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Why Football Is Like An Abusive Husband

June 16, 2010

The following content refers to what Americans know as soccer. And is mostly NTBTS.

Me: Is it the World Cup soon?
Brother: Er, yes? (/incredulous)
Me: Oh. <pause> When?
Brother: Tomorrow. (/complete disgust)

– The day before the World Cup started

He had every reason to be disgusted. I spent the majority of my teens (and some) being a football-obsessed loon. I  even said I was a ‘self-confessed football freak’ in my personal statement when I was applying for university. And then I got my best offer after spending a whole chemistry interview talking a) football, b) my interviewer’s personal life, and c) not chemistry. The World Cup arriving without me noticing is the first time in my brother’s living memory that this has ever happened EVER.

At the age of 15, I couldn’t imagine my life without the Beautiful Game – I couldn’t imagine ever not loving it, needing it or wanting it. The trouble is, I know now what I didn’t know then: people change – I changed – and so do their obsessions.

Like all living things – and an obsession is a living thing, as anyone who’s ever had one will know – while it grows and lives, it must also eventually die: naturally or violently, it will die.

Reasons not to give a toss (do you see what I did there?) about the World Cup

1) No time

While I was an undergraduate, I found myself with less and less time to keep up with it (or go to the gym, but that’s a different story). And – unbelievably! – I had other things to do. That were more important. Who knew priorities could change, just like that?

And strangely…I didn’t even care. Much.

You would have to understand how much I used to care for this to mean anything to you. I had, like, a deep emotional connection to my team: I was wild with joy when they won, and inconsolable if they lost. I lived for them, cried for them (metaphorically – much too macho to REALLY cry), and prayed for them with HEARTFELT SINCERITY. It was ikhlas* to the max, man.

I know, it was bad. Obsessions are blinding. It’s good not to be 15 anymore. Or 17. Or…yeah.

2) It wastes time

Along with having no time, it wasted time that I did have. If I spent roughly two hours glued to the TV – and let’s face it, it was usually more, because everybody knows that the actual match is only HALF the story: the analysis, the reaction, the interviews and then the rehashing of details with fellow fanatics is about as important as the match itself – that’s two hours not doing something useful, not even ironing.

(Lego football is clearly the answer. Condense 90 minutes of drama, goals and emotion into 6! Because you rewatch the 2-minute clip three times…)

I’m all for recreation, but that recreation can’t be at the expense of stuff you have to do. Stuff like ‘change your smelly clothes’, ‘take a shower’, ‘do your laundry’ or ‘feed the kids’. If we spent half as much time PLAYING sports as we did WATCHING them, the world would be a better place. Also healthier and less fat. Did you hear that, England? LESS FAT.

3) Nationalism is blah

Cheering for England means more than just football to me, now. It carries all sorts of hysterical histrionic historical connotations and  underwears undertones, and I have feelings and thoughts that are far too mixed up to allow me to cheer unequivocally for any country. England currently falls into one of the ones I’d more cheerfully brain than brainlessly cheer.

Lately, especially, I’m more and more disillusioned by patriotism. What does it mean, to cheer for England? Does it mean I endorse doubtful foreign policies, historical imperialism, the BNP or the EDL? I can hear some people saying, ‘it’s just a game, relax, get over it’, but if it’s only about football, then I can just enjoy the game without cheering for England, right? Having an emotional connection is completely unnecessary.

I’m plagued by the feeling that cheering for England in some way presumes English superiority over any other country purely on the virtue of being English, because I don’t believe that that is true. Patriotism is all a big lie, really, nationalism a disease. Why is such a virulent form of prejudice the only legitimate – nay, laudable – sentiment? Every time I see a St George’s cross hanging out of someone’s window or on their car aerial (which is a LOT OF TIMES), a little bit of my ‘Britishness’ – if I have any – dies.

The fact (in as far as ‘facts’ exist) is, nobody really knows what it means to ‘be British’ or ‘be French’ or ‘be Senegalese’. If it’s about a group of people you identify with on multiple levels, well, I identify more with the diverse and international groups that are ‘Muslims’ or ‘fangirls’ or ‘scientists’ than I do with this nebulous, amorphous geographically-bound group that is ‘British’. The only thing you can say I definitely have in common with every British person is that I’m British, too: that classification predicts nothing else, not even a common language or a predilection for fish and chips. It doesn’t make sense to group people on the basis that their place of birth or residence is something that overarchingly colours their sense of self or way of life. After all, you don’t expect a couple of people to be like:

girlolcat: oh hai I’m British!
I’m British too, we can has marriage?
girlolcat: o rly u Brutish? Shore we can has marriage! yay
boilolcat: okai less haff marriage! i do i do, do u?
girlolcat: ya ya i do k?
boilolcat: yay

No? No. Does not work that way. Does not even START that way. So get a brain! MORANS.

4) ‘It’s not just a game, it’s a religion’

Bill Shankly famously said, ‘some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’

It really is.

I’m glad I never lost my head so much that I actually wore or wanted to wear a cross. You know, that being rather haram. But I do see many a Muslim with their red devils (devils! You’d think that would be a clue, right?) and their red crosses of St. George flying all around them, and I think, you guys actually have no idea that that is seriously haram – bordering on shirk,** if not actually so.

This is a large part of why I don’t have any nostalgia for like, my lost youth (XD). As a wise fictional character was wont to say, ‘one horse cannot wear two saddles’. Truesay. I don’t have the room in my life for the commitment football demands. There are more important things I want to devote myself to than eating football, sleeping football and drinking Coca Cola – more important things to fangirl wake up in the morning for. And frankly, being a Muslim takes up all my time. Football’s place in that is only as passing entertainment, not an all-absorbing, consuming passion that demands its own ikhlas.*

And at the end of it all, ENGLAND WILL LET YOU DOWN. God won’t. And that right there is a reason why I prefer to be one of those believers: the ones most people think are a little bit weird, a little bit mad, and a lotta bits trippin’. But you tell me who’s trippin’ when…actually, that takes us, finally, to:

5) England never win. Ever. EVER. EVERRRRR!!11!@1

We get all excited with every goal England score, sure that that’s the winner, we’re unbeatable, we’re never going down, we’re the greatest – oh yes! They LOOK like they’re winning. For about 17 minutes. And then they get cocky and let one – or two or six – in and that’s that – proving over and over AND OVER the truth a friend loves to lambast me with: ‘football is a game you play for 90 minutes, and then Germany wins.’

Supporting England is like being a BATTERED WIFE. You look to them for love and strength and, like,  gifts, and all the while they abuse you, emotionally and physically. But you can’t bring yourself to leave them, or abandon them to themselves. Some inexplicable fusion of duty, love and need ties you to them, no matter what they put you through.

And really, no woman – or man – deserves to go through so much hell for so little lovin’ back. It just stops being worth it.

* Ikhlas: sincerity in faith. It’s a specific term that refers to…the grade of your Muslim petrol (gas), if you were, like, a car.
** ‘Shirk’ is not the same as the English ‘shirk’, but an Arabic term pronounced a little differently that describes the act of ascribing any partnership to God, or taking something else equally to Him. It’s the worst thing a Muslim can do, and takes them right out of Islam. We respect the Christian cross, but consider it beyond what is allowable for ourselves, to adopt a defining symbol of a different faith.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. fjafjan permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:25 pm

    No comment except I think the google ad for this post is very apt:
    “Reclaim your brain” is the headline.

  2. June 16, 2010 6:37 pm

    While I find comparing being a sports fan to an abusive relationship a little…okay, highly…problematic, I otherwise ❤ this post, like, a lot. I personally like patriotism (and consider myself more or less patriotic) – in the sense of having pride of where you are from and what your local culture is (for me it's being from the south in America). But I have serious problems with nationalism – or the idea that your country is better than someone else's, or that everything your government does should be blindly agreed with – cause you know I disagree with a lot of that.

    Aside from what you mentioned, I also find crazy sports obsession iffy because some of the culture is really, really worrisome (like the fact that American football and drinking go hand in hand to an -extreme- at my old university – they're more important than academics), and so is the industry surrounding it. To me it speaks badly of any culture to place so much financial value on sports and so little on, say, education. I mean, sports players make millions or even billions. Teachers and policemen and firemen make beans. At my old university, the best facilities were the classrooms in the stadium – I once had class in a room that basically had murals of the football players covering every wall. It was essentially a shrine (and even before I was Muslim that rubbed me the wrong way). My friend was recently kicked out of the building for sitting there to do her homework outside of her classroom, which was inside of it (it's a speech class – same classroom I had) because having students sitting on the floor studying inside the building is bad for the football stadium's "image." What does it say about academics in this country that universities put all their money, time, and attention into expanding sports facilities and ignoring the broken-down, poorly insulated classrooms that lack decent heating and air on the other side of campus? Yes, universities MAKE a lot of money from sports, too, because the industry feeds on itself…but to me that just points to the fact that the whole industry is screwy and needs serious changing. And don't get me started on sexism towards female athletes and the rape culture that (along with fraternities) sports has a big hand in.

  3. June 16, 2010 11:59 pm

    ‘I find comparing being a sports fan to an abusive relationship a little…okay, highly…problematic’

    A comparison made in jest! Please don’t take it seriously : )

    I have a pretty simple theory about crazy sports obsessions. In some form or another, everyone needs a ‘religion’, a thing they devote themselves to. In some people, it takes the form of sporting obsessions. Sometimes it can be a very abstract thing, but nevertheless, it’s the fuel in your tank, it’s what impels a person to do what they do, whether it’s the love of a team, or a person, or knowledge, or whatever. There are probably neural circuits hard-wired for that kind of thing.

    The rest of your comment: it doesn’t surprise me; seems very symptomatic of the confused priorities societies at large have. One of the other things I just don’t get the point of is massive and massively expensive public fireworks displays. How many a night I’ve stood at my door thinking, if that money hadn’t been spent on fireworks, how many homeless people could we take off the streets? How many playgrounds refurbished? How many more hospital beds or ambulances?

    I get that there is a need for diversion – and that entertainment is a good thing, but really, there have to be priorities. There’s something awful and inhuman about glitzy shows of glamour funded by the taxpayer while there are people who live below the poverty line, who can’t afford basic amenities, who struggle to stay warm in the same Winter these displays are happening…it frustrates me endlessly that most people are content with this status quo, and worse, it seems perfectly reasonable to them.

    I used to wonder if I wasn’t wrong to think that money for entertainment could be used elsewhere, if it was immoderate of me to begrudge people their leisure – it’s something I was almost indoctrinated out of – that people fortunate enough to be better off than others didn’t have to apologise for their comparative wealth, and that they needn’t curtail their pursuits just because poor people existed somewhere. They give charity, they’re good, it’s okay, they can have fireworks.

    Until I remember ‘Umar, and compare the time of his caliphate to now. ‘Umar would never, EVER have let this happen. He wouldn’t have rested until every person under his jurisdiction was adequately provided for and sheltered. He would have disdained the entertainment as soulless frippery, and maybe even outlawed it because of what it made people. He held himself personally accountable for every smallest thing that happened during his rule, east to west, across the broad reaches of the Empire.

    Men like ‘Umar are no longer born.

    • June 17, 2010 12:59 am

      I don’t take it seriously, I just am personally incapable of finding humor in it, as with some other kinds of jokes.

      “The rest of your comment: it doesn’t surprise me; seems very symptomatic of the confused priorities societies at large have.”

      Exactly. I can’t relate so much to the fireworks thing – we usually have fireworks here (in America) only on the fourth of July (at least, everywhere that I’ve lived…in some places you can buy them other times of the year but there aren’t fireworks shows that often except at, like, Disney World), but even then I agree that a lot of the money that is put into fireworks could be put into other, better things. Ditto for buying designer clothing and accessories, ditto for a lot of things. (Although to be fair, my uncle used to do the 4th fireworks show in Ft. Gaines. I can’t remember who funded it, I think some more affluent families in the county mostly paid for it – it was several hundred dollars – and for a lot of poor families it was one of the few diversions they look forward to.) The problem with this in America is tax money (and donations to universities) are usually so heavily allocated that even if we did want to divert the money to help people (for which it is desperately, desperately needed) there are too many restrictions in place to allow it to be spent for other things. This is another case of the system being screwed up, IMHO.

      I was talking to a friend about this today…this is one situation where my purely socialist side comes out and I think that governments have to put their foot down and say enough is enough, cut through the crap, and put the money where it’s needed. But in America there are so many restrictions on these kinds of things (even aside from public opinion, which is generally not in favor of helping the poor and the homeless) in order to keep government from getting too “big” (and also affecting the way people want to spend their personal income) that it would just never happen.

      So generally when I get to this point I just pray to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to give us a leader like ‘Umar.

  4. June 17, 2010 2:20 pm


    I’m familiar with the problem of budgeted money not being redistributable (i.e. that if it weren’t spent on a street party, it doesn’t mean it would go to where it’s needed), and that, again, shows that the priorities are screwed up from the top down. The problems begin, it seems, with government itself. But everyone muddies the waters in some way, until the whole concept of welfare is a tangled and impenetrable mess that is survived an individual at a time. And I have to say, I’m grateful to be living in the UK: no country is perfect, but they do a lot better with welfare than a lot of countries. We just happen to have an idiot for a Mayor in London, who spends our money like a kid with a pocket full of pennies in a sweetshop. Stupid man.

    Did I mention I love fireworks? And then I realised at some point – after rounds of news reports of airstrikes – that the sound of fireworks is exactly the sound of bombing. Exactly. The next time there are fireworks, people should close their eyes and listen to it, and then listen to a news report about Iraq or Lebanon or Israel or something. The fact that the sounds of our entertainment is absolutely identical to the music of a warzone is…at the best, deeply ironic.

    Since realising that, I have never been able to fully forget it when I listen to them.

    ‘I just am personally incapable of finding humor in it, as with some other kinds of jokes.’
    I’m sorry, I know what that’s like, I have no-go areas, too.
    Note to self: use brain in future. Moran.

    • June 17, 2010 6:54 pm

      “Since realising that, I have never been able to fully forget it when I listen to them.”

      Oh, I know. I have never actually heard bombing before except on TV, but I have heard gunshots many times, and in America during the 4th and other times of the year small firecrackers are really common – a lot of kids and teenagers play with them in the streets. And they often sound exactly like gunshots. I haven’t actually seen a big fireworks show in several years but once you realize it sounds like bombing it’s impossible to forget that sound.

  5. June 18, 2010 7:08 pm

    In other news, we interrupt this conversation to bring you…

    Been there, done that…now wear the shirt. XD

    Also, I’d like to mention that I’m watching England v Algeria, rooting for England, and being very pleased that English supporters are probably the only ones who are loud enough to drown out the vuvuzela’s droning. And also saying every eighteen minutes, ‘I DON’T EVEN CAREEEEEEE’.

    Which just goes to show that old loves die hard.

    There’s no denying that at its best, the football spirit is really great: the camaraderie and unity and generally being part of something bigger – times like those, you really wish it was true that football had replaced wars.

  6. June 19, 2010 12:54 am

    I just wanted to say – even though I’m way late to the conversation, that I don’t much understand patriotism, nationalism, etc. and blah blah. I guess I look at it this way – God, Allah (swt) the universe, a black hole, whatever you believe in, did not create boundaries. End of story. My maternal Grandparents are immigrants, and my paternal Great Grandparents are immigrants. And not from just one country. It’s like my family circled the globe picking up new and exotic blood along the way and finally finished up very recently in America. I can’t get with all the hoo haa about me and mine being more important than anyone else. And this is why what’s happening in Arizona right now is totally making me grind my teeth.

    Vuvuzelas: Shoot me NOW!

  7. feyneantoinette permalink
    July 3, 2010 4:36 pm

    omg. could i piggyback yr blog on mine?

    • July 3, 2010 10:00 pm

      um, if I knew what that meant I could answer it better!

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