As the shores of the Earth move and the sands of time fall into place, human beings forge their way in the world through glorious diversity. Different religions merge with different beliefs and shape the structure of society and culture. Religion itself is not universal. The Pope leads 1.2 billion Catholics whilst Christianity reaches far and wide across Western Civilisation and into parts of Africa. But in the Middle East, Asia and the north of Africa, there are a variety of religious standpoints.
Only mathematics and science compete with football as a universal language. The difference with mathematics and science is they are not entirely and completely accessible to the masses – but football is. Football’s community is the world.
More than one billion people watched the 2014 World Cup Final and the tournament attracted over 3.2 billion unique viewers. Half of the population of the Earth put aside any quarrels or disagreements to watch games of football at exactly the same moment in time. Many viewers watched the games with others. For them, time stops, enhancing life with only the players and ball existing in a transient moment of serenity. Whether it is a cloth ball spun from shreds or a finely leather bound orb – the triviality of life is left behind. We are all moving to different songs on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam we call Earth, and for many of us the song is football. Because football is life.
Football brings down social barriers. Anyone who can find something resembling jumpers can build goalposts – and as long as a tightly stitched bag of wind pushed into a spherical shape can roll – football will continue to be life. It is the global sport, the global language, and the bringer of unity to an ever disunited world. Football transcends politics, religion and war. Over the last century, countries locked in battlefield turmoil have set differences aside to play football. Even during World War One, both sides downed weapons on Christmas Day as part of a truce to play a simple game of football.
Of all the world’s sports, it is the only one played globally for love and passion. Before the million pound sponsor and endorsement deals, before the television revenue and the shady world of agents and transfers – boys and girls play the game because of the love and emotional connection they feel for the sport. Before professionals played in behemoth stadiums under glittering lights and intruding cameras, they played somewhere else, anywhere else. A field, playground or car park. A garage block, sports hall or astropitch. A beach, desert or litter dump. Like nature, football finds a way.
The game is a draw for spectators, not just on television, but live. Every week around the world, millions of people gather in football stadiums and on the sides of public playing fields to watch the sport they love. Fundamentally, it is the same for all. Ninety minutes, two teams and goals – millions of goals are scored every day in some guise. And they pull us back for more; to play, to watch, to coach, and talk about.
Football has been described as art. But it is also a soap opera. An ongoing dramatic narrative with heroes and villains, plots and subplots, trial and retribution, comedy and tragedy, victory and defeat. Everyone is able to critique the game and give opinion on the wealth and breadth of football’s growing troupe of pantomime characters.
The game celebrates individualism as well as team spirit. A flourish of a drifting feinted shoulder, a sly pass caressed on the outside of a boot, or the striking of a long distance goal. The individual has opportunity to stand out, to elevate, to produce something utterly spectacular. The team can move organically like a beast plotting how to attack a fleeing prey. With every move, a fluid football team traversing the length and breadth of a pitch can be a sight of pure and unadulterated beauty.
The game of football offers unpredictability outside the imaginative realm of even the most accomplished authors, plot-spinners and story tellers. It offers conquest against all odds, last minute escapes, unexpected impossible comebacks, and battle weary soldiers sparring in immovable deadlocks until the last moment. There is passion, skill and bravery encompassing all aspects of football. The emotion is enough to overwhelm grown adults and children alike.
The game is humbling and character building. Our united love of it should remind us of the joy of human spirit, nature and life. It reminds us, that as we do with football, life should be cherished. Football builds bridges between social classes. The playing, watching, arranging and discussing of football can unite classes. But it cannot change the dynamics of class. The gap between rich and poor, working class and elite, those in power and those who are not, will always remain. In moments, like the World Cup Final in 2014, those gaps and gulfs between class and money vanish, if only for a ephemeral moment in time.
The game of football does not, and has not, influenced the course of human history in the way politics, war and money have. Instead, football’s influence on global culture transcends anything and everything, etching itself into the very fabric of our society. It is more than game. It is community, religion and ritual. Any recount of human history will have to at some point discuss football. It has influenced political, economic and social aspects of the world’s society. It will continue to do so because it is a simple and elegant dance amongst the complications of human civilisation.
The game is like no other; connecting and binding us, reaching far across the world and bleeding through the skin of our culture, touching life in all forms, genders and races. It does not discriminate because football is life. Football is the universe.