Sunday 9 October 2016

Football = Religion

I come from a religious background. My family and friends are all religious. Whether we remain practicing religious people is a different matter though.

Growing up, I was fascinated with the similarities between religion and night clubbing especially as a popular musician back then used to sing gospel type songs as part of his live performances every last Friday of the month. It salved my conscience for not going to church on the Sunday.

Increasingly as football has dominated my adult life, I have started to notice the similarities between football and religion.

Obviously the stadium is like a Church. Both attract large hopeful crowds hoping, praying even for a positive outcome at the end of the football service (match).

As an Arsenal fan, I notice the obvious prayers from a Mesut Ozil, the sign of the cross from an Alexis Sanchez and the other superstitious signs from a host of other Arsenal players. Incidentally, players of the opposing team are rendering the same prayers, making the same sign of the cross and doing their own pre game superstitious rituals.

The same happens with fans. But I wonder. Who will God listen to? 

It’s a bit like church. Two people at the end of an adversarial contract both attend the same church and pray for contrasting outcome and both hope their prayers will be answered by the same God. Tough. Very tough.

The role of Arsene Wenger or any football manager is clearly like that of the High Priest or in Pentecostal Churches, the Pastor. His word is law. Many look up to him. Even people perceive him as a miracle worker. 

Like many churches with long standing Pastors, many of the followers grow weary when their long promised miracles (trophy wins) don’t materialize. They decide to go other churches (Man City or Barcelona), they become cold and unmotivated (the “I wont buy Arsenal merchandise until Wenger leaves”) or become apostates (Wenger Out Brigade).

The timing of football matches is also a big similarity for me. Church is usually weekend service and midweek service. Same with football especially if your club is in Europe. I guess this is something Liverpool fans are presently unable to relate with.  Sadly for that once great club.

In today’s world, it is common to criticize religious people for believing in a God who does not exist.  But I wonder about football fans that believe in their team in a game where the deliberate act of a bent official or the mistake of a well-meaning referee can change the outcome of the match.

I wonder which is worse, believing in something that does not exist or allowing your mood, weekend, life, relationships to be affected by something that is totally out of your control and in increasingly frequent circumstances, fixed by football administrators, footballers on the take and criminal betting gangs.

To be fair, this allowing your whole life to be affected thing is what religious believers do too.

The dislike for opposing fans and opposing club sides is something common in religions as well. While not making light of the fate that befall apostates as mandated by some radical preachers, you can imagine the ribbing & vile abuse people who change clubs get on social media. – Plastic fans, flip floppers and worse. Somewhat denied a voice or an opinion.

By extension, adherents of one religion are confident that those who don’t worship with them are likely to end in one form of purgatory or the other. Same with football fans, the hellfire of football relegation is definitely reserved for their traditional football opponents.

Modern day football is also increasingly like modern day religion. Modern day football fans want it here and now. Their team must get that 3 points today, their team must top that champions league group (obviously not relevant to Manchester United fans at the moment), their team must win that big shiny trophy today. Same with modern day religionists, their God must answer by fire today. He must answer right here and right know. Their miracle must come today.

If the miracle delays, no attendance in church just like the football fan, no trophies, support withdrawn, no more visits to the stadium.

To be fair, I am struggling to see any similarities between the Wenger Out Brigade and any set of religious people I know. Often when worshippers start to slag off the High Priest as the WOB do, they are either taken to Tower Bridge in medieval times where their judgment is short and sharp or ostracized to somewhere as dreary as Burnley. Or the less dim witted amongst them are quick enough to read the signs, move away and form their own commune.

I guess the WOBs are fortunate we live in modern times or the High Priest would have locked the gate of the Emirates against them and banish them to everlasting social media appearance where their flip flopping opinions is converted to some reality show as a lesson to us faithful. I guess we will just wait and see for that time to come.

I believe football fans especially fans of less popular clubs and religious people deserve medals. I just wonder what kind of sainthood we should confer on people w ho are both football fans & religious. I think God will be kind to them especially if they support Tottenham Hot Spuds. They have strived for over 20 years to keep up with the Joneses and at each attempt, the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. Their experience is clearly proof that God exists and that he has a blinding sense of humor.  

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