The German philosopher Theodor Adorno once wrote: “Football implies the desire to suffer” and by and large that is probably the experience of most football fans most of the time. But once in a while comes the pure joy that Leicester City fans are currently experiencing. And this is why fans put themselves through it, says Dr Frank Monaghan, a senior lecturer with the OU’s Faculty of Education and Language Studies…
By and large, academics, have been dismissive of football, and sports in general, as the new ‘opiate of the masses’ replacing religion as the great stumbling block to societal change. The title alone of Marc Perelman’s Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague (2012) is a pretty good indicator of this attitude. Certainly Trotsky was no fan: “The revolution will inevitably awaken in the British working class the deepest passions which have been diverted along artificial channels with the aid of football.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen
Politicians frequently make a display of support for their local team though it runs the risk of seeming somewhat opportunistic and can backfire spectacularly as with David Cameron when he got thrown by the similar looking kits and appeared to confuse West Ham with Aston Villa when declaring his undying love for the lads in claret and blue.
So what are we to make of the tumultuous scenes outside Leicester’s King Power Stadium? Why does it matter so much? Well, no doubt there is the classic triumph of the underdog that we British are supposed to love so much. From 5000-1 rank outsiders, presumed destined only for relegation, they remained at the top of the Premier League pretty much solidly from January on, confounding pundits and opponents alike.
Gary Lineker, perhaps Leicester’s most famous fan, greeted the arrival of the new manager in July with a tweet saying: “Claudio Ranieri? Really?”, a comment he doubtless regrets now though perhaps not as much as his promise to host Match of the Day wearing only his boxers if the team won the title. This just wasn’t supposed to happen.
It’s all about the money
The Premier League is all about money these days. There is an assumed iron-clad correlation between a club’s wage bill and its finishing position in the table. By and large this holds true. Who would have been surprised if the top four places had gone to: Chelsea (£215.6m), Manchester United (£203m), Manchester City (£193m), and, Arsenal (£192m) – and indeed, three of those are currently in the top 5. So if the ‘rule’, has not been quite broken, it has certainly been bent dented. Leicester’s comparatively puny £48.2m suggested a bottom four finish at best. What seems to have counted far more than money was the incredible team spirit and sense of undivided purpose.
In an age of unparalleled inequality, both on and off the pitch, the triumph of Leicester’s ‘Foxes’ over the aristocratic hounds may not be the kind of riot Trotsky was hoping to see on the streets but it’s certainly been a lot of fun. Their win coming so soon after the even more overwhelming victory of the Hillsborough families last week, reminds us that whilst football often brings the loneliest of sorrows, when the tables are turned on the powers that be it can also produce the most heartening acts of solidarity and liberating joy.
Be it Leicester’s King Power or Liverpool’s People Power football really does awaken the ‘deepest passions’ and sometimes when it does we all have grounds to celebrate.
Photo by Ben Sutherland