Magazine article Geographical

Global Tactics

Magazine article Geographical

Global Tactics

Article excerpt

From the 10th of this month, the world as we know it will come to an end. Streets, usually teaming with summer evening activity, will be left deserted; pubs will be packed to the full; and from almost every household in the country victorious cries (or exasperated groans) will echo.

However, these scenes will not be unusual to the UK. For as the top 32 footballing nations battle it out in France to bring home one of the world's most coveted prizes -- the Fifa World Cup -- the whole world will be gripped by the same football fever.

Strange as it may seem, the world's love affair with football is a relatively new romance, which has only been going steady for the past 50 or so years. Created in 1904 in recognition of football's growth in Europe, the world football governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football (Fifa), has seen its membership swell from just seven nations at its foundation to 198 today. This number is set to increase further when seven or eight nations join just days before the opening game at the Fifa Congress.

The most significant surge in the globalisation of football came shortly after England became a fully-fledged member of Fifa in 1950. Considered to be the best footballing nation in the world at the time, England was embarrassingly defeated by the US in Brazil that same year. "But," says a spokesman at Fifa, "it marked a turning point in footballing history and made the rest of the world wake up to the sport."

Today, football is by far the most popular sport in the world with as many as 200 million playing the game at all levels. Moreover, says Dr John Sugden, coauthor of Fifa and the Contest for World Football (Polity Press, 45hb [pounds sterling]), there is not a single corner of the globe that has not been saturated by it.

As every English person knows, the game was officially invented on home territory (who could forget the immortal words of "It's coming home" sung with such patriotism during EURO '96?). It was traditionally played on Shrove Tuesday when entire communities would gather and play a foot and ball game that would often last for days. Although other countries such as China and Italy have been keen to have their respective games of Tsu Chu and Calcio acknowledged as early examples of football, it was in the English public schools of Eton and Harrow that modem football was born. In response to Rugby College's rougher version of the game (today known as rugby football), these schools introduced the basic no-hands and forward passing rules which differentiated it from other foot and ball games. In 1863, the Football Association was founded and for the first time the rules of the game were codified.

The game quickly became a phenomenon in England (and indeed the rest of the UK), particularly among the working class who formed teams through their churches or factories, supported avidly by competitive fans. Among those teams still in existence today are Everton, a church team; Manchester United, formed by workers at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company; and Arsenal, established by the Woolwich Munitions Factory. The game became part of working class culture because factory managers, who were often educated in public schools, believed in "the importance of cooperation between workers and management". In 1871, the FA competition was launched shortly followed by a professional league in 1888. Meanwhile, the sport was gaining popularity in Western Europe where numerous national associations were being set up.

Then, to the great annoyance of the British, the European countries set up Fifa. "The four national teams making up the UK were very reluctant to join and so there was a long period where we would join and then leave, join and leave and so on," explains Sugden. "There was a certain amount of nepotism in international football in those days and the UK teams hugely resented the fact that football was being governed by a bunch of foreigners. …

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