Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Football and identity

Football is a religion, the stadium is the temple, and the fans are the worshippers. There is no other way to explain what happens when people gather in one place in the name of football. I’m gradually building a catalogue of cultural stereotypes: the Trinis are party animals, the Aussies are crazy party animals, and the South Koreans are good natured crazy party animals (see video).

Frankfurt was painted a sea of red as South Korea defeated Togo 2-1. The city rang out to sounds of “Daehan Minguk” followed by a rhythmic clap. The South Korean song has been by the far the catchiest, due to it simplicity. If you shout “Daehan Minguk” (which is traditional name of the country) to anybody in Frankfurt, they are sure to respond automatically with the now familiar clap.

When the Aussies beat Japan a few days ago in Kaiserslautern, some Japanese fans were crying. That was how much a first round game in the World Cup meant to them. I’m having to reassess my views on nationalism and pride for one’s country. I tend to question pride for one’s country, especially as nobody chooses where they are born.

CNN showed images of Seoul, the people drunk with delirium over the win. It means a lot to people for their country to win in football. Are there any psychologists out there who can explain this? The excitement is contagious, but I’m having to experience it second hand, vicariously through the people we film and interview. If Nigeria were here, it would have become a personal obsession.

In the past, I’ve found it difficult to refer to Nigeria in the first person plural “we”, plumping instead for the dispassionate third person: “Nigerians tend to be…” as opposed to, “we tend to be...” I am passionate about Nigerian football, and this could be the medium through which I learn to appreciate my Nigerian roots and culture all over again. Should football be the catalyst for this? I don’t know.

Germany is filled with people from all over the world, here to support their teams. Mexican American Angelinos are here to support USA, and cheer for Mexico on behalf of their parents. Ecuadoreans from Oz fly more than half way across the world to watch Oz and Ecuador. Germans who once lived in Togo scream, “Allez Togo”. The world, as far as football fans are concerned, is jumbled up in a blend of nationalities, allegiances both false and true, and despite the (harmless) nationalism, it becomes an acknowledgement of our oneness as human beings.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say, because it’s a nebulous one. I haven’t pinned it down to some grand narrative which encompasses all that’s in my head. How does one combine football, nationalism, humour, culture, heritage, passion into a single thought process – it’s a difficult one. Do you know what I mean?


remi said...

Nigerians (third person) understandably love football. I don't have any answers to your burning questions. However it would be interesting to have Nigerian presidential elections around the same time as world cup (assuming the eagles always qualify). History suggests Nigerians only share a common view at such big tournaments.

In the process, we might just combine football, nationalism, humour, culture, heritage and politics.

culturalmiscellany said...

I wrote an essay on just this topic for my Open University course, maybe I should send it to you.

Hope you're enjoying Germany. I was (quietly, so not to get beaten up) cheering Trinidad and Tobago last night but to no avail. The English team don't deserve to get anywhere in this competition given their performance of late. Mind you like many English males they ages to get there but eventually provide the goods ;)

Anonymous said...

ayoke said...

"How does one combine football, nationalism, humour, culture, heritage, passion into a single thought process..."

Look in the mirror, Nkem! You! Ha! Never been crazy about any team besides Nigeria but your updates on the fans are getting me interested.

toometoblog said...

Finally got to watch u on t.v (AND YOU SAID YOU WERE STANDING WHILE YOU WERE ACTUALLY CROUCHING!!!). now theres a voice (and a face) to read ur blog to. nice touch of robbie at the end of the program. that cursing ghetto smurf pimp daddy set a record for the most censored f**ks ever. youre pushing the envelope and were loving it.

Nkem said...

Yep, I know I was crouching. Actually had a bit of trouble getting up after that. Didn't realise they were putting in the bits with swearing.

A disillusioned Naija girl said...

Is all that nationalism indeed harmless?

Unknown said...

This week Iceland hosts a Play The Game conference about sport and society - mega events such as football in Nigeria and Ethiopia will be debated. Help us create debate and dialogue on