Football — or soccer, for Americans — is the beautiful game, but it is also the people’s game. From the streets of Rio’s favelas to the pristine pitch of Wembley, billions of people worldwide are united by their love for kicking a ball around outdoors. Perhaps that’s why football is so popular — it’s easy. You don’t need fancy equipment: All you need is a ball, a flat space and willing participants.
Yet as astronomically popular as football is, I think it’s under threat. Fans like to complain that “the game is gone” after the video assistant referee (VAR) rules against them, but they’re not far off when they say that today’s game bears little resemblance to the game of twenty years ago. The sheer quantity of money in today’s game means that behind each 90 minutes of kicking and running is a network of transactions, media deals and licensing rights that totals millions, if not billions, of dollars.
The recently defeated Super League is an example of what can happen when those with money think their power is unchecked. Without asking the fans or the players, the powerful and wealthy men behind the game make decisions in the interest of their pocketbooks, and not of the game. We are remarkably lucky that a vocal subsection of clubs’ fanbases spoke out so passionately that it defeated a multi-billion dollar proposal. Otherwise, the game would truly be gone.
In this, my final column about the beautiful game for The Student, I want to leave you all with a brief message, maybe even a plea. Get involved in local football. As a Chelsea fan, it’s okay to support a big club. But don’t overlook the little guy. Pick a League Two team to follow, maybe even buy their kit once in a while. (They’re fairly cheap and often pretty fashion-forward.) Go watch your local Major League Soccer, or even better, National Women’s Soccer League or USL, team and buy a scarf.
Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez, while “justifying” the need for the proposed Super League, argued that people are increasingly disengaged with the lower levels of the sport, and only want to watch big games with star players. Prove him wrong. Go pay $25 to watch New Mexico United play El Paso Locomotive. Get an iFollow subscription to watch every Barnsley game. Kick a ball around in a park or join a local pickup league.
This sport is something special. Let’s keep it that way.