February 25, 2014
On 9 February, a small majority of Swiss voted in favour of taking measures to ‘curb mass immigration’. For a country whose economy and public services rely heavily on immigration, this was an astonishing sign of abandoning common sense and rational thinking to emotional fear-mongering by the leaders of the nationalist SVP. It’s what you can call an ‘own-goal’, if you like football metaphors.
'Stop mass immigration!' One of the SVP referendum posters.
The vote was largely commented upon all across Europe. Not only because it hinted at what might happen if similar referenda were held in other countries where populist or outright nationalist semantics have become mainstream over the last years. But also because the vote was in contradiction with the freedom of movement principle of the EU, which the Swiss, with regard to their bilateral agreements with the European Union, are in principle expected to respect.
Unfortunately, some of the outraged comments were, in their superficial simplification, as ‘populist’ as the vote they criticised. This was visible, for instance, in the attempts to use football in order to ridicule the Swiss ‘yes’ voters. Some media showed a picture of the Swiss national team on which the numerous players with migrant origins were erased, in order to highlight how apparently inconsistent the Swiss voters had been and what disastrous results their ‘xenophobic’ attitude was bound to produce.
Of course, the racist and islamophobic undertones of the last week of the SVP’s referendum campaign were nauseating. But the vote was mainly about introducing curbs or contingents for migrants from EU member states, whose free movement is ‘imposed’ by the EU. For third-country migrants – whether from South-Eastern Europe of other continents – Switzerland has always been in a position to define contingents or quotas, and it has been rather generous in doing so.
And the national football team precisely illustrates this fact: since 2012, the team has lined up no less than 18 players with migrant origin, but only a single one of them comes from an EU-27 member-state (Tranquillo Barnetta’s great-grandfather was an Italian immigrant…). In other words: rather than highlight the fallacy of the referendum vote, the current composition of the Swiss national football team gives evidence to two decades of perfectly appropriate migration provisions for refugees from the Yugoslavian civil war (10 of the 18 players have roots in former Yugoslavia).
What does this episode say about football in the context of migration debates? It provides three healthy reminders:
First of all, it recalls that football is a wonderful source of metaphors, but it has its limits and sometimes it’s better to think twice before drawing hasty and false comparisons.
Secondly, national football teams in countries like Switzerland, but also Germany, France or Belgium, may provide concrete and understandable illustrations of the co-existence of multiple identities and loyalties in societies marked by decades of migration. This is encouraging. They also serve as an example to other countries whose citizenship law has remained way behind the evolution of society. What they cannot do, however, is put an end to deep-rooted globalisation anxieties that remain exploitable by ruthless nationalists any time.
Finally, populists do not have the monopoly on populist shortcuts. Righteous indignation, especially when hastily expressed and unreflected, is just as prone to scoring own goals.
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Posts - No comment
January 29, 2014
It’s increasingly difficult to read books about women’s football. Especially if you’re a white, bald male over 50. If you are, you won’t be able to put down Markwart Herzog’s excellent and very complete volume on Women’s Football in Germany without a tinge of bad conscience.
As a matter of fact, just like women’s football itself is victim to the eternal comparison with the same game played by men, male spectators of women’s football seem to be trapped in a discursive catch-22: whatever they say may be hold against them. They will inevitably be blamed for being unfair, or ignorant, or condescending, or outright sexist. Especially if they’re white, bald and over 50.
It must be acknowledged, though, that some of them are really stupid. The guys at FIFA that branded the 2011 World Cup in Germany as the ‘FIFA Women’s World Cup’ without even mentioning the term ‘football’ cannot be blamed enough for their incredibly inadequate (and very revealing) semantics. And the marketing guys paid on the same occasion by the DFB to invent slogans like ‘Fußball von seiner schönsten Seite’ and produce seemingly ‘ironic’ TV commercials with washing machines may think they are ‘postmodern advertisers’, but all they are is as has-been as ‘Manndeckung’ in the age of Spanish or Bavarian total football.
This being said, the average 50-year old bald male will still learn something from reading this book.
First of all, he will be impressed by the sheer variety of academic approaches to women’s football. The conference organised at the Schwabenakademie Irsee in 2011 and on which the volume is based probably attracted more researchers than an average game of the Frauen-Bundesliga. (Or was that yet another sexist comment that should be deleted by the mediator? I swear it was just intended to be a harmless joke!). There are theoretical reflexions based on gender study theory, followed by concrete, local historical case studies from Germany and Austria, spotlights on education in school and university, as well as analyses of women’s football in the media, in the arts and in museum exhibitions.
Secondly, he will get some food for thought. Not only about his own lack of sensitivity to the semantic pitfalls of his personal discourse on football, but also on the bigger issues that underpin these pitfalls and that make the discourse so immune to change and so difficult to emancipate from. In particular, the ten provocative ‘conclusions’ on the future of women’s football formulated by Matthias Marschik in his chapter are in fact challenging theses about the society we live in (or want to live in).
Finally, he will simply know much better what he’s talking about (if ever his haunting bad conscience does not prevent him to ever engage in a discussion on women’s football again). These are 360 pages of state-of-the-art research, well written in most cases, sometimes a little demanding, but in any case a reading experience that makes you feel you learnt something.
The narrative announced by the book’s wide-ranging subtitle ‘Beginnings – Prohibition – Resistance – Breakthrough’ is delivered, at least for the German-speaking world. And the implicit promise of the Schwabenakademie’s intelligent ‘dialogues’ book series – original interdisciplinary studies of complex sociocultural phenomena – is also kept. As usual.
Markwart Herzog (ed.). Frauenfußball in Deutschland. Anfänge – Verbote – Widerstände – Durchbruch. Irseer Dialoge. Band 18. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2013.
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Posts - No comment
January 12, 2014
I have always been struck by the neglect or even disdain shown by historians for the important part that popular culture plays in collective memory. A year ago, shortly before the FREE conference on football memory in Stuttgart, I even expressed my bewilderment in a post on this blog. There is a whole world out there of popular narratives about who we are, way beyond the ‘officially accredited collective memory’ of history textbooks framed by an elite. There is a living memory of icons, events and heroes that I have, over the years, often referred to as the ‘Parallel Pantheons’ of popular culture.
I was quite fond of this expression with its nice little alliteration, but from this week onward I will have to be more careful in using it. Reality has caught up. In a rare consensus, both social networks and parliamentarians of all parties in Portugal decided it was time a footballer was transferred to the ‘Panteão Nacional’ (located since 1916 in the former church of Santa Engrácia in Lisbon).
Eusébio's statue in Lisbon decorated by thousands of fans.
That the great Eusébio, who died last Sundat at age 71, had been a cherished national hero, had become very quickly obvious in the days following his death. Not only did tens of thousands of people give testimony to their unrestricted love and admiration for the former Benfica star and Ballon d’Or (1965) – the first black player to win the trophy – but the government also immediately declared three official days of mourning.
The decision to vote for Eusébio’s transfer to the National Pantheon is all the more remarkable as the Portuguese do not have the habit to bestow this honour in a casual manner. In its century of existence, the ‘Panteão Nacional’ has only welcomed 10 national heroes. But it has already opened its doors to another representative of popular culture, the ‘Queen of Fado’ Amália Rodrigues (who died in 1999). How very fitting that Eusébio will be number 11 and thus complete the national team’s line-up!
What seems to be somewhat over-the-top at first sight, is actually not so surprising after all. Mass media and communication technology have eroded the traditional legitimacy of what used to be ‘the official transmitters of memory’. In the age of facebook ‘likes’, people increasingly decide for themselves what they consider worth remembering. As I wrote elsewhere, top-down official memory is now being complemented by a new bottom-up ‘wiki-memory’, whose archivists have the means to make their voice heard.
Santa Engrácia, the 'Panteão Nacional' in Lisbon.
The popular pressur in favour of recognition of the fact that Eusébio, whose performances have firmly anchored Lisbon and Portugal on the map of European football, has done more for his country than many political leaders is not without recalling the pressure exerted on the Vatican by the massive and repeated ‘santo subito!’ request concerning pope John Paul II.
The extent to which the memory of Eusébio was immediately celebrated across the continent also gave evidence to the remarkable interconnectedness of the European football community. Contrary to the 1950s and before, the 60s have left a lot more images, and Eusébio was visibly admired all across Europe. Maybe he was more of a European hero than other recently mourned icons like George Best? In any case, he will be very likely to increase the number of visitors to Santa Engrácia.
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Posts - No comment
December 2, 2013
So, yesterday, Paris Saint-Germain started their game against Olympique Lyonnais without a single French player? And this attracted a great lot of attention. This is hardly surprising since the number of foreign players in club teams is a staple of the media. It is more surprising the topic is still attracting media & public attention, since this is hardly the first time. English club Chelsea first did it on Boxing Day 1999. In France, OM did it on 8 August 2003 & Arsenal played with an all-foreign squad (11 players who start the game plus all the potential substitutes) on Valentine Day 2005. It is also surprising, since after a few years of researching the issue for a PhD at the University of Cambridge (Trinity Hall & Centre of International Studies), it appeared very clearly to me that the presence of foreign players in a team is actually a non-issue for the supporters of the club.
To sum up quickly the results presented in my book Foreign Supporters and Football Players: The Old Firm, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain (an abridged version of my PhD published upon joining ESSCA), supporters are on the whole very happy with foreign players because:
(a) The identity of club is rarely national : it is above all local – this may come as a shocking surprise to some but a player from Manchester is as ‘foreign’ to an Arsenal supporter as a player from France or Sénégal ; & in some case it is even worse to come from the territory of a team seen as an ‘enemy’ than from abroad. Ask a PSG supporter whether they’d rather have a Marseilles-through-and-through player or a player of equal sporting value from Germany? Of course, players which have similar roots as the supporters are on the whole more supported: this why Ashley Cole’s leaving for Chelsea was seen as a betrayal for a majority of Arsenal fans. For an Arsenal, he was ‘one of us who made it, who accomplished our dream’. For that reason, there is little doubt that Mamadou Sakho or Adrien Rabiot attract more support from PSG fans than some other players with no link with PSG, Paris or its suburbs. [Read more]
Post by Dàvid RANC in the category Governance, Identities, Memory, Public Sphere - 1 comment
November 24, 2013
France-Ukraine on Tuesday night was more than just a football game: it was also a singing contest. The star of the evening was the ‘Marseillaise’. The ‘official’ version before kick-off was followed by a minimum of six or seven spontaneous intonations during the match, and eventually topped well after the final whistle by Olivier Giroud, when he grasped the stadium speaker’s microphone and invited his teammates to howl yet another one.
The French national choir's stunning performance of the Marseillaise.
The unexpected Marseillaise performance was part of the reconciliation efforts by a team that had been so much criticised for not ‘loving the blue jersey’ and that was longing for redemption. Touching, really.
At the same time, there was something very desperate about this insistent invocation of the national symbol. As if the Marseillaise was the only common language between the players and the public. A function which is no doubt facilitated by the fact that its belligerent lyrics – about ‘impure blood watering the furrows of our soil’ – have become blatantly absurd and carry no concrete meaning any more.
How times have changed! Had Michel Platini’s wonderful team of the 1980s given the same kind of post-match choral performance, they would have ridiculed themselves. In the wake of May 1968, the national symbols cherished by Gaullism were considered old-fashioned by many; the anthem’s lyrics were widely criticised, and Serge Gainsbourg even released a Reggae version called ‘Aux armes et caetera’ – provoking (and probably taking delight in) a polemic with the far-right.
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Posts, Public Sphere - No comment
November 9, 2013
125 years ago, on 9 November 1888, Jean Monnet was born in Cognac. A good reason to post an exceptional ‘Throw-In’ that, for once, has nothing to do with ‘Football research’, but a lot with ‘an enlarged Europe’.
On 9 November 1988, the centenary of Jean Monnet’s birth was commemorated and honoured by the French Republic: in a grand ceremony that felt slightly out of sync with the modesty and lack of personal ambition that had characterised Jean Monnet’s life and work, his remains were transferred to the Pantheon. This was the time when François Mitterrand wanted to cultivate his (mostly usurpated) reputation as a ‘great European’, when the European Community was still (very conveniently) limited to the Western side of the Iron Curtain, when the completion of the Single Market scheduled for 1992 was full of promises. Had a referendum on a ‘European constitution’ taken place at this moment, there would have been no doubt about its enthusiasic outcome. [Read more]
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category History, Posts - No comment
November 3, 2013
These days, French football is not so much about goalscoring, match results and league tables. Much of the football talk is dominated by the exceptional tax of 75% on incomes above 1 million that the Hollande government is decided to impose on all companies operating in France over a period of two years.
The club presidents leave the Elysée like their players leave the pitch after a lost match.
Needless to say that the professional football clubs are all up in arms against the nex tax. And they react like each other French business interest representation would react: first, they take an appointment at the Elysée. Then they try to win over public opinion through a communication campaign mobilising opinion polls and publishing ‘open letters’ to the President in major newspapers. And if nothing else helps, they threaten to go on strike at the end of November.
There is something strangely ridiculous about some of the club presidents’ arguments. According to several simulations in different media, the tax (which is limited to 5% of a company’s total payroll) would actually concern only 13 top-tier clubs, for the salaries of 115 players and 8 coaches, and almost half of the total cost of 44 million Euros would be on the shoulders of the PSG. Surely this would not be ‘the end of French professional football’ as the Union of Professional Football Clubs (UCPF) wants us to believe. Like in all other big leagues, football clubs in France are notorious deficit-makers. Due to a unique, particularly favourable configuration in the private television market, they have benefitted for over a decade from a situation in which they received a disproportionately generous revenue from their broadcasting rights. And just like in all other big leagues, any benefit a football club may be lucky enough to generate, almost automatically disappears in inflated players’ salaries. And, again, like in all other big leagues, as soon as any external factor interferes with this eternal vicious circle, the clubs cry out for help in order to ‘save the competitiveness of our football in Europe’. [Read more]
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Governance, Posts - No comment
October 27, 2013
Just back from the FREE conference in Vienna. And still inspired by the keynote speech given by Cornell Sandvoss and our subsequent exchange.
‘Liquid life and solid support’ – a very catchy title, which sums up in two adjectives what football may represent in our times of late modernity. Football clubs as anchors of solidity in increasingly liquid biographies, where everything – career paths, territorial belongings, even family bonds – can be put into question at any moment.
The Corinthians of the regretted Socrates even have an anchor in their crest.
Football is just one those possible anchors. You can have other “objects of transition” that you (desperately) cling to, or “ordinary passions”, as Christian Bromberger calls them. But football happens to be a very prominent one.
Perhaps precisely because of the highly polysemic character of clubs as objects of fandom. Haven’t they become – at least the biggest of them – almost empty shells into which an individual can read or interpret almost any meaning he/she wishes or needs?
There is something very artificial, illusory, sad in these projections of meaning. But for many individuals, an artificial anchor to which you can string particularist, or even essentialist, narratives is better than none. As long as football, in its different forms, is capable of helping you feel different from others, at least a little bit “special” in whatever way, decline in the breadth and intensity of fandom and supportership is little likely.
Cornell Sandvoss produced the expected good laughs among his (excellent) audience when he quoted some football fans saying that if they were in a situation where they would have to choose between their partner or their football club, well, sure, that would be regrettable, but they would no doubt have to opt for the club. [Read more]
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Posts, Public Sphere - No comment
October 17, 2013
Spain, the winners of Euro 2012, by Football.ua (CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Believe it or not, there are people in Spain who criticise, and quite severely, our national football team. ‘It is just plain boring to watch them play, I fall asleep’, say some. ‘Del Bosque has no idea at all, he inherited a team from Luis Aragonés and he is just a lucky guy’, say others. ‘They only play their friends, it is always Xavi, Casillas and Iniesta even if they are limping’, can also be read in the social networks. Invariably, more often than not, there is a common denominator amongst these severe critics: They are young. Too young, I may add. Young enough not to remember a time when Spain was ‘the constant underachiever’, as I read many times on the BBC website for a long time.
At the risk of sounding like my late grand father, there are many now in Spain who simply did not have to suffer going out on penalties in Mexico 86. Or the simple and plain ridiculous performance in our own World Cup in 1982. Not even the referees could help Spain out of our misery. There are of course more recent examples, such as losing to South Korea in 2002 or to France in 2006. Not least watching Zubizarreta to score an own goal against Nigeria in France 1998, where Spain did not make it through the group stages. [Read more]
Post by Borja García in the category Identities, Memory, Posts - No comment
October 14, 2013
Mesut Özil has style, and there’s plenty of evidence on youtube for that.
In print or online: the 'Ö' seems here to stay.
But Mesut Özil also has influence on the style of others. The Guardian to start with: for decades the British quality newspaper had stipulated in its well-known ‘House Style Guide’ that capital letters should have no accents. But Özil’s arrival at Arsenal triggered change in many ways, and the two dots have made their appearance on the capital ‘O’. It’s uncertain yet what the German midfielder might actually bring to Arsenal in the long run, but he has already enriched the Guardian’s alphabet. Would they have changed it for, say, a new Turkish prime minister or President? Chances are they wouldn’t. Such people do not appear half as often in print as an Arsenal midfielder. [Read more]
Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category Identities, Posts - No comment
« Older Entries