Was Karl Marx still kicking around today he'd probably tweak the final
version of Das Kapital to replace religion with soccer as the
opiate of the masses.
Was Karl Marx still kicking around today he'd probably tweak the final version of Das Kapital to replace religion with soccer as the opiate of the masses.
Athough beer, television, fast food, celebrity gossip, shopping and opiates are all also pretty good opiates of the masses, none seem to come close to the round ball game for generating the same intensity of feeling, the same rapture and eye rolling craziness. 'Football' as it is understood and played almost everywhere but the US and Australia where it remains merely 'soccer', a put-upon minority pursuit is less sport or pastime than a religious cult, with all of the attendant saints and devils, and schisms of belief.
For a long time, while watching Football is God (SBSONE, June 8 at 11:50 pm) and In the Hands of the Gods (SBSONE, June 8 at 10 pm), I was really only thinking like this in metaphorical terms. But as the obsessed, possibly maniacal fans of the Argentinian Boca club in the former doco led me to understand, metaphor might not actually be enough to explain their passions and occasional disconnection from reality.
In donning priestly garb and annointing himself a holy man of the Church of Maradona, the poor benighted slum-dwelling Pablo - the least unhinged of these believers - seemed to cut his ties with the world of real things as well. Previously I'd found him to be the most insightful of the subjects in Football is God, demonstrating an awareness of the games' appeal to those who, like Marx's lumpenproles, have little or nothing else in their lives.
"You work from Monday to Friday just waiting," he says. "Waiting for Saturday or Sunday to go to the stadium. It takes away all your problems. Problems with family, with money, with your girlfriend. When you go to the stadium there are ninety minutes where you forget it all."
Of course you could get the same effect, enter the same "flow state", as it is known by psychologists, by reading a book or gardening or doing some vigourous exercise that simply took your mind off your troubles. But football to so many people, to hundreds of milions, possibly over a billion fans, is so much more than just a distraction like a favourite TV show or a trip the mall.
They may not be as completely deranged as Boca's in-house sports journalist Hernan, who looks genuinely crazy when the passions get the better of him, but to an outsider, an unbeliever, and I am one, the intensity of feeling which surrounds, say, the upcoming World Cup is all but inexplicable. I can understand intellectually, but I just cannot feel it down in my meat and bone, the way Hernan, La Tia and Pablo do. "So much passion, so much love, and endless waiting," as Hernan put it.
What is it that drives such belief? It's not simply a cultural thing, restricted to the fiery Latin nations. The five hapless vagabond travellers of In the Hands of the Gods (who attempt to busk their way from New York to Argentina) know it too, and are driven by same inexplicable engine across the Atlantic and down through the America's, all with no money, no resources and often no food or shelter. Just a blind faith in their ability as 'freestyle' football wizards to make good on their dreams of meeting Maradona.
Being cold hearted and rational, you'd have to ask, if their mad skillz had so obviously failed to deliver them into lives of ease and comfort at home, why would they be of any more use on a long, arduous and risky journey through hard and unknown lands?
Again, it seems that faith is the answer. Faith, the old trick, the Wizard of Oz revealed as nothing. Faith in the uniqueness of the self and even more so in the special nature of this game above all others. If life has not been kind to those five English lads, then football itself will surely smile upon them.
I wonder, watching TV like this, if I'm missing out by having no faith. Neither Maradona nor God lead the way for me, and seeing the intensity of belief, the love for there is no other word even remotely appropriate the love with which all of these crazed believers are gifted or cursed, I have to ask myself, am I missing out? Hernan's psychiatrist seems to think so.
What about you?