I have been thinking a lot about writing a post on Football. There are many considerations I would like to point out but the abundance of perspectives on the same sport can have the opposite effect: denaturalise and weaken each and every item in the list. My solution is to deal with each point separately and hopefully at the end of this series of posts my idea on this disgusting and beautiful game.
My personal point of view is, I must admit, biased. Yes, because I started quite late to get interested to it. I have some very good memories as a kid, going to the stadium (Stadio San Nicola in Bari, in the picture) with the family. We used to be 6 to 10 people, most of the time the children would go with the grandfather in a minivan, enjoying the trip in such an unconventional vehicle. Among the memories I cherish today are my grandfather bringing a bag of tangerines, a full bag of tangerines as snack. I remember having a “panino con la parmigiana”: a layered, aubergine based, Italian dish. As you can see from this picture I have been eating the same typical (or a-typical) dish till my mid-twenties.
Apart from family, food and a fortnight trip in a minivan my memories of football are quite dead. Wait, I remember the names of the players and the games. I remember Andersson missing two penalties in the same game against Atalanta.
I remember the goal Antonio Cassano scored against Inter, with which he was thrown into the football that matters. I remember my dad hugging me in that infernal 60-thousand-people crowd.
I have a very vague memory of the night Italy won 2-1 against England in the Third place match of the Italia ’90 World cup finals.
I have been exposed pretty much all my childhood to football, but it never really got to me. I used to to karate. I don’t remember the beginning because I was too young, probably around 5 or 6 years old. I remember liking it a lot. It was a continuous learning experience. The respect for the opponent, the lessons on the ethics and the moral of knowing how to hurt someone but choosing not to do it unless being forced to. I had a great Sensei who cared very much about teaching discipline and power of will. Getting a full training and improving the proprioceptive abilities, the coordination and the body care.
When I turned 15 I decided to try football. I was quite influenced by my peers. Many of them started some 8-9 years before and were already very good at it. I started training and I realised that even if I always played with friends on the street, on the asphalt, I knew nothing of this sport. I had to learn and I had to do it fast because the rest of the team was already much better than I was.
What they taught me was not only how to touch the ball, how to pass and similar. They taught me a lot more. They taught me how to cheat. How to pull a shirt, stomp on someone’s foot to prevent them from jumping, pretend to be hurt when someone barely pushes you. This was a bit contrary to what I had learnt before but I could deal with it. After all, everyone used to “play” dirty.
Years went by and I kept playing learning more about the tactics than the technique. I had some good coaches and they influenced me with their lessons on those dreadful clay pitches.
I never stopped playing but I shifted towards amateur leagues and with a bunch of friends we got some satisfaction, winning some challenging tournaments and enjoying the holiday set as a prize.
Now, many years have passed and I truly enjoy playing football. I do that a lot, about 3 times a week and on all types of pitches: 5-a-side, 6-a-side, 7-a-side, 8-a-side, 11-a-side. I am no legend of football but I enjoy it and that is enough for me. Who knows me can tell the joy I get from it. Sport is supposed to bring good feelings, stimulate mind and body. To push a person’s limits, learn new things, improve and get to know new people. This is the type of football I built around me. I might get upset during a game and swear but I will always respect my opponent. Some hard hits are still there, after all it’s a tough sport, but the dirty stuff is definitely not for me. I tend to come home quite battered and even if I moan and complain on the surface it actually makes me feel good. Knowing I gave my best.
Today is 21st of January 2015 and I watched Barcelona – Atletico Madrid (Barcelona player throws the ball at the referee: video) and now I hate football. It’s a disgraceful tragi-comic parody of what I do 3 times a week, for fun. The players on the pitch are paid to do what I usually pay to do. The supporters around are, quite sadly, part of the show. Their attitude is terrible, as terrible as the attitude of those puppets on the grass. From the first minute to the last I witnessed a depressing alternation of dives (with facial expressions that could have won the academy award), deliberate kicks to hurt the opponent (without the simulation because when it hurts you don’t cry as if your dog passed away), abusive language or behaviour towards the referee and the linesmen and as you can imagine the list can go on.
I understand how money and interests can radically turn a sport into an abominable potpourri of poor acting, WWE wrestling and authority disrespect. I feel torn inside, my feelings are pulled from one side by an experience of intelligence and strength that I enjoy so much, on the other side by a disappointing hoax. Staged in every detail, detrimental for the learning minds of the younger ones. What you see is what you get. A player gets barely touched and rolls on the ground (shouting and holding the wrong part of the body) and the referee gives foul is a lesson that states: “he who gets barely touched will get a penalty/free kick if and only if he rolls on the ground, expressing great pain and holding some part of his body”. What can we expect ?
I am deeply disappointed. Sometimes, like tonight, I think it is me, it is something to do with me. When everyone around me who claims to love football justifies this behaviour or insults the referee, I feel like I don’t belong to football. It is not my thing.
I’m going to bed a bit sad but tomorrow I’ll play and I will leave this craziness behind and that will indeed be my thing.