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Sacred Soccer?

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Football's first commandment should read: 'I am the club you are going to support, and I ain't promising nothing!'
Is football the new religion? Superficially, the game is portrayed as such. After all, we are often described as making weekly pilgrimages to worship our gods as they play upon the sacred turf of hallowed grounds.
But what about moral grounds? If football is a religion, what is its teachings? Judge for yourself as we mischievously play devil's advocate with the 'ten commandments' as they might apply to the football faithful.
The bible's first commandment says: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery. Basically it demands total loyalty based on past results.
In football we know this cannot apply. Those players who brought our team out of the land of the lower division seldom hang around if they get any better offers. A more apt first commandment would read: 'I am the club you are going to support, and I ain't promising nothing!' In that sense, football is a pretty tough faith to follow.
The second commandment says that we should worship no other gods. This definitely applies. True fans don't change their colours. Nor do they extend their loyalties to teams from other sports. Football is an all-consuming lord and master.
Commandment three orders us not to speak profanely. The high priests of football use a slightly different term. Speak ill of the game to a newspaper reporter and most players can expect a hefty fine. It is called 'bringing the game into disrepute.'
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy, says the fourth commandment, a sentiment most British fans would heartily endorse. British football matches used to kick off on a Saturday afternoon at 3.00pm. For decades that remained a central tenet of faith. Nowadays they take place on Saturday lunchtimes, on Sundays nights or whenever television dictates. A proper religion would not stand for that.
The fifth commandment requires us to honour our father and mother. In football, only if your dad's team is truly awful or based on another continent should you even thinking of supporting another. But don't expect your father's blessing. There are limits.
Religion and football agree that physical violence is evil, and therefore the sixth commandment, which forbids murder, brooks no argument. Alas the scriptures say nothing of knee-high tackles.
Commandment seven requires you to stay faithful in marriage. Thus, it may be acceptable to show affection for another team, even to watch them in action. But be careful how far you take it, and remember, switching one's allegiance totally is the most heinous sin any fan may commit.
Considering the eighth commandment - you shall not steal - C.B. Fry, a venerable amateur of the last Century said that 'in football, it is widely acknowledged that if both sides agree to cheat, cheating is fair.' Maradona did not, so far as we know, make any agreement with the England team before he scored with his infamous 'hand of god,' in the 1986 World Cup. Yet despite his admission of theft, the result stood. This is because in football, for 90 minutes there is only one true god, whose word must be obeyed, and that is the referee. This is not all bad, however, because it absolves fans of all responsibility for right and wrong. So, if your star striker dives in the box and the ref gives a penalty, what can you do?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour, says the ninth commandment. No problem with that. No player should ever try to get another sent off. We all know that teams with only ten players are much harder to beat.
Finally, the tenth commandment orders you not to covet, or desire, another person's possessions. Included in the biblical list is your neighbour's house, his wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox and his ass. Unfortunately it says nothing about his 30-goal-a-season striker or his hard tackling midfield supremo. Once again, football fandom and high morality would seem to be incompatible.
Either that or perhaps we should draw up a completely different set of ten commandmants for football. Do you have faith enough for the task?



Simon Inglis, March 2002

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