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Shelf help: For the love of club football



Football, the world’s most popular sport, is extremely popular in India too. But lack of patronage, cricket’s domineering influence, and lack of an adequate number of grass-covered pitches have limited its influence in the country. Yet, every four years, football evokes a kind of internationalist passion, especially in urban India, when fans segregate into Brazilians, Argentinians, Germans, and so on, rooting for their favourite teams.

I fell in love with football in a manner unlike the average Indian fan. I was hooked to the sport and to Spanish football when I saw Fernando Redondo back-heel the ball and shake off a defender, thread it onto the goal line, and then pass it to Raúl González to score a miraculous goal for Real Madrid against Manchester United in 2000. This was club football at its best. Soon I realised that club football was football at its best because clubs always play better, are more tactically rounded and more systematic, sometimes even more talented, than national sides.

* Umberto Eco in his essay ‘Sports Chatter’, as part of his book Travels in Hyperreality, decries spectator sport — fandom exercised by someone who watches sport rather than participates in it — as a wasted form of chatter. He says spectator sport and the competitiveness it engenders between fans of various teams breed a form of irrational groupism. He is right. Rooting for club football and spectator sport are embodiments of irrationalism in the modern world. But for an intelligent sports fan, there is an upgraded form of spectator sport, one that is gained by understanding and appreciating the expertise in the sport. In football, systems, coaching and ideas play an important role at the highest levels of the sport. When understood this way, sport becomes a form of art; sport fans become art enthusiasts.

* Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid is an excellent introduction to the evolution of tactics in football and how the game became professional and systematised over time since it took root in the 19th century. It is necessary not just to appreciate club football but to also understand the context of rivalries and philosophies that underpin the way certain clubs play.

* Phil Ball’s Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football is an account of the football rivalries in very tumultuous times, with political and social loyalties translating into club support.

* Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona Vs Real Madrid addresses the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona and looks beyond football to explain it.

srinivasan.vr@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 7:56:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/shelf-help/article8570389.ece

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