18 SEP 2018
© Shutterstock.com
  • Late nineteenth century: the genesis of football

Invented by the English elite during the second half of the nineteenth century, football spread throughout Europe and South America between 1870 and 1920. Young Europeans who had gone to England to study came home with this sport. Similarly, many British emigrants, traders and merchants, import it into their adopted country.

  • 1910-1950: first phase of democratization of the game

In a period marked by technical and industrial transformation, the young people of the European bourgeoisie, who saw England as a model of modernity and so began to play football. By mimicry, the middle and then the popular classes begin to take up the game. At the same time, the workers' and the religious orders also found pedagogical virtues in the game and create organizations around this sport. These elements are the main vectors of the "cultural transfer".

During the inter-war period, the democratization of the practice broughtgrowing media coverage of the game. A specialized press evolved and the sports commentators held the listeners in suspense by dramatizing the sporting exploits on the radio from the end of the 1920s

  • 1950-1990: a European and mediatized game

The 50s and 60s are synonymous with numerous changes: major manufacturers are beginning to invest in football more. Football as a profession is spreading throughout several European countries and the promoters of the brand new television make an agreement with football leaders to broadcast national and international matches.

At the same time, journalists and club leaders are supporting the creation of European competitions, such as the European Champion Clubs' Cup launched in 1955. Journalists see the interest in making football a popular event, which will mean selling more newspapers to increase their revenue and thus buy better players. The formation of a European body, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in 1954, promotes this development.

Media coverage accelerated further in the next decade with the arrival of private television channels and new investors. Through the development of marketing strategies within clubs and national associations, football truly enters into what the chroniclers call "the football business".

The expansion of international competitions were then systematically broadcast on television, reinforcing the popularity of the game, which tends to reach new audiences.

Match in 1951 © artnana / Shutterstock.com

How to explain the current craze for football?

Philippe Vonnard : If the Football World Cup was already an important event in the 1960s and 1970s, the tournament has become, today, a mandatory event, because of the political, media and economic stakes (tourism, transport, sponsors, the construction of sports and urban infrastructures).

Media investment in print editions increased and journalists started creating real story telling around players and teams. The World Cup has become an exceptional moment shared in real time across the planet. Thanks to the Internet and smartphones, information is available immediately, all the time and everywhere. All these devices create a feeling of closeness to the event and ultimately enhances the popularity of the game.

How does football demonstrate globalization?

P. V. : At the international level, football reveals several paradoxes. For example, if today the construction of Europe is questioned by some, the fact that all European countries participate in common competitions is never questioned. There are probably pro-Brexit fans who want to leave Europe without wanting, however, for England to stop taking part in the European championships.

Marked from the outset by international exchanges, football is very linked to the phenomenon of globalization, which is itself reinforced or limited by the decisions of players in the football field. In 1995, for example, Bosman Ruling in the European Court of Justice extended workers’ freedom of movement, and for football, it allowed clubs to host players from other nations. Identities became mixed and more complex. A supporter can now support his national team, a foreign club or a famous player. Some of these players become true transnational stars and their image is now used by multinational companies around the globe.

The globalization of gambling shows the disparities that are found in the world economy. The two bastions of game development, in Europe and South America, take up most of the resources of the football economy and dominate world competitions to the detriment of African countries. In this sense, this sport is also a reflection of unequal globalization.

In what way is football a vector of national cohesion?

P. V. : With the creation of the International Federation in 1904, football was built on internationalism, but from the inter-war period national governments invested in the game. From then on, the sport gradually became a tool of diplomacy and the athletes became the ambassadors of their country. An international football match is a sporting clash between peoples and its result allows commentators, politicians and journalists to gauge the strength of a nation.

While events such as the World Cup are an opportunity for fans from different countries to meet at the global level, national teams participate, at the same time, to the strengthening of the internal cohesion of the nation. For example, in France, spectators—whether they live in town or in the countryside, are lawyers or workers, living in Paris or Marseille—all are supporting “the Blues”. For political leaders, football is therefore a particularly powerful element for strengthening patriotic sentiment.

When a national team wins a World Cup match, people are proud to belong to this country. They feel part of a common history that is part of the greater national history. It touches the depths of their emotions.

Finally, if the media takes advantage of the issue of hooliganism, and if it is actually necessary to combat acts of violence, they are actually in the minority. The vast majority of spectators who participate in events such as the World Cup do so in a spirit of patriotism but that does not exclude discussions, meetings or cordial exchanges with foreign fans.

*Institute of Communication Sciences (CNRS / Sorbonne University)

**Write a new history of Europe