FOOTBALL : THE SOCIO-TECH BOOM
Is football just a game now? Or has it evolved into a culture with the development of technology? Aparajita Dutta talks about this development as football has upgraded itself and taken new dimensions, aided by the social media
Blurring the borders of real and virtual,
Emerges a culture, a socio- tech boom,
Where passion kisses the ground of dreams,
A variegated intricate set with just one name,
It is more than ‘just a game’!Football: what does this very word trigger when you hear it? ‘ A game’, perhaps? Well, had the question been asked a few years earlier, it would have been the appropriate answer. But perhaps, now, if the same question is asked, the answer would not be restricted to one word; along with the word ‘game’, a whole set of other elements will clot together, waiting to get expressed. Yes, over the past few years, the scenario of football being just a game has changed. This has been largely due to the rapid advancement of social media, especially Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild, Facebook.
In ancient Greece, the games were accompanied by festivities and carnivals which not only developed a strong sense of sportsmanship among people, but also contributed to literature and culture of the nation. The origin of ‘Ode’, now a very popular form of lyric poetry , owes its roots to the games held in ancient Greece. This celebration of games has changed with the passage of time and its wings have developed multiple intricate feathers, upgrading itself with the changes in society. These recent technological developments have not only opened new horizons for the game of football, but have also changed the social behaviour of human beings.
Football has been a favourite sport of people all around the world since the beginning of the twentieth century (be it local club football or national team). Supporters have argued over their favourite team or club, and the twenty first century has seen the rise of football-related merchandise developed to satisfy the passion of all devoted fans. This trend has evolved as social media has provided a virtual platform where supporters from all across the world can unite. A number of Indian Facebook groups, such as Footballer Adda ( FA), Football Is In Our Blood (FIIOB), Football Fans Federation (FFF), and others have sprung up with a view to unite football lovers from all across the globe. With a growing number of Facebook users, these groups have earned popularity as people participate in healthy discussions and forums. Members of these groups vary from football players to supporters who are passionate about the game. Amidst the sands of rivalry for team support, ruled the wave of unity for one single passion, love and life: FOOTBALL, THE GAME.
Initiatives by the administrators of these groups to meet their virtual friends in real life have led to the organization of small tournaments where members of the group have formed teams and played football against each other. And of course, when a group of people meet, it is more than just a game of football—people have bonded over food and virtual friendships have been reincarnated with the holy waters of reality. Interactions have increased, and, as groups have grown, people have matured as well.
Many people often consider the virtual world as something which should be kept away from real lives. Facebook has also been known as Fakebook by many. However, these football groups have proved everybody wrong. Of course, in cases where there were “fake people” the administrators have dealt with them with a strong hand, banning and black listing these profiles. The discussions have started to be more wide too, so that when people fight over Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Eva Carneiro, the team doctor of Chelsea has not been forgotten either. (In fact, she often becomes ‘the most-talked-about woman’ among the men folk.) With each passing day, tournaments and picnics have taken larger forms and these groups have become a ‘family’ to their members.
These groups have slowly started to create a culture of football all around the globe. They have also come up with their own set of merchandise, such as jerseys, calendars, and others which reveal the spirit of the group as well as its eternal love for football. They have become the microcosm of the macrocosmic world of international football. The efforts rendered by the organizers reflect their dedication. Months before these tournaments, they start arranging for funds, making jerseys, selecting the venue, inviting all members and providing breakfast and lunch to everyone. Event pages in Facebook are created and coordination from the players and spectators prove the strength of these groups. The strangers who meet in virtual world have, thus, become close friends in real life.
Strange are the ways in which people meet and perhaps strangest is the way how people bond over football. This bonding develops not only by supporting the same club/ team but also through endless bantering—Mohun Bagan–East Bengal , Manchester United–Chelsea, Barcelona–Real Madrid , Brazil–Argentina, Argentina–Germany, etc. It is about knowing that your friend is passionate about football in the same way you are, no matter whichever team s/he supports. It is this passion which binds people all over the globe, people we haven’t met. It is not just about the game of 90 minutes either. It is about the wonderful saves, the passes, the jerseys, the shoes: it is about the culture of football that transcends all barriers. These tournaments have become the get together of these families as people living abroad fly down to the city to meet everyone.
Some groups even have virtual fight clubs, such as the one of FIIOB. It actually invites its members from all over the globe to ‘literally fight’ in support of their favourite club. However, the rule is that points stated should be legitimate. These opportunities also offer virtual platforms of healthy debates, leading to a healthy increase in one’s knowledge of the blessed game.
I have been stating facts and writing bland non- fiction so far. Got tired of it? Well, I kind of did too. So, instead of giving facts and figures, how about I tell you a story? I would not say whether the story is a real one or not. I leave that up to you to decide. So, the story goes like this…and yes…it is a romantic one. There is this girl…ummm…let’s her call her Dhruti, and there is this guy…ummm…let’s call him Vivan. So Dhruti and Vivan meet each other in one of these groups and share their love for football. However, Dhruti is a Barcelona fan and Vivan is a staunch Manchester United supporter. They engage in teasing and bantering but the emotion that overpowers everything else is their love for football, their attitude towards football, their love for jerseys, and their favourite ‘hang out’ place (i.e., the sports bar). As Vivan showers all his love upon his lady love, Dhruti leaves Barcelona and joins Manchester United just to express her love to the person who has become the reason of her smile.
Apart from Facebook groups, Twitter has become an important social site which feeds information faster to the football fans than any other media. All the transfer news are ‘tweeted’ instantly and the players interact with the fans, aiding in spreading controversies. Those days are no more when you have to wait every morning for the newspaper to get your daily dose of football news. Football journalists, with their constant interaction with people through Twitter and other social media have made a huge fan base around the world and are followed by millions of people. Reputed personalities like Tony Evans, Oliver Kay, Oliver Holt, Stan Collymore, Henry Winter and others have changed the scenario of the fan’s dependence on print media. Thanks to social media, we have this emerging class of ‘football journalists’ aiming to create the whole culture of football.
The world of blogs is a part of this rising culture of football too. Starting from blogs on FPL strategies to blogs of various club—everything is part of this blogosphere. These blogs provide a platform for fans to know and interact with their favourite clubs. Blogs like http://www.espnfc.com/club/bayern-munich/132/blog, the blog of Bayern Munich and http://www.barcablaugranes.com/, the blog of Barcelona provide virtual platforms where fans can interact with each other as well as with officials.
Official pages of clubs and groups of ‘official supporter’s clubs’ have marked their dominance in the social media. These pages are sources of authentic exclusive information. They are, however, rather fan oriented. There is a group called the Chelsea India Supporters Club- Kolkata, which is the official fanbase for Chelsea supporters from Kolkata. The club is connected to the Chelsea India Supporter’s Club, which, in turn, is connected to the one based in London. Official membership is given by its base in London. However, as a fan base, this group has its own events, such screening of matches and tournaments like the Chelsea Legend Cup. These are the events that bind the people together, from virtual to real. These are all about football, just in different colours. Similar groups celebrate the beautiful game to its maximum capacity, be it Manchester United Fan Club India (MUFCI), FC Barcelona India fans’ club or any other similar groups dedicated to club fans from a specific region/ group/ community.
This whole new culture of football has also given rise to a completely new football-oriented language. ‘Bus parking’ is not just a strategy of football anymore; nowadays, it is applied to other areas of life as well. Relationships have started to be defined in terms of ‘football’. For example, what would we call the couple of our story? Ans: The ‘United-couple’. Apart from these, there are of course other relationships as well, such as the ‘Chelsea-tuto bhai’ (the Chelsea brothers), the ‘Madridista brothers’, and, the ‘Munich brothers’.
Football as a culture is undergoing a boom with the help of technology. People have started interacting more on social sites and the border between virtual and real has been transcended, thanks to this wonderful game. We have all become a part of the solar system, with football as the sun in the centre.