As football continues to expand around the globe, with until very recently large “football immune” countries like the USA and India now joining the party, inevitably the culture(s) of football changes too. A recent book by Gabriel Kuhn – “Soccer vs the State” celebrates the game’s rebellious working class seeds, but in 2016 it is worth doing a cutural MIC check.
Professional football was always a money and social control enterprise from its capitalist origins in 19th century England and its potentially destablizing class origins have been kept in check whenever they spill out, as occasionally still, in violence that could jeopardize those who financially own the game. Football is not exactly the opium of the masses, since 20th century social protest and revolution were populated with footballing fans but has the potential to be so directed.
Requiring just a ball to play, although even that was beyond the means of many of our working class ancestors, football will always be a poular game because of its technological and financial accessibillity. But as is evident in the collapse of Brazilian football in recent years the days of street footballers like Pele taking on and beating the world are likely gone for ever. It is not that Neymar and his teammates are incapable athletically but do they have the “hunger” that motivated their formed in the streets predecessors in yellow?
Cars own the streets in most football-intense urban settings, discouraging street football, and kids with talent are parentally propelled into academies which cost significant investment. Football’s passion, like that of all the most accesible/popular sports such as basketball is social/collective in origin while the energy comes from “hunger”, both material and cultural. “I exist and can possibly beat someone at this game, if nowhere else” is the message and will likely always be so as long as radical inequality is with us. But is this still the people’s game when middle class “academies” are increasingly the route to success?
If we left the story there the implications would be depressing, but simultaneously with the growth of increasingly corporatized football has arisen another trend, of which soccer legend Johan Cruyff’s Foundation was the pioneer and which this blog’s purpose is to celebrate. Cruyff was motivated by his awareness of the gulf spearating those with, from those without, the ability to participate, for financial, or physical, reasons. He initiated the contruction of Cruyff Court facilities to bridge that gulf. And in an age of growing extremes this is a fight worth fighting and to which Red Panamericana’s plannned Cruyff Court Toronto is dedicated.