The World Cup began yesterday. I’ve been counting down to this showpiece since the last one ended. They call it the Beautiful Game, the greatest sporting event on earth (probably after the Olympics). I love the World Cup, not only because England and Nigeria, my two home nations, are competing in it. There are so many aspects to the sport, so many details that though at first it may seem a simple game, it soon becomes a complex make-up involving science, art, fortune and storytelling. Football is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it is many things, including
MULTICULTURAL. 32 teams from as many nations representing 6 confederations. So many different cultures, ways of life, religions and languages. The Nigerian team alone are a put-together of hundreds of languages and dialects, 3-4 major ethnic groups and around 195-200 million people and counting. It is one of the very few global sporting events that feel truly inclusive and working to end needless racism and discrimination in matches.
This culturalism is important to bridge divides, especially in countries like Nigeria where division is an ongoing issue. Everybody unites behind their team, and every team brings stories of their culture and languages, making it feel almost
PERSONAL. There are team fact-files, then there are player profiles. And in the player profiles the programme could cover everything from the player’s birth to the present day. Each becomes not just a number and a jersey, but a person (which they are). Each one’s individual story is tied into their aspirations for their team. Apart from making them feel more relatable, this creates an emotional aspect to the competition. It’s
emotional for the players, and it’s emotional for the fans. I remember the 2014 semi-final match between Brazil and Germany, which Germany won 7-1. The scoreline was a shock, but the evident feelings of the players and fans is what I remember the most. Losing so heavily in an important match in their own nation; you could see the tears from both the players and the fans. Although a temporary feeling, it was testament to their wounded pride, ambition and hope. As a fan, there’s no physical reward for me if my teams progress or not. But there is the emotional joy of supporting a team that succeeds. For a country like Nigeria, there is the national pride that can radiate to other parts of the nation’s composition, leading to success where there has previously only been failure. I also really enjoy the
TACTICS AND ANALYSIS. I love when things have complexity, especially things that were originally thought to be simple. I like structures upon which multi-layered details are built. I think football tactics are like that, and In a slightly abstract way, they remind me of storytelling frameworks. I’ve read parts of Book Architecture (by Stuart Horwitz) and The Magic Words (by Cheryl B. Klein), and each of these books have quite technical approaches to writing fiction, especially plot development. Horwitz’ idea of ‘series’ as opposed to conventional plot development reminds me of football formations: 4 4 2, 4 3 3, 4 5 1 etc. Each formation is ultimately designed to make the most of players’ abilities, especially key players, challenge them and stop the opposing team from scoring. The details go right into when and how far a player should run, who each player should mark and how to work successfully together as a team. When we think of writing stories, we don’t usually think of the framework each story might be built on. But when we study/ re-read novels, we see the red-herrings, the mention of an object before it becomes important and character arches. Maybe I’m reaching, but the tactical significance behind each team’s behaviour in a game shows the detail that has gone into decision-making, and can even go as far as making tactical fouls. This doesn’t necessarily make the game easy, but definitely makes it entertaining, much like our most valued stories. And then there’s the analysis, where people break down the performance of each team, valuing their achievements (or lack of) , and giving opinions of what the team/s could have done better. I sometimes find myself doing the same in games, and this adds to the emotional investment. I’m not just a spectator, I’m a critical spectator. I wish that was a real job, more so because football is
FUNNY. It has the drama of some of my favourite reality shows. And in a way, it is a reality show. Emotions are pretty much laid bare on the field, and there is a large spectrum of them: from hate to love, to anger to joy. All in the space of 90 minutes plus added time. These emotions can sometimes give way to absurdly petty behaviour, or a team is playing so badly you wonder for a moment whether they’re doing it on purpose. But it’s not only the players themselves, but spectators’ reactions to the game. Sometimes whilst watching a game on television, the wide-angle camera will focus on someone dramatically reacting to events, which is then used by people on twitter to create memes. This makes football feel like an
EXPERIENCE. A composition of everything above and more. And these experiences create memories. Because I remember the disappointment or happiness from a particular game, I also remember other things I was doing that day. Everything takes on added significance, and significant is what I want my life experiences to be.
There are many more words I would use to describe football. Not least because it can truly demonstrate humanity’s more admirable traits: determination, comeback, bravery, support and creativity. Interestingly, these are also some of the characteristics of my favourite stories. Stories of ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’, stories both real and fictional, which highlight the power of mankind to overcome obstacles. It ties into a word I’ve been thinking about a lot this month:
(noun. The quality or fact of being very determined).
And I love that football is for everyone. That is the message the footballing world is trying to promote. No matter who you are, where you live or how much you have.