Wear your football culture

Photo by Ben Tavener

Photo by Ben Tavener

It’s over now; Germany are the victors and critics are hailing their success a victory for teamwork, long-term thinking, planning and dedication . In this there is something we can all learn as we work to engage with the challenges of the future.

That football has been a (semi) constant topic of conversation here at CSF maybe nothing more than a room full of football fans. Or it may be a continued exploration of ideas around identity, cities, urbanisation, globalisation, groups and politics that are not dissimilar to the conversations we have about fashion every day.

Like fashion, football is about our culture and our social identities, about money, glamour, fame. It’s about insiders and outsiders, them and us, groups and ‘others’. It’s about where we live, how we feel about wherever that might be. It’s also about where we travel to and how we interact with the world around us from within the confines of our identity. More and more both football and fashion are about consumption. And like fashion, it is both something we observe and something we participate in.  Much of the above is expressed materially through football strips, t-shirts, flags and colour, which in turn influence the spaces we occupy and how we behave in these spaces.

The football team also epitomises a challenge we are particularly interested in – the tension around our desire to be an individual and yet be part of a group. Observe a football team and it’s possible to see the tension between this contradictory desire and over the past month we have seen it played out through a variety of hairstyles, tattoos and various coloured boots – all of which served to mark out the individual within the team.  In stadium, in the crowd, no individual voice can be heard, it is about the masses, the voice of the crowd – but within that crowd, each individual voice is important.

In November we are taking part in a festival of the humanities called Being Human. For this we have been thinking about how we ‘wear our culture’ and ideas around citizenship and human connection. The World Cup has given me reason to look at Brazil and how football has brought these issues around citizenship and responsibility to the fore there. Over the past year huge numbers of people have been taking to the streets to make various demands to their government and have their voices heard. These complaints were and are still connected to the Copa though not necessarily directly through football – but rather through the interconnected nature of culture, politics and economics. Again, below the surface football like fashion is about politics. In this case, football was a catalyst in engaging people in complex political issues.

Last year, I was in Manaus when around 60,000 people took to the streets. The crowds were awash with yellow with trims of green and blue. It felt like match day – there was chanting, dancing and the air was full of optimism and hope. The demands of the crowd were diverse from the cost of transport to the lack of infrastructure and poor investment in education, though even then there were banners calling for “FIFI to go home”. In these protests football, fashion and politics were mingling. Their connections between one another and to their environment was clear and the crowd was united, their identity proudly displayed in yellow despite their political differences and criticisms.