Nord University, Bodø, Norway
Although football is the greatest cultural phenomenon of our time, reflexive contributions digging into the possible reasons why we love football, whether football is important, and seemingly threats for the position of football as a globally loved game, are somewhat scarce. Against this backdrop, in this paper I try to pinpoint some, of possibly many, explanatory hypotheses, developments and dark clouds on the football horizon. In doing so, the distinguishing features of present-day football opposed to other sports are scrutinised, unfolding The Beautiful Game’s nature, not much emphasised in the day-to-day football discourse. Drawing on the work of Arve Hjelseth, Dag Solstad, Jo Nesbø and Richard Giulianotti, I try to provide a synthesis of contemporary trends and debates within the field of football, outlining disputed topics such as Video Assistant Referee (VAR), distinctions in the stand, football spectator types and trends of football fandom. The latter involves shedding light on the “Americanisation vs. supporter” dispute, that is, cultural tensions between those who want to utilise football as in the big American sports, as an entertainment product, and those who want to build a European supporter-driven culture. Inspired by the lens of Hjelseth especially, football identities and ways of belonging, football tourism, and Norwegian and English football for Norwegians as competing or complementary interests, are also unpacked. Moreover, hyper-commercialisation, sportswashing and the failed Super League attempt, is discussed highlighting various nations’ footballing “souls”, for instance related to football’s distinct working-class stamp in various countries and contexts. Finally, I point out a possible way forward to navigate the troubled waters of elite football as a Norwegian enthusiast, arguing for a shifting focus, staging the bright sides of The Beautiful Game back at the core of our football engagement – the way we fell in love with football as kids – but noting the backdrop of the persistent unscrupulousness of top football. Overall, a critical view of modern football development is sketched, however not ignoring promising signs of supporters’ power and drive for change.
MADS SKAUGE is an Assistant Professor at The Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Sports and Society, Nord University, Norway. His research interests are sports, social inequality, social capital, and individualisation.
“Who is the writer of this article? I am a football-interested sociologist, who also has football as one of my research interests. My interest in football revolves in contrast to, e.g., Eggen and especially “Drillo’s” scientific contributions, not around the game’s structure, group dynamics and various purely sporting facets, but rather football as a cultural expression, as for example in my mentor Arve Hjelseth’s and the Swedish journalist phenomenon Erik Niva’s case. To me, football is foremost the greatest cultural phenomenon of our time, secondly a sport. The Northern Ireland footballer, football coach, football journalist and sports commentator Danny Blanchflower once said that “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning.” Football is so much more than victory and loss. For example, I do not have to consume the Premier League and Champions League on a weekly basis, but I do not want to miss debates about the development of football or symbolic power-relations among spectators. Thus, I am primarily interested in football culture, which also means that I watch a little football, but I read more about football than I consume games. Football offers ways of interpreting the world. I am particularly interested in football as an expression of identity, belonging and meaning, and the football discourse in general, i.e., how football is talked about and understood by different groups, not least football fandom and types of spectatorships. Furthermore, I apply football as relaxation (it is immersive; there is no room for other thoughts in my head during a game), and a source of “quest for excitement” in the civilized age in line with Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning’s thesis, and social capital (networking, and not least something to talk about). Football takes me places nothing else can.”
A Norwegian version of this article was published as a post on forumbloggen 2021-10-27.
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