From the school yards in the United Kingdom to the streets of Brazil, from academies in Germany to dirt lots in Ghana, give children a football, or even anything that remotely looks like one, and they will play. You could swap any of these children from one location to another, and within minutes, they would be playing the universal language: football.
Why We Play
The game is simple. Take the ball and put it in the back of the net. Or any reasonably agreed upon facsimile. There is a goalkeeper, who can use his hands, but the rest of the players cannot. As adults, we like to analyse and discuss and write ad nauseum about line-ups and tactics and playing systems and positions. But at the end of the day, the game is simple enough for a child, and complex enough to keep billions of adults around the world mesmerized week after week.
There is little to no equipment required, and the rule book is a mere pamphlet by comparison. The players run non-stop for 90 minutes, taking only one short half-time break. They battle fiercely, accomplishing amazing athletic feats while running constantly. A great block, an exquisite cross, a spectacular save… all contribute to the sense of sport and passion. And when a goal is scored, there is intense joy on one side, and palpable pain on the other.
These emotions are not unique to any one club or national team, nor are they limited to professionals. People in all walks of life and all over the world love to play the beautiful game. The game itself is so uncomplicated that people do not have to speak the same language to be able to play together. People of all ages, races, genders, nationalities and even disabilities are united by the love of a sport that is as universal as humanity itself.
Football rivalries are amongst the fiercest in the world, but that is only because there is so much passion within this game. This game is passion. When walking down the street, one might see people wearing different coloured shirts: red, yellow, blue, etc. They do not conjure up anything, they usually go unnoticed. But to see a team kit or t-shirt or something with colours or a logo representing a club or a country, that invokes an immediate response in football fans. Whether it be a camaraderie of a shared team, or the acrimony of a rival team, the response goes well beyond colours or crest. Football is in our hearts, in our blood, and it is who we are.
Similarly, if it is the World Cup, or the Champions League, or even just a league game or friendly, watching football brings people together like nothing else. The game is on, and people naturally gather to watch, whether they are fans or rivals or neutral spectators. It is the only sport globally where people watch, then go and play… in fields or parks or beaches or back yards or whatever. The game draws us in, and gives us a shared human experience like nothing else on the planet. It is a global experience, one that naturally removes barriers and makes friends out of complete strangers. Watching together has even been known to dissolve rivalries and bring people together.
Despite the news stories of hooliganism, racism, or any other –isms, which are actually a very small minority of the football experience, the fact of the matter is that there is nothing else like football in the world that brings people together. The simplicity of the game makes it easy for people of all ages, cultures, languages and abilities to communicate through sport. It is easy enough for children, simple enough to be played almost anywhere, yet challenging enough to be enjoyed by anyone. Even merely watching the game brings people together. They gather together to live and breathe and feel the joy and the heartache that this game brings to the human race. The beautiful game is simply the most universal language.