SotB: World Cup 2014

Has football changed in the two years since we were last here? It seems that much of what we achieved during the Euro 2012 session of Straight off the Beach was diagnostic: we tried to make tangible the way that the modern game occupies an ideological interstice between conservatism (remember Trappatoni?) and the W.H. Smiths Smart Thinking section. We pointed to the hypocrisy that permeates the discussion of racism and nationalism in football, we argued that the implementation of video technology would produce a depletion of sporting affect, we interrogated the seductive force of Tiki-Taka and Guardiola-ism. It feels as if a lot of what we were spotting has been borne out by subsequent events, not least the current period of what one might call Peak Tactocracy.

The 2014 World Cup takes place against a global backdrop in which the stakes have, almost unthinkably, risen since 2012. Slavoj Žižek called 2011 ‘the year of dreaming dangerously’; 2014 is the year in which the political realities of dangerous dreams seem to be emerging. One could clearly see in the protests which surrounded the tournament’s stadiums-to-be during last year’s Confederations Cup that the Brazilian World Cup bristled with oneiric edge, but one acid test for the country’s anti-corruption and anti-poverty movements will be whether similar events will occur during the real thing. Previous tournaments – 1982, 1998 – have witnessed sporadic outbreaks of off-the-field chaos, and others, such as 1938 and 1978, have had dark political overtones. However, it has never been the case that political disorder has truly impinged upon the scheduling or completion of the matches themselves.

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It is one of SotB’s main convictions that the notion of ‘the match itself’ is, as Roland Barthes might have it, ‘mythological’, a concept which naturalises the idea that sport can somehow be made separate and distinct from politics. The ideological extension of this is that there exists such a thing as the ‘non-political’, a space beyond thought and critique which ‘goes without saying’. While there will be a great deal of variety in what goes up here over the next couple of months, there will be no space for the argument that it’s just football, mate. It isn’t.

Inevitably, football has as many meanings as there are football fans or, indeed, footballphobes. One interesting development over the last couple of years, however, has been the rise of a sentiment which declares itself ‘against modern football’. There has been much to be admired – and, it has to be said, a fair bit not to be admired – about AMF, but we have to be cautious about declaring any vision or version of football to be ‘authentic’. Those kids in Jakarta or Manila forming Manchester United/ Liverpool/ Chelsea ultra groups on Twitter are as empirically ‘real’ – if not more so – than the crumbling terraces and cowsheds that are photographed and uploaded under the #AMF hashtag. It’s too easy to get trapped in nostalgia and not really think through the phenomena of globalised football in detail, probably because those phenomena provoke deep unease about the future of the game. One has a responsibility to ask, though, what is really happening – and what is facilitating – the decimating entropy of the game. We don’t think narratives of individual greed, of psychopathically avaricious chairmen and graspingly disloyal players, really do any good in helping us understand the systemic causes of What’s Wrong With Football.

Anyway, welcome back to SotB. Hopefully we’ll avoid the heat-death we experienced in 2012. As ever, we really appreciate all (sensible) comment and debate BTL.

Joe Kennedy/ Karl Whitney

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