Elevation

Football from local feudal rivalry to an Internatio­nal UNIFIER OF NATIONS

- By Dr Kathy Hurly

Why do I support Pirates? Why do I support Chelsea? Why did I want Italy to win the recent European Championsh­ip? Why do I find myself screaming at the players when I’ve never played football? What is it about football that transcends all barriers and lifts us up?

Photo by Deva Darshan on Unsplash

Football started off as the gathering place for communitie­s, in many cases, on the poorer side of town. Although it was first the game of the proud working class, it was the elite British private schools that formalised the rules and establishe­d the Football Associatio­n. It was the change to profession­alism in the late 1880’s that allowed a man, any man, to earn a good living from kicking a ball. This created the opportunit­y to escape the working class and make something of yourself.

I believe that football replaced the rivalries and the conflicts that existed in feudal times between neighbouri­ng districts and towns. Instead of rushing over the hill to beat the rival tribe into submission, the communitie­s rushed over the hill to wage “war” on the football field. The great football clubs were started by priests, religious brothers, ministers of the church, and shop stewards, who wanted to bring people together to escape the terrible times of the mid-1880’s. These football clubs were localised in a suburb of a town.

Their locality having not changed in a century and the deep-set rivalry and loyalty of the past, still exists today.

Let’s take the “red and blue” Liverpool – Everton rivalry as an example. Both teams based in Liverpool, one set up by the Catholics (Liverpool) and the other by the Protestant­s (Everton). Another good example are the teams based in Glasgow – the Celtics of Roman Catholics and the Protestant Glasgow Rangers. Today, the Catholics or Protestant­s of Glasgow, Scotland, would still

“go to the grave” before they changed sides. In fact, you would never want to find yourself on the “wrong side of the field” wearing the incorrect jersey! The colour of Celtics, shamrock green and the colour of Rangers, blue. In fact, this obsession with colour goes so far, that the grass at IBrox (the home of Rangers) is Kentucky Blue! This inbred separation of the two teams on religious grounds, goes so deep that for over a hundred years, no Catholic ever played for Rangers.

Because all you needed to play football was a ball that could be kicked (often a pig’s bladder), a space and two rocks to designate the goals. It was because of these very inexpensiv­e requiremen­ts, that the game followed the Union Jack around the world during the acquisitio­n of colonies, and later, the game travelled to all corners of the world, becoming the sport of the working class.

South Africa has a proud football history that started when the British troops arrived in the

Cape of Good Hope, and as the diamond and gold fields opened, it moved with the workers, where it provided a welcome relief for the miners.

In these early times, clubs followed traditiona­l lines based mainly on immigrant communitie­s, eg the Jewish Guild, Marist Brothers (Catholics), Corinthian­s (Greeks), Highlands Park (Scots),

AJAX (Dutch), Vasco da Gama (Portuguese) and Pretoria Caledonian­s (Scots). Later there were city clubs with Bloemfonte­in Celtic, Cape Town AJAX, Pietermari­tzburg United, Savages and Shamrocks, and the universiti­es also started their own teams eg Tuks, Wits, PMB United etc.

In South Africa, the immigrants brought the old world with them, finding a place to continue old rivalries in the new world. These clubs providing

Football started off as the gathering place for communitie­s, in many cases, on the poorer side of town. Although it was first the game of the proud working class, it was the elite British private schools that formalised the rules and establishe­d the Football Associatio­n. It was the change to profession­alism in the late 1880’s that allowed a man, any man, to earn a good living from kicking a ball. This created the opportunit­y to escape the working class and make something of yourself.

a venue for the immigrant cultural activities like weddings, baptisms, funerals, allowing immigrants to speak their own languages and to continue with their customs. Sadly, bigotry and old divisions continued, and the football field provided the ideal place for these to be resolved.

Our South African teams developed along separate developmen­t lines with AmaZulu FC founded in 1932, Pirates in 1937, starting as the Orlando Boys Club, and the Morocca Swallows in 1947. Our local clubs were not integrated, and leagues developed and competed along racial lines. Locals attended games in person while the majority listened to the games on the radio. Many who grew up in Soweto would have gone to watch games in the Orlando Stadium.

I divert now to a small cameo of the times where sport transcende­d racial barriers and I tell the story of an 11-year-old. This boy lived on a farm 150 km from Johannesbu­rg and learned to love football because an uncle, Henry Edward

Charlie Hurly, played internatio­nal football,

In these early times, clubs followed traditiona­l lines based mainly on immigrant communitie­s, eg the Jewish Guild, Marist Brothers (Catholics), Corinthian­s (Greeks), Highlands Park (Scots), AJAX (Dutch), Vasco da Gama (Portuguese) and Pretoria Caledonian­s (Scots).

his Catholic school played football, and the farm labourers all supported Pirates and he would join them to listen to the weekend games.

In 1972, the labourers used the farm truck to head to Soweto, Johannesbu­rg to watch the derby between their beloved Pirates and the newly establishe­d Kaiser Chiefs. In the thick of apartheid, the induna invited the boy to join them. He was not allowed into Soweto and had to be smuggled under blankets into the 6th derby. Not a single football supporter paid him any attention. The excitement of attending a football match of this size and imbibing the passion of the supporters was magical. So magical that he doesn’t even remember the winner! Now you know why we support Pirates!

No women attended the matches in those early days, and the men travelled far and wide to attend the derby. Uniting in the love of the game, escaping the horrors of the 1970’s, rivalries in the South African black football context was built on club loyalty. These clubs had no connection to religion, language, or ethnicity, but in some instances, locality played a role. In fact, this business model preceded the one that is replicated internatio­nally today as the broadcasti­ng of games started to build club loyalty that transcende­d the borders of the past.

Women attend games today and the Soweto derby can attract as many as 90 000 people on

match day and the country has a proud history of 160 derbies. What incredible marketing opportunit­ies exist today for the clubs and the football players who can build their independen­t brands through the powerful social media tools.

With the advance of communicat­ion technology, brand loyalty has extended from the local to internatio­nal clubs. This best shown by the fact that many South Africans are loyal to UK first league teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Leeds, and exposure to the teams in Europe has extended team loyalty across Europe. The fact that several of our South African footballer­s have reached “hero” status overseas, has provided a good excuse for us to invest time in watching internatio­nal games.

However, it is the internatio­nal marketing potential that attracted the twelve sponsors of the European Football Championsh­ip, nine of these came from outside Europe, with a global audience of 1.9 billion people in 220 countries. Team kits also attract sponsorshi­p and spectator loyalty is proudly displayed through the wearing of the country or club branded apparel.

Technical kit suppliers use major tournament­s to strengthen their brands. Football boots, a key resource for accuracy, endurance and speed. Back in the day, the players bought their own boots.

The first modern boots were brought into SA from Mozambique in 1955, a pair of Adidas below-the -ankle-boots, costing £5. These were debuted in a Marist Brothers game and got the nickname from The Rand Daily Mail – “Fancy Shoes”. How far have we come with sports technology and the power of branding and marketing today?

Another glimpse of the past comes through the singing of the songs at football games, an acknowledg­ement of the deeds, villains, former games, injuries from the past. Nostalgic for the old feudal rivalries, dressing up in “battle clothes” for the games, and as the European Cup of the Nations has shown, weeping when the battle between nations is lost. Football between nations reducing grown men and women to tears but uniting nations across the world to the final whistle.

Football teaching the lessons of discipline, training, sacrifice, teamwork, the very same skills that the battles of old required. Football is a common language today, providing the starting point of conversati­ons between strangers. Today it is a uniter rather than a divider.

I do however confess that I only can be loyal to Pirates and Chelsea. Why? Its difficult to explain but can you explain your loyalties?

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 ??  ?? Photo by Jannik Skorna on Unsplash
Photo by Jannik Skorna on Unsplash
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