Football: A People’s History of Europe?

Sep 22, 2020

Football united Europe, but also represents the many risks ahead.

Football is by far the most popular sport in Europe and in the world. It has the power to push entire populations to euphoric moods, but it also has a questionable way of magnifying divides through its tribal tendencies.

Considering its massive cultural impact, we explore the beloved team sport’s impact on identity and belonging in a rapidly changing world, while asking what kind of football world will emerge from these current coronatimes. What have the last months taught us about the social role of football for communities and people across the continent?

Football for Europe

Looking back to look ahead

David Goldblatt has written extensively about the history and society of football, including “The Ball is Round. A Global History of Football” and “The Age of Football: Soccer in the 21st Century”.

In this video he takes a step back to look at what football, as a cultural phenomenon and a social, economic and political force, has brought Europe. This perspective raises a myriad of questions regarding football’s current, and future, significance.

Goldblatt suggests that football has created a culture of shared values, which Europe so urgently seeks in its political unification projects.

Warning signs

In addition, he warns us for the many ways in which football, even if it has a unifying potential for Europe, is increasingly entangled with counter-democratic ideological and even criminal currents. It is interesting to note that more recently, Goldblatt also collaborated with the Rapid Transition Alliance to produce a thought-provoking body of research called “Playing against the clock” that challenges football’s responsibility in the face of the climate crisis. Media platform TIFO Football has also developed an animated video following this same theme entitled “Will Your Football Club be Underwater in 2050?.

A window on European culture

It is wholly thanks to the festival Forum on European Culture that we have been able to engage David Goldblatt and put together this video. This festival is a large bi-annual gathering in The Netherlands centering on the role of culture in the (re)creation of Europe. Programme Editor Simon de Leeuw (on behalf of festival co-organiser DutchCulture) curated a special event about the role of football and invited David Goldblatt, Simon Kuper, Laura Youngson and Eniola Aluko. But due to covid-19 it was not possible for him to speak at the event in Amsterdam, which is why we from Football Makes History were able to support the professional recording. We hope this key note contribution will be directly useful to educators and young people in the context of our project.

The panel discussion took place on 19 September, and the whole panel discussion can be played back at De Balie TV.

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Article Tags:   cultural heritage  |   democracy  |   teaching  |   values

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