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May 12, 2012

Masters of deconstruction

We feel more ‘at home’ with other people when we do not have to explain to them why certain events were important or unique; when we know that they remember the same cartoons and jokes, and have experienced historical events in a way similar to how we did. This is why education – and not only school education, but also learning through popular culture – plays a crucial role in creating a common identity and providing a sense of belonging.What we did not discuss too much at our first meeting in Angers is that for most of its history football has been a ‘male thing’. It brings excitement, it unites and divides people, but is it not merely the half of us Europeans who really appreciate the beauty of the game? Does knowing nothing about Panenka’s revolutionary penalty kick make nonbelievers less European than English or Polish hooligans? Is football a real European heritage or is it only a male European heritage? Maybe there is more than one way of understanding football and talking about it.

One of the finest – and one of my favourite – examples of how to play with (football) meanings and (European) symbols is a classic Monty Python sketch depicting an Olympic match between German and Greek philosophers, which we also watched during our first pre-conference gathering.

This is a witty commentary on European traditions, tensions and joies de vivre; a 1970s masterpiece of deconstruction and British humour at its best. Even those of us who had known nothing about Panenka had to admit that the sketch reveals the realm of possibilities of interpretation and positioning football within the European integration discourse – and therefore, the real beauty of the game.

Some people say football was invented to give people something to talk about. I would rather agree with Christian Bromberger’s suspicion that football was actually invented to please anthropologists.

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