Football in the time of corona

Kutte Jönsson
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University

Stephen Mumford
Football: The Philosophy Behind the Game
124 pages, paperback.
Cambridge: Polity Press 2019
ISBN 978-1-5095-3532-3

As I write this review, we are nearing the end of April 2020. And nothing is what it’s supposed to be.

In a normal year, and a normal spring, the biggest football leagues would have come to an end, and the Swedish men’s top series Allsvenskan would have commenced. Also, preparations for the men’s UEFA Euro 2020 football championships would have started. But then, this is not a normal year. It is a year that will go down in history as the year of the corona pandemic.

So instead of live football, Swedish Television broadcasts all of Sweden’s matches in the World Cup in 1994, while the sports channels repeat other matches and competitions. Everyone is waiting. And waiting. On social media, some testify to abstinence from the lack of live football and other live sports, and they wonder how they will survive this unwanted cessation. But they have no choice. No one has a choice. Life and health take precedence.

Now, of course, everyone understands that there are more important things in life than football. Nonetheless, the loss is serious, and the longing for everyday normality is great. But – we have not yet seen the end of the pandemic story. It may still be delayed for one knows not how long. What we can be pretty sure of, however, is that spring 2020 will be its own narrative, a notch in history where things we have become accustomed to (perhaps to the limit) have been put to the test. For what are sports, and not least the world’s greatest sport, football, in this ongoing crisis? What will the crisis lead to? Will our understanding of the value of sport change when the pandemic has subsided and we have returned to something similar to the state we were in before the outbreak? And what will we be like after the pandemic? Of course, we know nothing about this. The answers to these questions still belong to a future that is hidden from us. But this does not, and should not, prevent us from continually reflect upon the value of sport. Perhaps it has become even more important to do so in the shadow of the crisis.

Long before we knew that a pandemic was awaiting us, but only a year ago, a book that highlights the very essence of football was published. You may well see the book as an example of the importance of constant reflection on what sport, in this case football, means for us, regardless of the time we happen to live in. The author of the book is the English philosopher (and Sheffield United supporter) Stephen Mumford.

Mumford has long been one of the most renowned in the field of sports philosophy. In particular, with his analytic-philosophical gaze, Mumford has studied the aesthetic values of sports, and so has come to illuminate aspects of sport that often fades in the general fixation on results, achievements and painful losses.

With his latest book, Football: The philosophy behind the game, Mumford goes deep into the inner life of football. In this slim volume, of a mere 122 pages, he uncovers the soul of football. The examination of this soul encompasses not only the game itself, but also the emotional patterns found not least in the spectators. Both parts are relevant to an in-depth understanding the game. So, he (again) writes about the importance of aesthetics for understanding the sport, about how emotions and thoughts are intimately interwoven to form a deep-rooted structure by which to understand the game. But he also writes about the space that fills the playing field, about a sport that is about winning and conquering surfaces, and about dialectical patterns that are formed when two sides meet on a pitch. There is a dynamic in this that is hard to get away from. Ultimately, it may be about finding a balance in an unbalanced world, which also contains a desire to win; a desire that would not always be found under the hallmark of beauty, but rather be marked by the darker sides of sports, the winning mentality. Stephen Mumford captures all of this in his book, and he does it with impressive precision.

But of course there’s more to be said. Even though the number of pages is small, each sentence carries more depth. But the depth that appears lies within each of us who has a relationship with sports, and as in this case, football. It is depth that has not been lost just because the beautiful game (for the time being) is halted and appears frozen in time.

Copyright © Kutte Jönsson 2020

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