The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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Why Do We Follow Sports? Part One.

Belligerence has something to do with it. FIFA can insist all they like that football is about friendship, cheerful graphics, and tolerant people with stylish glasses who ride their bikes to work, but if we weren’t hard-wired for tribalism and violence we wouldn’t much care about sports. Most of the time we repress those instincts in order to live in peaceful societies, but we’re still carrying around a natural impulse to split off into hostile groups and kill one another with spears, and it’s basically a straight line from that impulse to Clive at the Fox and Pheasant suffering agonies of life and death over the Bradford City-Huddersfield match. Why?

A warrior from Manchester

Because sports lets us simulate the experience of conflict—the anger, the triumph, the panic, the despair—while protecting us (usually) from consequences in real life. It gives us the thrill of physical confrontation without the intent to cause harm, and it gives us the wild solidarity that comes from losing ourselves in the midst of a screaming crowd without then asking us to charge at any barricades. It allows us to have a safe experience of the most dangerous part of ourselves. It probably serves a useful social function (despite the odd murdered policeman) by channeling aggression into a relatively harmless outlet. But it’s a narrow ledge to walk on, and whenever I see the blue-eyed optimists who seem to organize all matchday events trotting out children and rainbow flags to represent the “spirit of the game,” I can’t help but think of that famous picture of the little Feyenoord boy who looks like he’s about to bring the head of Longshanks back to William Wallace, and wonder if he isn’t closer to the point.

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Why Do We Follow Sports? Part One.

by Brian Phillips · October 24, 2007

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