Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Plot Thickens: The importance of plots and characters in our love of sports

No one ought to need to be made aware of the electrifying news that Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has returned to wrestling. This is a man who played a central role in the childhood of many a fan of the fictitious entertainment show. WWE is just that after all. It is scripted, planned and rehearsed. Yet ultimately the reason people love it is because of the characters and the plots and, in that sense, is it not like all sports?

I have written before about the role of sports within modern society and why it holds such gravitas in the lives of millions many times (there was my Football as the Opium of the Masses parts one and two as well as my post Why Write about Football which covered this topic). My arguments then stemmed from a sociological and functionalism viewpoint. Indeed, as well as this we have the appreciation for the game itself, this being the art of playing football - the technical and physical skills that are on display and which we fans could only dream of being able to replicate.

These factors, however, do not fully account for why so many people's lives centre around football or, more generally, sport. Of fundamental importance is the role of characters, history and Hollywood-esque plots. Just like the WWE, our intrigue in sport relies on the subtle sub-plots, the stories of the individuals and the ongoing rivalries.

Let's look at the match between Arsenal and Barcelona last night as an example. Now this was always going to be an excellent game of football. But the skills of the respective players that were witnessed on the stage at the Emirates last night were merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Tactics can be analysed, attacking moves assessed and defensive errors scrutinised but as worthwhile as this certainly is, a large part of the appeal of the game relies on something different.

Yesterday's match was a clash between two teams who have, in some ways, become European rivals. Both clubs are based on a footballing philosophy of what could be called, to make things simple, 'total football'. It was a contest between two sides who approach the game in the same way, an approach which is relatively rare due to its extreme intricacy.

To thicken the plot, these two teams met in the same competition last season adding immediate history to their rivalry. Then Barcelona emerged the victors after two thrilling games of football, yet now, one year later, Arsenal have seized the upper hand as they do battle once again. The young pretenders have matured and improved and come back to avenge what happened twelve months ago. The history between the two clubs, albeit a rather recent one, adds extra depth to the encounter.

Furthermore, there are the always the stories of the individuals, or the protagonists if you will. In this case all eyes were on the Arsenal talisman Cesc Fabregas. A life long Barcelona fan who left the club at the age of 16 to move to North London, in recent years he has seemed destined to return to the Catalan club but, for now at least, he remains at the heart of their opposition. If he were to score the winning goal in the Camp Nou in the second leg it would be much more than simply a decisive goal because of his emotive and well-documented history. The subtle layers underneath what happens on the pitch is what makes sport so time-consumingly fascinating.

Every team has their history, their achievements, their moments of agony and their rivals. Every individual the same. As fans we have our memories, our heroes and villains which we carry into every match we watch. This is why it was always so entertaining to see Roy Keane and Alan Shearer or Patrick Vieira line up alongside one another in the tunnel. This is why we all watched to see if Wayne Bridge would shake John Terry's hand. This is why we love to see an underdog triumph over a bigger team.

The plots, the back-stories and the characters that we watch develop and change are what gives sport its edge. Transfer sagas, players swapping loyalties and ongoing feuds build on the technical beauty of the sports themselves. All these things, like the action on the field, are not predetermined or scripted but unashamedly real. Whereas WWE may be more explicit in its use of plots and character stories to appeal to their audience, all sports adhere, although not consciously, to the same basic principle which makes our interest in them almost unfaltering.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

1 comment:

  1. The plots, back-stories and characters are also what gives football its romance, hence the excitement over Keegan's return to Newcastle or Dalglish taking over at Liverpool. Whether they succeed or fail, football would be poorer without the presence of returning heroes.


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