Whenever the sphere is set into motion on the stage of everyone’s own
The emotions are screamed as everyone wishes they would be heard
Either the smiles seen are real or imaginary
Eyes will always be there to watch the little world being kicked
But is there any last night for same old motion ?
Could be there the last night for it ?
As obvious as it can be, football is the most popular sport in the world. The trace of football could be dated back to long long time ago yet until now, people are still fascinated by this simple game. It is simply miraculous that how the very same activity still able to entertain the folks across generations and oceans. But, why and how ?
The key word is universality. It is about how easy people understand it. It is about how easy people play it. It is about how easy people think and talk about it. Anytime. Anywhere. Football simply knows no bound.
But there are more than universality from the football. There are more reasons of why the simple rolling motion of football could enchant the rolling motion of eyeball.
1. Sic faciunt omnes – everyone is doing it
It refers to how easy for people to play football. They can play it at the grand stadium with furnished green grass and 80,000 attendance. But, it also can be played in the small confined room with rough cement floor or amidst the abandoned building ruin. The ball could be the product of highest degree of technology with highest precision. But, it also could be the soda can, the compacted papers shaped into the ball, or tennis ball. It is officially played by 11 players against 11 players with the backup of substitues. But, it also can be played by mere 2 cordial souls, communicating each other with the ball exchange instead of the words.
It is different with other sports which need specific requirement. Basketball needs bouncy ball and ring; badminton, tennis, and table-tennis need specific “ball” and “racket”; let alone high-demanding sport like golf and racing motorcycle/car.
A group of people, any space, and any kickable object. That’s all what it takes to start the football game.
2. Homo ludens – playing man
Talking about simplicity, football is not the simplest sport. Running is. So is martial art. And so are other sports which do not demand many requirements (e.g. rugby). The question is, why are they less popular than football ? The answer can be found in the depth of human heart when they pursuit the happiness. There are social interaction among the players before, at, and after the game. There are laughs and jokes involved within the football game. Sport is the mean to be healthy, but football mixes fun and health in one plate.
This is why the team game is more popular than 2-players sport. The popularity of the game is mostly determined by casual players, not the professional one. Casual players are only looking for fun after the series of hectic times. In team game (e.g. basketball, baseball, and of course football), the room for fun is more widely open. Yes, fun is very subjective. Some find football is fun, some find it boring. But, most people agree that scoring a goal and celebrating it like madman with teammates is more entertaining than achieving running-distance record, don’t they ?
3. Homo homini lupus – man is the wolf to the fellow man
For every Yin then there is Yang. For every joviality then there is ferocity. Fighting and competing are just cannot be separated from human. History has lost count how many wars have been fought among humankind. And it doesn’t take expert to tell that competition is everywhere. Homo sapiens (arguably) stemmed from competition namely natural selection mechanism, human birth starts from the competition among sperms to the ovary, and after birth, it still runs within family, society, school, work, and only stops at the swing of scythe of death.
There is nothing new under the sun and there is nothing new with football as the channel for humans’ inner beast. Football is but a manifestation of civilized clash. Colosseum to gladiator is just precisely stadium to football player. The victory parade of Real Madrid at Plaza de Cibeles is just another version of Napoleon Bonaparte army at Arc de Triomphe. Club president is the ruler, coach is the tactician, goalkeeper and defenders are gatekeeper, playmaker is the general, and attackers are frontliners trying to breach the gate, either by ramming it with the power of Ronaldo or unlocking it with the craft of Messi.
The bloodlust for competition runs thickly in human blood and highest-level football takes the best out of competition then displayed as entertainment. The claim as the better or best, for instance, between Pele-Maradona or Inter-Milan will never meet an end, but thanks to human nature, they keep competing endlessly. At the outside of the circle, people have no tie with them yet they feel the fire. And yet they love fueling it. Then it spreads. It lits the surrounding, awakening the soul of the wolf inside until the whole world feel it and howl together. Such is one of the cog inside football popularization process.
4. Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am
Football is not only amusing to be played, but also to be thought and talked. Football fans love giving opinion about the game, the players, or anything about football. They love thinking about it and then share their opinion with others. And the good thing is, it doesn’t take special skill to understand football game. It is neither quantum physics nor fluid mechanic which require years of learning. Come and see the game. Hear the roar. Perceive the motion. Feel the passion. And that’s it. That’s all what it takes to get the impression and notion which could last for entire lifespan.
Beside the simple access to understand football, it also provides the fair ground for everyone to think and discuss it. Degree and status do not count here. The school drop-out can teach the professor about offside trap mechanism. The homeless can argue with the stock expert how the player price changes along the years. One doesn’t have to be Michael Cox, Jonathan Wilson, or Gary Neville to probe the depth of football. One doesn’t have to be professional to understand it. Only passion and common sense are required.
5. Dum vivimus vivamus – while we live, let us live
Not everyone is blessed with the intelligence to understand the entropy or chemical reaction. Also, there are people who cannot stand to put their body on the chair and sitting in front of desk for hours every day. Out there, there are people whose assets are only their physical prowess. Therefore, sport career becomes their only solution.
So, why football ? The gallery of the best players ever decorated football history provides the answer. Pele is 1.73 m short. Maradona is not only 1.66 m short, but was rather plump as well even in his heyday. Meanwhile, Beckenbauer is 1.81 m and Zidane is 1.85 m. Jorge Campos with his diminutive 1.68 m height could be the Mexico goalkeeper in World Cup and 1.76 m Cannavaro was able to marshall Italy to the highest glory in 2006. Note that those position are supposed to have minimum height expectation. Meanwhile Ibrahimovic is 1.95 m tower and has been winning 4 domestic leagues in top level competition. The contrast also could be drawn between 1.69 m Messi against 1.85 m Cristiano Ronaldo. It is very obvious that football welcomes any player with any body frame to compete even in highest level. This “any” really means any, it doesn’t only accept people with average height, but the extreme as well. Most of best football players have average height according to his country of origin. Being 170 cm is normal in South America while 180 cm is approximately average height in Europe. But it doesn’t stop Campos and Ibrahimovic to linger around glittering orbit of football highest prestige.
It is different with, say, basketball or volleyball which require extreme height, upper 190 cm at least, which really doesn’t represent any demography in the world. One can argue that NBA also produce fine short players such as Earl Boykins, Spud Webb, Michael Adams etc, but where are their position at the Pantheon of basketball finest such as Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson ? Nowhere close.
6. Tempora mutantum, nos et mutamur in illis – times change, and we change with them
How could watching 11 vs 11 player kicking a ball within 100×80 meter field hasn’t been boring for centuries ? Players come and go. Law of the game has been modified many times. But it still produces almost identical game like we are seeing today and it is still entertaining as ever. While the essence of the game might be similar, there are distinctions about how it is played. To follow the stream of time, down to football park, and listening and feeling the wind of changes is what refreshes the experience of spectators over time. For example, by only looking back to 14 years ago, football has seen various tactical features such as rise and fall of trequartista, emergence of 4-bands formation, adoration toward possession football, and sweeper-keeper. Looking at longer time scale, the change is even more drastic. Jonathan Wilson was right when he named his famous book which depicts the formation evolution from the football inception until now : Inverting the Pyramid. From ancient 2-3-5 to modern 5-3-2. It isn’t necessarily 5-3-2, it could be 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or anything, but the main point is how the number of players transferred from front-heavy to midfield-backline-heavy. And the change is not always about formation, it could be player characteristic, playing style, coaching style and even transfer policy.
The change is not only at active end (i.e. players), but at passive end as well (i.e. viewers). Viewers experience change in football every week. Thanks to 11 plus substitutes players per team, the viewers can see plenty variations in players, formations, and tactics almost every week. Furthermore, even with precisely identical formation, the game could change a lot when different players are deployed. There is almost no end to diversity in football. Yesterday, playing without striker is considered insanity; today, Spain win Euroean Cup with this approach. Yesterday, continuosly passing the ball around oppositions is pointless; today, it is the state-of-art of football; tomorrow, it would be labeled as boring.
Such is the very dynamic of football which captivates the soul of people around the globe.
Those are why football is the most popular sport in the world as it fits most of the bills to attract fans while other sports miss one thing and/or another. But, is football the best sport in the world ? Nope, never. Popularity doesn’t equal quality and it never does. Popularity can be objectively quantified while that’s not the case for quality as the latter remains as subjective matter.
Dear you, with five and six angles of face
Have you felt hurt after those up and down
Shall I flinch you softly to relieve everything
But you remain blissful, knowing you are the dream of the souls
And there, no one knows the extent of its fragrance. Hopefully forever as it serves as the dream for somebody somewhere out there.