Saturday, 18 September 2010

Football is the Opium of the People (Part II)

Back in April I wrote a piece on how football can be considered the 'opium of the people' in modern society. With the Pope currently visiting Britain, now seems like an apt time to continue the exploration of this idea.

My point is simple. The role of football in 21st Century British society is, from a strictly functionalism stance, comparable to the that of religion in centuries gone by. Football has become a cornerstone of British popular culture.

Once every week the masses wear the colours of their team and go to worship in their stadium of choice. Some convert to a team in later life, many simply adopt the team of their parents or local community from birth. They sing their songs in unison, chant the names of their idols and unite with their footballing family.

Pope Benedict stated upon his arrival on Thursday that the Catholic church in Britain was under 'severe secular threats'. Is football one of these? Football consumes much of the lives of so many people across Britain and the importance it has for millions should not be underestimated.

The open-top bus rides for trophy winning teams bare striking resemblance to the Pope-mobile's drive around Scotland. Sex scandals have become synonymous with football and the Catholic church. These stories that continuously dominate the newspapers have plagued both institutions. Violence too has been intrinsically linked with both. There has historically been an intolerance from many towards those of opposing beliefs, whether it be their faith or the team they follow.

Football performs a function in society, as religion does or did. It is about a sense of community, of belonging. The fact remains that the number of people who turn out at the stadiums across Britain at 3:00pm today will dwarf the number of people who will have attended the church, mosque or synagogue over the weekend.

Ask the average ten-year old in England if they would rather meet David Beckham or the Pope, you would imagine that the vast majority would sooner meet England's most capped outfield player than that old guy in the funny hat. I am simply trying to illustrate something that few people would question – that football has overtaken religion in both its importance and the role it performers in modern society and culture.

Football, like most modern religions, is a money-making machine. People's devotion to club and country allows ticket, shirt and club merchandise sales to continue to flourish. The latest kit and season ticket are the essentials for many, even if their economic situation means they will have to make financial cuts elsewhere.

The combination of the expanding media and an increase in disposable income have culminated in the growth of fanatical following of football. The clubs take the wealth and invest it in new arenas of worship. They build statues to commemorate past heroes and triumphs. Footballing iconography dominates corners of towns and cities all over the UK.

Football and religion are not mutually exclusive, of course. There is no reason why the two can't co-exist, indeed for many they do. However, as religious conviction is unquestionably fading in modern British society, it seems that football, albeit only to an extent, is filling the void it has left behind.

The function religion performed in society and culture have been integrated into the game of football. It has become more than just watching a sport, more than merely following a team. It is a lifestyle. It is being part of a family, a community. In turn the clubs have taken this support and exploited it financially. Football has become the opium for the masses. For the millions who pray for three points every Saturday, 'football is life, the rest is mere detail.'

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


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