How local politics and nationalism shaped football as we know it today


The Hungarian government recently passed a law banning all content related to homosexuality in school curricula and children’s television shows. To express their solidarity with the LGBTQ community, the Munich authorities have asked the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) for permission to light up the Allianz Arena, where Germany hosted Hungary during a UEFA Euro Championship 2020 group stage match, with rainbow colors. .

More often than not, football has made political assists on and off the pitch.

One of the most popular sports in the world, the game is played in more than 200 countries. The 2018 Men’s World Cup final was watched by over 1.12 billion people worldwide, and some of the players wield such immense influence that if they replace a bottle of Coca-Cola with “Aqua” , the company may lose $ 4 billion on the stock market. .

The modern version of the sport has its roots in Europe just after the Industrial Revolution, particularly in England. The Revolution created new societies and working-class neighborhoods. Although gambling was codified in public schools and by the aristocracy of England, it was the working class that made it popular. Some of the biggest clubs in Europe were once founded by factory workers.

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International football started in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a time when the world had just witnessed WWI and was heading towards WWII. Some of the fascist regimes of the time made a point of having strong sports teams that could win medals anywhere in the world, thus proving the capabilities of the nation and its people. These included Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini’s Italy, and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.

It was not just the fascists who used football to stir up the feelings of the people. Many clubs around the world were the result of local politics and therefore were associated with political ideologies, religious identities and communities. Closer to home, India’s first football club, Mohun Bagan, beat the East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911, becoming the first Indian team to beat a European team. Bagan has become a symbol of India’s struggle for independence from the British. A few years later, in 1920, a player from then-eastern Bengal province was not allowed to play for the Bagan team. Several players and officials left Bagan and formed East Bengal, a club for people who immigrated from the East region during Partition. The Bangals have started to identify with the club. Recently, as East Bengal struggled to find a sponsor to join the Indian Super League (ISL), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee personally stepped in to help the club find a funder, this which is almost unimaginable for any other sport in India.

Back in Spain, the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has also grown due to the different ideologies that the two clubs represent. While Real Madrid are associated with Spanish nationalism and seen as an “establishment club”, Barcelona are seen as a representative of Catalan nationalism, which claims Catalan independence from Spain. Under the dictatorship of General Franco, whose relationship with Real Madrid was undeniable, Barcelona were a target and it was during this time that the club gained the motto My that a club (more than a club).

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The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers in Scotland is also based on identities. The Celtic fan base is said to be largely of Roman Catholic Irish descent, while the Rangers have a Protestant fan base. Additionally, Rangers fans are known to be supporters of the British monarchy, while Celtic fans defend a united Ireland and are opposed to British rule.

During the struggle for the independence of Croatia, an incident on a football field came to represent the resistance of the nationalists against the domination of Serbia. Ahead of a game between fierce rivals Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade, the Dinamo captain kicked a policeman who allegedly mistreated a Dinamo fan. Captain Zvonimir Boban was then hailed as a national hero by the Croats. The importance of sport in Croatia could be measured by the fact that the first elected president of independent Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, said: “Victories in football shape a nation’s identity as much as wars.

Liverpool Football Club has a history of supporting leftist politics. The city is known as a stronghold of the Labor Party. In 1997, player Robbie Fowler, in a game, showed his support for the Liverpool Dockers strike. In 2017, manager Jurgen Klopp showed his support for the left and said he would never vote for the right. The club’s values ​​were said to have been influenced by socialism in large part because of club legend and former manager Bill Shankly. He was a Scottish socialist and a friend of former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the Labor Party.

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Throughout history, the game has drawn its power from the people. Multiple club rivalries have transcended just the game. Even during the pandemic, in the 2020-21 English Premier League, many clubs decided to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. The players knelt before the match to denounce racism. Even that basic gesture elicited the strongest reaction from various fans, who booed the players once they returned to the stadium themselves. It highlighted the flaws that still exist in our societies.

Shankly once said, “Some people think of football as a matter of life and death. I assure you it’s much more serious than that. He wasn’t wrong.


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