The Tragedies of Football: All That Glitters...

Michelle AlvesSenior Writer IJanuary 15, 2009


One word, simple enough. Three syllables, a lifetime of meaning. Seven letters, countless emotions. Such a tiny word holding so much behind it...and this might just be the beginning.

You could say people think with their feet. There are some people I refer to as the extremists of football, outcasts, trying to find a place within.

Explain life to me. Explain football to me...which would be easier? I’m sure you’d say the latter.

No. Life is a series of unfortunate events, each reminding you of how good you had it—that’s what I think. Football is more complicated. It’s a sport, it has all the emotion of the world in it, and when the world gets tiring, it’s that dark corner that you were looking for.

For some, the colours of a football team flag are the true symbol of loyalty—such is the beauty of the game. But everything has a shadow, a dark side, and football is no exception to this rule. There has always been tragedy, on and off the pitch.

With millions of people watching, when a tragedy occurs, it hits the viewers and the fans with great distress. In the world of football, such disasters and lives that can be taken would almost seem like the casualties of a war. Why would such a beautiful game turn into a battle?

Friendly rivalry is fun, in the same way a religious debate is acceptable, but when it results in mockery of one’s belief, things take a different route altogether. When the thunder of fans in a stadium is the sound of encouragement, it fills people with pride. When that encouragement turns to abuse, another word is added to the dictionary of football. Ugly.

One of the biggest tragedies in English football was the Hillsborough disaster. Although I hate to remind everyone of the 96 deaths that occurred during the FA Cup Semifinal on 15th April 1989, it also reminds us of the terrible things that can happen during the game that need to be remembered.

Not being there, or even near the place at that time makes me a poor judge of what actually happened, but I know enough not to bring out the blame game. I’m sure no decent person would have wanted this to happen.

So what do I think when I hear people sing about it... Suddenly others' lives have lost relevance to people. Harsh but true. Life has become dispensable.

Mentioning just the greater tragedy would be nothing compared to smaller, more subtle events that have tainted football in general. Racism, for instance, is something that isn’t just confined to the grounds of football. It is seen as a part of daily life for many.

When such an unacceptable form of discrimination is acted out in football, it is enough to make any football fan uneasy. From abusive chants to players getting personal on the field, it spells out tragedy loud and clear.

Living in the Middle East leaves me no stranger to violence, being Asian leaves me no stranger to racism...but when your escape from everything is a reminder of what you’ve been avoiding, it makes you look at things differently.

Football is an international language. Go to a remote part of Africa, and you'll find someone who'll tell you how good David Beckham is. Africans are known for their athleticism; they're built well and are good at what they do. That is why you see many Africans playing in the Premier League, Didier Drogba, for example. But even here can be found a hint of tragedy.

Instead of improving conditions for youngsters in such countries, the best of the best are taken abroad, and some people might classify this as stealing. In an article I recently read, the writer, from Uruguay, spoke about how a lot of good players were being "exported" and nothing was done to help build new players. This in turn decreased the fervour and passion to play football within the country.

We all consider the glory of football, but shy away from the pain. Some tragedies had two sides to them. It’s an ugly part of the game that somehow snuck into the history of football, and since the beginning of time tragedy has tagged along with football on the road of history.

In the 1950 FIFA World Cup final, where Brazil lost to Uruguay at home, many fans were stunned and led into committing suicide from the shock of losing. It adds to my list of emotion behind tragedy, and rightfully so. It has also been labelled as a show of loyalty to a team and how much more than “just a game” it really is.

Another heartrending example would be the death of midfielder Escobar from Colombia, who scored an own goal in the 1994 World Cup game against USA, which resulted in their elimination. Upon his return home he was shot outside a bar.

Is the price of someone’s life worth revenge? One emotion, strong enough to take something valuable not only of one person, but who knows how many? Someone loses a father, a brother, a son, because of an uncontrollable burst of emotion—what is this going to lead us to?

I’ve always wanted to talk about how I see what happened, and finally I found the words I’ve been searching for. Suddenly, I don’t care about what people think of me bringing up such a sensitive topic. This I needed to say for myself more than anyone else.

Football is life, but it is not larger than life.