “Influence Dinner” (17 well connected Londoners, such as DJs, were wined, dined and given an early “reveal” of the kit) and – unbelievably! – taxi driver briefings! A drip-drip-drip feed of information deliberately creating a sense of very whetted appetite amongst the awaiting England fans & media organisations.

Most importantly, there was a huge and very deliberate emphasis on “History”. And by “History” they clearly meant “Tradition”. Rather than a dynamic process of change over time, Umbro were (selectively) using the base notion of what has gone before is automatically authentic and therefore desirable. The new shirt is traditional, thus it is good.

What I personally found most interesting (by which I mean absurd!) was this video:

It is a short promotional video connecting the history/tradition of England, both as football team and as a country/nation to the history/tradition of punk. This connection happens (where else?!) in what is presented as a underground hardcore punk scene somewhere in China. We briefly meet the charmingly named punk band “Gum Bleed” who mix regulation mohicans, studded leather, wall-of-sound & vacant snarling with what Umbro is ambitiously proposing as a regulation garment, a uniform of a (Br/Sl)ave New England: the new England football shirt!

In solitude one would assume it to be a failed attempt at viral marketing (it’s only had 652 views on YouTube thus far – but possibly significantly more on the Umbro website). But it was part of a wider and (it would seem) culturally/economically successful effort by the company.

Umbro utilised a bizarre but wholly contemporary combination of exhaustive business activity with a hijacking of the romance of history/tradition. Yes, punk’s representatives on Earth shuffle forward with a mixture of self-delight and multinational carrot-chasing to join the likes of Richart The (Homosexual) Lionheart’s three lions, the public school origins of Association Football, 1966 and all that… Traditions: Selected. Invented. Established. Establishment. Very Hobsbawmian.

Okay… aside from being the 76th final nail in the increasingly Hellraiser-esque coffin of “punk”, what else does this cultural artefact, this overblown white polo shirt mean?

It is indicative of a continuation – if not an acceleration – of the changing sense of Englishness. Gone are the days of Britain as a byword for The English Empire. The English (or at least those who believe they should care) are scrambling for a sense of self in our dichotomously complimentary globalising/localising world.

Sociologist Anthony King of Exeter has noted the England shirt’s shift from being based on the Union Flag (with the use of navy blue) to one more closely resembling the cross of St. George – a change mirrored in the flags waved by England fans. This new kit has dispensed entirely with the (surely “traditional”?!) blue shorts.

With the real world spaces of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, African colonies fast disappearing from view and/or plausible memory, Englishness must claim hold of new spaces, abstract spaces. This new shirt is the St. George’s flag plonked into virgin(?) territories such as punk and Saville Row tailoring (and thus a huge chunk of international fashion). Recreating Englishness is a surefire way of the shirt representing Englishness. Making sure it can be defined by what it’s defining.

This shirt represents/creates an imagined and/or fantasized sense of England so much that it would be more appropriate to call it an Albion shirt (and no, I don’t mean West Brom!).

Albion – the poetic, impossible, utopian notion of an imagined England where even the tramps wax lyrical. Now it’s got skyscrapers and focus group fucked cabbies!

(See http://www.utalkmarketing.com/Pages/Article.aspx?ArticleID=13611&Title=Umbro_stars_of_England_launch_2009_kit_with_passion for more on the marketing)

Edit: Just found this article – Football Culture? Umbro’s Made For It – in which Nike’s efforts to not only rebrand Umbro but set it up as occupying different market niches*  to its new parent company are set in the context of a deliberate attempt to “to create a commentary on the nature of being English” and “building a new [brand] identity based on engaging consumers at points where football and culture “collide”.”

* = “The complementary positionings allow the company in effect to sell twice to the same customer. A person could be a Nike customer and also an Umbro customer for completely different reasons.”

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Filed under Culture, England, England Shirt, Football, Sociology