Ion Grumeza

Author, historian, educator, and philosopher

The Power of Soccer

The Power of Soccer
By Ion Grumeza

Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have similar highly unrealistic concerns about their impending financial collapse. While their politicians exchange blows in Parliament, amused commoners bitterly talk in coffee shops and parks, on street corners and around the dinner table about unwanted changes. However, their worries about economics quickly shifts to the latest news about soccer, always at the top of their gossip list. Take the Argentinians and Brazilians, who breathe and eat soccer as a vitamin boost each day, while their national teams make tens of millions lose sleep when they lose, or celebrate each win as a national holiday. 

On the other hand, success in soccer competitions marks the envied economic and social advancement of a country, as shown by the example of Germany. The miracle of West German economic recovery was advertised by its first World Cup in 1954. This preceded another kind of victory when the Treaty of Paris and Treaty of Rome were signed, re-establishing German economic dominance in Europe. That dominance was reflected in soccer when in 1974 the German team won a second World Cup. Another similar supreme title was won when the two Germans reunited in 1990. The Germans proved the most industrious people inside the European Community, doubled by its equal effort in building a first class soccer team, recruiting talents from newly arriving immigrants of all nations. As long as they win under the German flag, nobody questions their racial identity, just as no one wonders what kind of worker built the Mercedes and Volkswagen. Actually, there is one answer: the best in the world!     

While North Koreans cannot wait to see another military parade; the Russians, to open another vodka bottle; the Romanians, to tell jokes; the Germans, to work hard; and the Middle Easterns, to make another revolution, the ever cheerful but bankrupt Mediterranean folks love to clash over their favorite soccer team. For the Greeks, Italians and Spaniards, each soccer game, lost or won, represents a national and personal vendetta. Their presence in the stadiums is reminiscent of the ancient gladiatorial spectacles that centuries ago were equaly popular in the same lands. As long as countless millions talk about unpredictable scores, anything else is secondary. After all, being in debt is a depressing subject, while each soccer competition renews hope for a much awaited victory. In that contest it is easy to understand why a losing team is ready to beat up enemy fans and demolish the stadium. The thirst for revenge bring thousands to the streets, burning cars and businesses, fighting the police, trying to inflict as many damages as possible. However, the victorious fans do the same or even worse, to make sure that their hooligan acts are shown on TV as the ultimate triumph. People may be killed and properties worth millions of dollars may vanish in ashes while looters complete the devastation in chaotic Manheim. The entire situation may be caused by the recessive warrior genes that respond to victory or defeat with the urge to kill or destroy. Indeed, regardless of any economic collapse, recession, suicidal national debt, or an international bloody conflict, the power of soccer overshadows the problems, including personal ones. After a long period of anticipating a soccer game and endlessly elaborating on its outcome, during two hours of apocalyptic confrontation any true-blue fan has the unique opportunity to forget everything except that he and his team are most important. This must be shown in a memorable way—by defying any rules, including those imposed by the European Union and banks that bankrupted his country. For that moment, millions of fans feel free to do and believe anything that will support their superiority complex for a long time! 

Is this the mentality of pane et circenses that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire? Sixteen centuries later in the Mediterranean nations, will their fanaticism over soccer ultimately be a factor in region’s chaotic economic and financial straits?

© 2012 Ion Grumeza