As I write, the Anfield leg of the derby is only 12 hours away. Like many Blues, Im well up for it. Ive been both anticipating and dreading this for weeks. The potential for exhilaration so great; the fear of depression so terrifying, and it’s all contingent on the actions of a group of professional sportsman over which I have no control.

But why do I care so much? And why did I bother myself over team injury news to the extent that it spoiled my weekend?

Thinking about this, and what a large part of my life Everton and football in general has become, I decided to write about what it might mean, if anything, at least to me, and how I reconcile that with my overall life-philosophy, considering all of the other things going on in the world that I choose to neglect by following The Blues so obsessively. I hope to show that our obsession is not only inevitable, but is in actual fact good for the world.

Football, to me, appears to be a system of tribalism, community and ritual, replete with symbolism, for which humans have an innate need. Football is an opportunity to transcend the self and become part of a collective whole greater than the sum of its parts. Football, then, is clearly more than just a game. Its something we (mostly male) humans like to do for the above stated reasons. And so we gather together, in groups, and kick a ball around a muddy field, or we huddle together in freezing stands to watch others do the same, all while governing ourselves by arbitrary ritual and symbolism... Have you ever asked yourself, why yellow and red cards? Why not blue, green and orange?

The need for football (and other collective rituals) can likely be explained in evolutionary terms. Its perhaps related to the group bonding exercises of our hunter-gatherer ancestors of aeons past. But football is not simply an Extended Phenotype for humans, like a spider weaving its web, or a beaver building its dam. It appears to me a little more complex than that.

I believe that football is needed because we humans have evolved to repress our true nature, as individuals, in order to cooperate as a social collective. This repression brings social rewards, of course, like literacy, peace treaties, law and order, etc., but it can also lead us, as individuals, to living our lives stuck in second gear, afraid to unleash the beast that lives within us. It can and does lead, in other words, to us being emotionally frustrated and repressed. As Thoreau said, Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them. This is where football becomes essential.

Us football fans, who keenly feel the chains of this repression, and without ever needing to put it into words, have created a (for the most part) safe and controlled environment in which we can let the beast out of its cage. As players or fans, on match day, we channel our evolutionary past by switching off the critical mind, the ego and super-ego, and letting the beast loose. And as we scream obscenities and howl against injustice, for just 90 minutes, the anguished wails of our distant ancestors echo through time, as we express our wills, without complication or burdened by the need for sophistication. Free from the nagging wife. Free from the sociopathic boss. Free from the bondage of society that seeks to hold us firmly in our stratum of the social pyramid in order to exploit us. We are at one with our genesis, and with our true nature; at one with ourselves, and with one another. And we certainly can’t be accused of taking the song to the grave with us! (and if you know yer ’istory...)

So what is football? Football is freedom to be ourselves, at some deep psychological level that we have yet to fully understand. Football satisfies our innate need for community, ritual, symbolism, and tribalism, in line with our true nature, although contained within a (mainly) safe and healthy environment. In other words, its an elegant, evolved, mechanism (or meme) which allows us to be uncontrolled, within a controlled environment. (Or uncivilized within a civilized environment.) This would seem to perform an essential function at this juncture in our evolutionary history, and indeed must remain essential for the foreseeable future.

Football is, therefore, absolutely essential to the healthy functioning of civilized humanity, a fact that must have been known, intuitively or intellectually, to the Methodists of St Domingo’s when they established our wonderful club back in 1878. (Or else, why did they not just exhort the young working class men to go to church or to say extra prayers on a Saturday?). Football is cathartic, and without it the life of the average fan would be much the worse off.

And thats why I love football. I love it for the freedom and exhilaration it brings. I love it because it allows us to be ourselves, without any of the complications of ego. I love it because it provides structure and meaning to our lives, in an otherwise empty and uncaring universe. I love it because it is made by humans, for humans, and it may just be our greatest invention alongside antibiotics and the aqueduct. Given this critical role it plays in the lives of its fans, how can we feel guilty about the time we invest into it? What else could possibly be worthy of our time and attention to such a degree?

And lets not apologize to those snobs who wont even try to understand. Those who think they are better than us because their hobby is more cultured than ours. The wine buffs, the bibliophiles, the luvvies. Because you know what? Until youve felt the noise of the Gwladys Street for yourself, until youve lost yourself into that clamor, until youve merged your will with 40,000 other souls, to the point where you cease to be an individual, and instead become part of a mysterious force pulling the ball into the goal, then you cant hope to understand, and no arrangement of prose or music or poetry could ever be written to help you do so.

In conclusion, could I be doing more for the starving children of the world? Maybe. Should the latest political developments in Israel be a concern? I suppose... But, given all I have outlined above, I believe that a life spent focussed around football can never be a wasted life, and that the more we encourage the game of football to grow and spread around the globe, the closer we will be to achieving the eventual goal of world peace, always, and in every place, except for the day and location of the local derby. Well, thats my excuse for it all anyway. Whats yours?

Share this article

Follow @Bluedomash

Reader Comments (21)

Note: the following content is not moderated or vetted by the site owners at the time of submission. Comments are the responsibility of the poster. Disclaimer

Tony Onslow
1 Posted 28/01/2014 at 13:02:47
Nice article Dom and yes I agree football is a game that gives the individual a little sense of extra pride that he can feel, within the confines of his own community, about the team he has chosen to support. It was the first team game that gave him a sense of belonging to something that would keep him entertained during the few hours of leisure time he had available to him. It was, I believe, once a game for the working man but now, at the top level, it is beginning to drift away from him.

ps: Anyone for another prawn sandwich?

Andrew Ellams
2 Posted 28/01/2014 at 13:46:14
It must be pretty dull to be brought up in an area like Norwich were the major rivals are some distance away and you miss out on all the playground banter and mixed sets of supporters in the local.

I was born on Merseyside into a mixed family (mums side are reds) and then brought up in Chorley so pretty much between Liverpool and Manchester so had kids who supported all 4 of the big teams and those that followed the Lancashire clubs too. The school playground used to be a brutal place to be, especially in the mid 80s.

Raymond Fox
3 Posted 28/01/2014 at 13:41:31
Dominic you're spot on, I agree with every word.
Football is tribal warfare I would say, where we're paying indirectly Gladiators (Players) to battle for our tribe.

I know in my most disappointed moments watching our team, I often think why the hell am I getting so upset/depressed about events that you've really so little influence over.
On the other hand sometimes, such as the season were enjoying, we experience great joy!

Life would be very boring without it, I reckon.

Kevin Tully
4 Posted 28/01/2014 at 14:03:04
I often look at people who say they they don't follow football with a little pity to be honest. Some of the best times I have had were following the blues - memories for life. Away games when you are young, happy days. Celebrating a goal with my lad at his first game was something to treasure.

Some people love drink, sport, money, drugs or women.

I'm so lucky to have a taste for all of the above (Only messin' - honest!)

Albert Crocker
5 Posted 28/01/2014 at 13:54:08
Just a couple of questions.

Why did football and not the two codes of rugby, American football, Aussie rules football or basketball not conquer the world's imagination?

All of them, very broadly speaking, share the same common goals. Attack your opponents' weak spot - basket, touchline or goal.

And you might argue that all of the alternatives to football use hands - surely a far more natural form of showing prowess than restricting yourself to just feet and heads.

I would suggest that the success of the game that we love owes more to history than to sociology or anthropology.

One way or another I, for one, will not sleep tonight. Either laughing or crying will keep that Everton duvet tossing & turning all night.

Dennis Stevens
6 Posted 28/01/2014 at 16:29:16
Albert, I think the other sports just have too many contrivances to make them work football is much simpler. Also, with any kind of ball, or something that passes for one, you can fashion a form of football in most circumstances where perhaps other games wouldn't adapt or work so well. Football's simplicity has made it universal.
Kane Green
7 Posted 28/01/2014 at 16:54:27
A fellow Dawkins obsessive I take it Dom?!

I've often thought along these lines myself. Football, to me, feels like a place where all that suppressed rage and frustration of the mundane, sedentary lives we lead (compared to our more primitive ancestors) can come out relatively safely. Who hasn't wanted to scream, eyes bulging and mouth contorted in the way when faced with some petty managerial decision in the office. I know I have. Football allows you to vent these passions without facing bankruptcy and/or a reputation as a social pariah!

Similarly, those of us who've played roar into tackles and throw heads into flying boots without a thought of injury. That basic need for 'violence' and tribal battle is partly satisfied on the pitch.

Barry Rathbone
8 Posted 28/01/2014 at 17:07:09
In summary Football is war without killing and humans like a good war - probably about right.
Nick Entwistle
9 Posted 28/01/2014 at 17:17:59
"Us football fans, who keenly feel the chains of this repression, and without ever needing to put it into words, have created a (for the most part) safe and controlled environment in which we can let the beast out of its cage."

Very true.

I was reading The New Male Sexuality by Bernie Zilbergeld. His thoughts on the attraction of sport for men are that in growing-up emotions are simply not tolerated in boys. Crying, touching, a sharing of emotion are perceived weaknesses and will be on the receiving end of calls of being a girl or being sissy etc. And this is reinforced by toys such as fire trucks and guns for boys where by the macho is relevant, where as girls who play with dolls promote feelings of empathy, care, a sharing of... you know, girl stuff.

Sport however allows the excuse among men to experience the inherent desire for these 'sissy' emotions where by they can cheer, cry, hug, dress up, bond... a whole bunch of such emotions that in any other environment they would have been conditioned to distance themselves from.

Si Cooper
10 Posted 28/01/2014 at 17:08:27
Decent article Dom, but I would challenge the accuracy of some of your suggestions. It is sad that an arrogant knob like Dawkins is the first person people think of when they come across an anthropological discussion.

In particular, we haven't evolved to repress our true natures, we have simply expanded on a basic reliance on group co-operation shown by many other of our primate relatives. Quite simply, we are generally far safer and more successful as a group than we are as individuals and this is hard-wired into us. It is both pointless and wasteful to wage war and it is this that is unnatural, not the communication (literacy) or peace that you postulate. The only natural 'excuse' for any kind of warfare is competition for limited resources or removal of a threat.

In addition you haven't separated the 'player' and the 'spectator' roles which are actually quite different. Sport is an outlet for the planning, energy and aggression that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have required to thrive in their environments and is likely to have existed in some form since we became farmers, though the leisure time to play organised games is severely restricted in all but the most advanced societies. Football clubs were formed for the benefit of the players (and the incidental benefit of their local societies by having those excess energies channeled) and likely not in any way shape or form for the spectators.

Humans do indeed enjoy spectating / shared appreciation (I am an advocate of the experience myself) but it is not really limited to sports and your off-hand dismissal of other peoples particular tastes is as disappointing as the disdain you assume they regard football supporters with. In my experience, there are far more people who enjoy a variety of different distractions than those whose choose to dedicate themselves to a solitary calling.

There is something exciting about shared emotionally charged experiences that people get swept up in and it is innate, we like the affiliation and the 'advantages' that accords. We stick to our 'group' because we are primed to see loyalty as a virtue (treason / betrayal still hold a major revulsion for most of us) but there is a fine line between camaraderie and mob mentality. By all means we should enjoy the release of that which a relatively mundane, limited and sanitized lifestyle can unfortunately bottle up, but we should also remain aware that expression without control is not a liberation of our 'true nature', just our unfortunate excesses.

Because there is always a spectrum of characteristics in a population (which is what an evolutionary significant pressure selects against) some people are not 'team players'. That does not stop them from supporting a team however, as an affiliation can simply be chosen to show the 'good taste' of the individual. This is where glory hunter fans come from, picking a team based on its current standing and the consequent reflected glory. They will flit from team to team because they are not conscious of being part of a group, rather assuming that everyone wants to look the best just as they do.

Eugene Ruane
11 Posted 28/01/2014 at 18:25:15
Albert (801) - "Why did football and not the two codes of rugby, American football, Aussie rules football or basketball not conquer the world’s imagination?"

I could show you with a packet of Bensons.

I’d shout ’catch!’ then toss the fag-packet at you and you’d catch it.

Then I take the pack off you.

Next I’d shout ’catch it with your foot!’ before I tossed it.

You might sort of lift your leg a bit but the Bensons would end up on the deck.

And there, imo, is the reason football is the world’s game and rugby is played by a handful of countries and a few Pacific atolls - it’s infinitely more skillful.

And no matter how much BBC/Sky/The Observer etc, try and promote rugby, the world understands that moving a ball around a field with your feet is a thousand times more engrossing than watching a fatty deliberately welly the ball out of play, or charge into other fatties with an egg tucked under his arm.

Si Cooper
12 Posted 28/01/2014 at 19:34:33
Eugene - For the first time in a long time I find one of your contributions to be unpalatable (I am hoping it is somewhat tongue in cheek though it seems unnecessarily barbed).

As has already been pointed out, it is the simplicity of the game that gives football its pre-eminence. All that is needed is some flat ground, a couple of people and a ball and you can play football, even a wall adding a variety that you won't get in other sports. Therefore, football is uniquely urban which is where most people live and get their first exposure.

Don't know what your issue with egg-chasing is? It is a very different sport, though its origins are in football, and has its own nuances and skills. Absolutely no reason why any individual can't enjoy / appreciate both (personally I pity anyone who thinks you can only like one or the other). You are never going to get a proper game of street rugby though and keepy-uppy does become a much simpler exercise! :)

Derek Thomas
13 Posted 29/01/2014 at 10:43:10
Si there is no such thing as street rugby coz you can't plough through somebody aka tackle them in the street.

There is Rugby, League, Sevens, 'Touch the the game we used to call tick.

You can play footy on your own, just running and dribbling with the ball or kicking it against the wall.

There's what we used to call ' spot' with 2 3 4 or more players ( usually against and end of terrace wall )

Attack and defence to be played with small odd numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 or at a push 7 ( one in goal 2 attackers 2 defenders)

Goalie in or out - 2 Vs 2 + a goalie

Then Games of any number that lasted all morning, until you went in for your dinner...all afternoon, until you went in for your tea... then until it went too dark to see.

Derek Thomas
14 Posted 29/01/2014 at 11:05:14
Short version: If Football didn't exist, we would have to invent we did
Albert Crocker
15 Posted 29/01/2014 at 14:23:32
Eugene (932)

For a take on this that you may not have considered go to You Tube, enter a search for 'Redneck & Soccer' and be prepared for an enlightening experience.

I advise you to have a pee before you do so.

Let me know what you think.

Si Cooper
16 Posted 29/01/2014 at 14:55:16
Derek (#463) - thanks for agreeing with me (though I don't think you think you were).

For the record, I was supporting the pre-eminence of football having played it for as long as I can remember, I just don't think there is any need to sneer at the other sports (some of which I also enjoy playing though they came later in my life).

I know there is no such thing as street rugby; that was the point I was making - the ubiquity and accessibility of footie in its many forms.

Eugene Ruane
17 Posted 29/01/2014 at 19:53:59
Si Cooper, in post 801, Albert Crocker asks a question.

"Why did football and not the two codes of rugby, American football, Aussie rules football or basketball not conquer the world's imagination?"

It's not a question that can be answered 'correctly' or where you can say 'I'm right' - one can only give it some thought and give an opinion.

And, re rugby, that's what I did.

For the record, I only have three criteria when posting.

1) Say what I think.

2) And er..

3) That's it.

You say ' I pity anyone who thinks you can only like one or the other'. do I (I suppose), but that's not the case and it's disingenuous to suggest that's what I was doing (or suggesting).

If the subject is raised (nb: as it was) I think football is a superb, incredibly skillful, beguiling game and (important bit) BY COMPARISON, I think rugby is a shite game.

And the facts remain, football IS the world's game and only about 8 countries play rugby (seriously) (and half of them are in Britain) and even in those places, the interest is only really with international games

(see Sale Sharks of the Aviva Premier League, average att 6116. Luton Town of the Skrill Football Conference, average attendance, 6751)

And one more thing, as well as thinking that, aesthetically speaking, rugby is a mess of a game, it doesn't help (me) that union is a game steeped in the elitism of public schools.

Bet you're glad you asked.

Si Cooper
18 Posted 03/02/2014 at 00:40:57
Eugene - I am very disappointed to see 'class war' prejudices clouding a reasonable debate on a forum where the only criteria should be our regard / loyalty to Everton Football Club. If you think rugby union is only played and enjoyed by a stereotypical public school product then you have obviously only had very limited or localized exposure.

If you read my initial post you will see that I don't believe sport is just about skill (which comes down a lot to innate co-ordination), with speed, strength, stamina, bravery, mental discipline, and psychology all being part of the blend (and the attraction for the participant), and I very much doubt that the average football supporter is as much of an aficionado as you are. As Stephen Sullivan points out, what is popular will also tend to attract those who just like to be part of the herd.

As for aesthetics, well beauty is in the eye of the beholder isn't it? Some of us just don't have one 'type', but that should be allowable because you can't 'cheat' on a sport.

As you (inadvertently?) pointed out in your response at 732, Albert's initial question listed a variety of sports. So why did your original post spasm into a dig at one sport in particular? Generally I really like your contributions but this one was unnecessarily sour and deliberately barbed.

Alex Kociuba
19 Posted 03/02/2014 at 03:09:00
You need to lighten up, Si.
Si Cooper
20 Posted 03/02/2014 at 03:38:30
Fantastic contribution Alex. Thanks for the advice.
Eugene Ruane
21 Posted 04/02/2014 at 16:38:00
Si Cooper, in response to your post 577 - it seems not only have I let you down, I've let TW down and worst of all..

You whine..

"Eugene - I am very disappointed to see 'class war' prejudices clouding a reasonable debate on a forum where the only criteria should be our regard / loyalty to Everton Football Club"

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh god no.

(nb: I'm guessing by 'reasonable', that's anything you deem reasonable)


"Generally I really like your contributions but this one was unnecessarily sour and deliberately barbed".

Jeus, who the fuck are you, Kenneth Tynan?

I'm not in the least bit interested in what does or doesn't disappoint you.

Plus I couldn't give a monkey's toss what you (nb: or anyone else) thinks is 'necessary' - I write what I think is necessary and if it's deemed 'too much', it'll be removed by TW.

(for the record, 99% of what's posted on TW isn't 'necessary')

You continue with..

"If you read my initial post you will see that I don't believe sport is..."

Sorry but I really don't care what YOU 'believe' sport is (but thanks for trying to enlighten me)

It really seems to me (from your disappointment) that you see TW as some kind of friend-face reunited,

Well, I don't (lad/mate/fella).

A question was asked (by Albert) and accepting it was something one/I COULDN'T be correct about, I gave my opinion.

You don't like it?

Tough titty!

As for 'deliberately barbed', yes it was...and?

(is deliberately barbed not allowed? Is this Si-web?)).

Suggestion - rather than trying to present yourself as a cross between Private Godfrey and Mr Chips (but imo coming across classic passive-aggressive) why not just concentrate on your actual 'argument'.

Your first paragraph (577) tells us we should think of nothing but Everton, we should unite in our Evertonness, while living in harmony in the land of going on (and fucking on) to say how wrong I am about rugby.

By all means let me have another blast of cold hard semantics but you should know, I'm immune to 'reasonable' (particularly your brand of unreasonable reasonable).

Add Your Comments

In order to post a comment, you need to be logged in as a registered user of the site.

» Log in now

Or Sign up as a ToffeeWeb Member — it's free, takes just a few minutes and will allow you to post your comments on articles and Talking Points submissions across the site.

About these ads

© ToffeeWeb