If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football. No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up, bar socialism. And in the tussle between them, football is several light years ahead. Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium. Most car mechanics and shop assistants feel shut out by high culture; but once a week they bear witness to displays of sublime artistry by men for whom the word genius is sometimes no mere hype. . .
In a social order denuded of ceremony and symbolism, football steps in to enrich the aesthetic lives of people for whom Rimbaud is a cinematic strongman. The sport is a matter of spectacle but, unlike trooping the colour, one that also invites the intense participation of its onlookers. Men and women whose jobs make no intellectual demands can display astonishing erudition when recalling the game's history or dissecting individual skills. Learned disputes worthy of the ancient Greek forum fill the stands and pubs. Like Bertolt Brecht's theatre, the game turns ordinary people into experts.Read more here.
It is well-known that dictatorships of all types of political persuasion used football to distract people from what was going on around them and made them feel patriotic towards a country that at that very moment was posing a mortal danger to every one of its citizens. Stalin allowed football fans to participate in an extremely mild form of anti-KGB sentiment through the choice of a team everybody supported and that was the main rival of the KGB-sponsored team. During the Dirty War in Argentina, people managed not to notice the dead bodies washed up on the banks of the River Plate every day, the humiliating Falklands War, their relatives and neighbors being taken away at night to be tortured because of their national team's success. In Franco's Spain, screaming during a football game was the only way to express the rage that was burning people from the inside.
So should we agree with Eagleton? Should football be sent to the trash heap of history because of its inherently conservative nature? One thing that Eagleton is forgetting to mention in his analysis is that football is a beautiful game. And it is possible for people who have no use for "collective delirium," who feel very much a part of the "high culture," whose aesthetic lives are rich and whose jobs make all kinds of intellectual demands on them to enjoy football.