Come again! Why does football cause so many emotions?

Come again!  Why does football cause so many emotions?

Down in the coal cellar. Or floating on a golden cloud.

Are you or your friend a football fan? So you probably know that the weekly mood fluctuates at one end or the other of the idiot scale, depending on whether your team wins or loses.

The feeling of injustice can build up like a small, angry lump in the body for several days. Or you can ride the wave of victory all week.

Football evokes great emotions.

But then it becomes ordinary again, and from a distance it can feel a bit silly to let yourself get carried away by the number of times a ball – kicked between 22 players on a large lawn – has ended up in one goal or another.

So why does this happen to millions of people every weekend? Why can a football result mean so much? Isn't it all rather…foolish?

of course not! Bo Kampmann-Walter, who has studied football for several decades, answers:

– It's not foolish at all. It's vital. It is the salt of life. Football is God. That's it, dear friends, he almost shouted on the phone.

– The most sober answer is that the simple and the banal have an indestructible durability in our life. For all the simple and poetic feelings we encounter in sports, music, and love, there's something that works. It is the center of our lives.

Three different answers

Bo Kampmann Walther, if you haven't realized already, is part of a gang of football fanatics.

He is a researcher at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, has written several books on football and is a regular football writer for the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information.

– So I may be injured at work, and I realize that I am somewhat sick when it comes to football, he says.

He himself is a moderate Odense fan, and has been an ardent Real Madrid fan since 1976, when he went with his father to watch a match with the Spanish club, where Danish attacking legend Henning Jensen was present:

– He made a big impression on me, he recalls.

– When I think about it, I know that there have been some situations in my life where I was more upset by something that happened to my team, Real Madrid, than by something that happened in my immediate family, he admits.

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– I mean, I would like to have Karim Benzema's child!

In other words, Bo Kampmann-Walter is not the most impartial observer in the world when it comes to answering whether football fanaticism sometimes gets the better of him.

But if he takes a step back from his football-obsessed starting point, he sees at least three possible answers to what makes football so important to him, and to me and so many others:

  • Psychology of the individual
  • Social analysis
  • The game itself

So let's deal with the explanations one by one.

Tribal psychology

If you asked Sigmund Freud or a contemporary psychologist why football is so emotional, they would probably say something along the lines of “the superego is getting a break,” Walther guesses:

-It's about being the downstairs person and being allowed to roar with others in the clan. At least that's how I saw it interpreted before. But this is not my area of ​​expertise.

On the other hand, Henrik Høj Olsen is a professor of psychology at Aarhus University, where he researches evolutionary and behavioral psychology. Although he is a bit skeptical about this question, he dares to give his point of view on why football fans care so much.

– For me, the key concepts are tribal psychology and identity, says Høge Olsen.

-I think it's a bit primitive

We have always oriented ourselves into groups and tribes. This is how it was for our ancestors in the Stone Age, in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, and this is how it is today, he believes.

– I knew an Italian who would not show himself in the street in his neighborhood in Denmark if Italy lost to Denmark in football. “He was afraid we would laugh at him,” Høge Olsen says.

– What happens to the representatives of your tribe, which in this case is your soccer team, also affects you because you identify with your tribe and invest your commitment in it, he explains.

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– For this reason, it is also a shame if your football team does poorly. You must take responsibility for that. Conversely, you can allow yourself to ride the wave when you win.

Although Henrik Høj Olsen understands the mechanisms, he is skeptical:

– I think it's a bit primitive, he says.

Every time we allow ourselves to perish in the shallow waters of the collective herring, says Søren Kierkegaard, we return to our primitive selves, and I think we should be a little ashamed of that, says Høge Olesen.

Part of the herring school collective? Brøndby fans at the cup final in Parken in 2018.

Religion alternative

From a social perspective – the big “we” – we find other ways to explain this phenomenon.

A fairly common explanation is that we have now done away with the big stories about religion and myths that bind society together. This is the condition that countless philosophers and sociologists often describe as postmodern:

– A narration that society has become a candy store in which we acknowledge what we want and what suits us, because we have many options.

Many have pointed out that football has established itself as an alternative religion because it provides a fixed reference point where things are simple and it's all about scoring goals, as Bo Kampmann-Walter explains.

It is noteworthy that the famous Italian writer, semiotician, and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote about football as a religion.

The Scandinavian paradox

Describing football as an alternative religion is a particularly northern trend, and Walter believes:

– In the southern part of the world, there is no need to say that football is like a religion. There, football is religion. He says Maradona is like Jesus, and they don't have a big problem with that.

The reason it's a little more difficult for us in the North, according to Walther, is our secular world, where religion is often met with cynical distance:

“We are a bit stingy with poetry in Denmark,” he says.

– In 2004, some FCK fans applied to a church priest to become a state-recognised religious community. It was done with a ridiculous distance from everything. In Argentina, they probably wouldn't have that ridiculous filter.

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Diego Maradona with pope hat. A mural in Naples, where the young Argentine football artist was and still is a demigod. In Argentina there is “Iglesia Maradona”, and this is not meant to be sarcastic.

The game itself

Bo Kampmann-Walter is a bit tired of having to explain the great appeal of football as a phenomenon derived from other things, such as tribal psychology or the lack of religion in our lives.

“For me, it's more interesting to look at what makes different games and sports great and fun in their own right,” he says.

Among other things, Walther researches how computer games work and don't work. And he has a theory about what makes football so popular.

He believes that the power of football lies in the simple rules and all the possibilities that are constantly present.

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– If we forget the 30 offside rules, football is a relatively simple game. He says there are 11 men on each team running back and forth after the ball.

– At the same time, football has what game analysts call too many chances. He adds that this means that there are always a huge number of possibilities for outcomes, movements and actions when a player has possession of the ball.

-Unpredictable and therefore exciting

If Christian Eriksen gets the ball in the middle of the pitch, he can return it to the defence, make a smart turn, dribble, play forward or to the side, stop the ball and take the pace away from the game, shoot on goal and so on and so forth.

Football is a very chaotic and chaotic game, and this chaos affects spectators, says Walther.

My theory is that it is the many chances in a match that arouse great emotions in us. It's unpredictable, and therefore exciting.

-So shouldn't you be ashamed of being passionate about football?

– I think you can give up on that. But there is, of course, a line between having something that means a lot to you and something that becomes an obsession, Walther says.

© Videnskab.dk. Translated by Lars Nygaard for forskning.no. Read the original story on videnskab.dk here.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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