Beautiful game can get ugly

2009-11-20 11:35

Some years ago, I spent two weeks touring the UK with seven other poets from across the world. On the second day of the tour, however, I discovered that our views on popular entertainment differed.

We were sitting backstage at a theatre in London, chatting, getting to know each other when the topic turned to TV.

Immediately, one of the seven announced that TV is an idiot box that brainwashes us all. This was followed by a second poet proclaiming that sport was not far behind TV in its negative impact on society because it is confrontational.

I had to make a stand, after all, at the time I was working in TV production, doing content for Afro Café and Zwahashu and I could not take the insult to my livelihood lying down.

Also, the main sport in question was football. I was never much of a player, but I more than make up for it with my enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication to the myriad teams that I support, which include Ghana’s Black Stars, Germany’s Bayern Munich, England’s Liverpool and local team Kaizer Chiefs. For as long as I have known what football is, I have supported these teams.

Naturally, I stood up and defended the game and have continued to support my teams, come rain or shine, absorbing the disappointments and celebrating the achievements.

Now, over the 20-plus years that I have been actively following football, I have worked out it is a marathon not a sprint.

You can be up today and down tomorrow and back up the week after. Like all things in life, it is a cycle. Some of what were considered the greatest teams in the past have floundered while others, who were nowhere, now operate at the pinnacle.

From this realisation, I have tried to adopt an approach that is less about being against and more about being for. So, I am not against other teams, I am for my team. I recognise when we haven’t played well, when we haven’t deserved to win, and when we have deserved to win – regardless of the final result.

When my team loses, I look at what we could have done better to win the game and, unless my team fell victim to blatant bias by officials, I don’t waste my energy trashing the other team. Naturally, there are teams that I do not like, but these are few and I shy away from commenting on them. If you are for your team, cool. I am assuming that it isn’t a fickle, fashionable thing that will change tomorrow.

What has alarmed me over the last year or so is the level of aggression with which others approach the game and their team.
I have friends who will concern themselves more with my team than theirs, which has the potential to create tension and conflict. Could it be that I am the only person trying to focus on my team? That can’t possibly be so, can it?

My approach to football is the same as the way I try to approach life, though I don’t always get it right. I have also discovered that many of my friends also don’t.

I had one friend alarmed at my congratulating his team after my team lost to them. I believe it is good sportsmanship to acknowledge when others have done well.

There is a book by Franklin Foer called How Football Explains The World that explores “how the beautiful game and its followers can illuminate the fault lines of the world around it, from poverty to anti-Semitism to radical Islam”.

I also still remember, while a child, the image of a man being chased and stabbed repeatedly at a ­Pirates football match. This was aired live on TV.

I know how passionate we can get and have seen documentaries such as Football Hooligans which show the lengths to which some people will go in their ‘support’ of their teams. We have a World Cup coming to our shores, with people from all over the world coming to celebrate their teams and their support. If we approach the game from an ‘against’ position, there is the potential for conflict and my poet friend – he of the ‘confrontational’ theory – is proved right.

Write to Kojo on kojobaffoe@gmail.com
 

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