“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” - Albert Einstein
It's easy to take football for granted. It's easy to dismiss, particularly in this day, age and political climate, anything that does not conform to the popular narrative. It can be hard to look beyond society's current definition of “important”, perhaps because in the grand scheme of things very few things are as important as basic human rights, something seemingly at threat in a hundred different places for a paltry few reasons.
Personally, I consider the highest social priority to be the continuation of life on a personal level, with a focus on the individual - the celebration of community, the necessary pursuit of harmony and the adherence to traditional, worthwhile values. As far as I'm concerned more effort should be made to regain the sense of unity and communal dependence that is so lost to a generation and those that will follow it. I think about things like this a lot, often with drink in hand, but for the purposes of this article: it had me thinking on how amazing it truly is that even to this day, so very far removed from the paths our ancestors trod and the lives they led, we strive to embody the emotions of our past.
We have replaced fundamental tribal actions, and we have replicated tribal atmospheres, all to simulate and engage in a shared memory - one of sights and sounds and smells and energy, something quite literally written into our genetic code. Our love for football and sport in general is a deliberate, unwitting attempt to recreate our own primitive environment, and most of us don't even know why, we just know the way it makes us feel. We ride a wave of near-empathic emotion, linked and shared through physical and verbal communication. After all, by itself a gasp is just a gasp, but a sharp intake of breath from tens of thousands virtually explodes against your senses. It rings true with a primal part of you, it makes you aware of a perceived danger and in so doing triggers an ancient physiological response - an excitement, a rush of blood, a heightening of the senses.
This is why people can get carried away at the match. We've all got those mates – people we know are sound, but when the excitement comes over them they start snarling like starving dogs on a leash. It's like that scene from Fellowship of the Ring, where Bilbo see's the Ring again in Rivendell and goes all “darkest timeline” on himself, looking like a wraith for just a split second before he restrains himself. People in a mob can be like that.
If you've never felt that rush, you simply won't understand my point. In all likelihood though you're only reading this far in because you're a football fan and so will (hopefully) know exactly what this feels like. The mob lifts you up and carries you away, peripheral vision is filled with your people, the air is thick with anticipation and expectation. Your heart beats faster. You suddenly realise that you're lending your voice to the great song, and the distinction between the individual and the collective becomes blurred. It's all so very beautifully human.
The Druids whose beliefs once dominated the British Isles believed that “all sound is a faint and broken echo of the creative name”. I like that – it's apt. The roar of the collective is the Great Song. Emotion given form and voice, by will. You don't know you're doing it until you're doing it. It's in our nature, and it connects us in a way that few people truly realise. It makes you wonder about how unique we are in this sense.
I don't doubt that if an alien species were to descend upon our world and appraise us of our values and our faults they would be shocked at our capacity for raw emotion, particularly the pleasure derived from otherwise meaningless events. Let's face it - in a universal sense, all sport is meaningless, or at least anything that is beyond the systematic, efficient progression of athleticism and strength. And so this concept of building grandiose, imposing structures purposed purely for the entertainment of the wild masses, or diverting huge amounts of resources simply for the harnessing of esoteric pleasure, with no industrious or progressive intent, must surely be lost on all other life in the Universe.
We have built colosseums and arenas to rival any of the ancient world, at least in stature if not purpose. You may believe that the Camp Nou - home to those veritable Olympians of the game Barcelona - is the largest stadium in the world. It's not, and it's not even close. That honour goes to the good people of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea – the “Rungrado May Day Stadium” in Pyongyang has a capacity of a staggering 150,000 (though for how long, I'm not so sure).
Entire wars have been fought with less participants. During the dark days of war-ravaged England in the Middle Ages, huge, decisive Battles, of such scope and magnitude that we teach our children of them today, were fought between combatants numbering less than half the capacity of a modern stadium.
It is true that as an arrogant species with opposable digits we build monuments to glorify ourselves. Corporate skyscrapers, luxurious palaces – Sunderland AFC's owner, Ellis Short, has his very own golf course/castle resort and it is simply dripping with opulence; a testament to the wonders of glorious capitalism. But while these great edifices were built to symbolise our industrious spirit and celebrate the fickle materialism that simultaneously burdens and lifts us, sports stadia are designed and destined to achieve quite the opposite. For all of their pomp and magnificence, the Football stadium houses the Tribe.
Football stadiums have long been the home of entertainment for the working classes, and this is because not only are we the most numerous of social classes, but the most demanding. One voice asking a question isn't anywhere near as powerful as one thousand voices demanding an answer. The great, unabating cacophony of the masses, as they raise their hands and voices to the air, trembles the very foundations of these structures.
Look at Iceland in the Euro qualifiers. A land settled by Viking explorers over one thousand years ago, an entire civilisation that rose to it's peak and fell before you and I even breathed our first breath. Now don't get me wrong: England are a shit football team, poorly led by a shameless Football Association and a string of unworthy managers, but on paper, on pitch and by logic and common sense and all other accounts they should have beaten Iceland, a country that can boast precisely one good player, but they failed. Why? Because they're a shit football team, poorly led? That certainly didn't help, but when it came to the pivotal moment in which they could have changed what the world thought of them, when they could have fought for a bit of pride, they were undone by the mob. They heard the big bad vikings and they pissed their pants, as so many Englishmen have before them.
As fun as it is to simply slag off the England team, I am making a point. You can't ignore things that may seem simple and ineffective. The sound of a passionate, engaged crowd compared to one that is duty-bound to attend - even indentured in a sense - is on another level altogether. It isn't just sound, nor is it simply a large number of attendees. It isn't just a means to an end, just being there and watching isn't enough to be the twelfth man.
These structures were created to see use and at the end of the day the mob will have their sport. Corporations and various other arseholes will look at a stadium and see a capacity number, a ticket price and some advertising boards that they can splash the latest total bullshit product on, and that's the way of the world.
But to you and I, to the people, the Football stadium houses us. It houses the people, and so it houses the Tribe. If our football is terrible, most of our players, our owner, our CEO, our social media team, our marketing team, our PR team, our negotiating team, financial advisers in particular, are all just... not what we want them to be... then at least our home is worth fighting for. The Stadium of Light may change hands as far as written deeds are concerned, but the people own that place. They have since it's conception and will in it's death, as they did Roker Park before it.
So here's to our home, and the homes of so many of our cousin-fans in the beautiful game. That, at least, can never be taken from us.
Food for thought.