Sport form one of the most complex social institutions in the United States of America, and indeed, the world. Sociology of sports/sports sociology refers to a sub-discipline of Sociology and focuses on sports, in general, as social phenomena (Coakley, 2004). Sports sociology, as a field of study, is concerned with the various sociocultural structures, trends, and organizations/groups engaged in sports. Sports can be viewed from a number of perspectives, and usually some binary divisions, such as professional – amateur, active – passive/spectator, mass – top – level, sports – play, and men – women (Coakley, 2004). These perspectives are adopted as an antithesis to systematic and institutionalized activity. When sports are classified based on feminism, other reflexive as well as traditional-categories, they are studied like contested activities, that is, as activities that are at the centre of a people’s/group’s interests. This phenomenon is evident when one assesses the connection between sports and gender, state politics, and the mass media. Sports sociology dates back to late 19th century when the pioneer social-psychological experiments concerning group effects related to competition and pacemaking were conducted. This paper discusses soccer/football as a sport, a succinct description of the sport, and its sociology.
Football has a long and detailed history. It has its roots and codification in England, with the modern game being codified in London in 1863. The main motivation behind this development was to try to unify university and English public school football games. Even today, there exists evidence showing that there was refereed football games played in English schools as early as 1518. In addition, scholars believe that the modern game of soccer was innovated in England. Furthermore, England boasts of the oldest soccer clubs in the world (some dating back to 1857). England is also home to the world’s oldest football competition, the FA Cup, which was started in 1871, and world’s first ever soccer league. Today, soccer is arguably the one sport with the biggest fan base in the world. The passionate following of the sport has raised a lot of questions and curiosity among nonprofessionals, observers, and sociologists alike (Giulianotti, 2004). I chose soccer for this discussion because I realized that it still eludes people’s understanding why football commands such a following. Football has a number of advantages over other sports that make it stand out. Firstly, it is a simple sport that anyone can play because on just needs something to kick around-the Britons used cans at the beginning. Secondly, unlike other sports that incorporate complexities in their structures and distract potential players and fans, football is easy and simple to follow. Thirdly, football is the best workout of one’s life; it beats other types of sports in terms of physical fitness because, no matter how strong one might be, if they lack endurance, they will not keep up. Football is also a source of national pride, especially to that nation that wins the FIFA world cup tournament. Spain won the cup in the last world football tournament hosted by South Africa. Probably, the advantages of soccer cannot be enumerated in this paper because they are many.
It is argued that in order to understand the world; one must understand the world’s most popular sport/game. However, this does not mean that one has to study the sport’s rules or strategy, but rather the culture it boasts of, that is, its fans and the entire populations, and what the game reflects about their lives (Giulianotti, 2004). In addition, in order to understand any subject comprehensively, it is recommended that one participate directly in its activities. That is why, once I was assigned this fieldwork study, I bought a ticket for a football match that was to take place the following weekend. It had been the talk of the neighborhood because it involved two longtime rivals, and such an event was rare and came far between. I was, therefore, not surprised when I ran into many of my friends from school and many others from different neighborhoods, who had also come to book their places in the sports arena. Despite the fixture being about four days away, the football pitch was milling with fans of the two teams, such that the registration officials were overwhelmed. I noticed that almost everybody around that area was adorned with his favorite team’s jersey and other assorted paraphernalia that exalted the cultural values of his or her team. I need to collect information on the match as the most crucial part of my fieldwork. Through fieldwork research method, sociologists come to understand human cultures or sub-cultures by immersing themselves in the depths of a foreign culture or society; observe its behaviors, interactions, and customs in a natural setting (Coakley, 2004). Sociologists have used fieldwork as a technique for understanding societies and groups, ranging from exotic tribes living in secluded villages to modern subcultures and other organizations. My fieldwork study entailed observing the football fans before, during and after the match to establish their behaviors, customs, and interactions in order to paint a clear picture of football culture from a sociological perspective. Fieldwork facilitates direct observation, which is sometimes the best method for collecting primary information because of the direct contact with the immediate environment. For my fieldwork, I needed a few tools that would help me enrich the quality of my findings and make my work easier. For instance, on the day of the football match, I carried a medium-size bag that contained a notebook, two pens, and a camcorder. I had also drawn up a schedule of events that I planned to undertake that day. As expected, the football pitch was packed to capacity, with ecstatic fans trying to outsmart the opponents in what I would call verbal assaults. However, this went on for the better part of the match, but not a single incidence of physical violence materialized, although there were hundreds of security personnel that made an impregnable wall between the two rival groups. Hundreds of journalists, both local and international, were also present to gather news and reports during the proceedings.
Many times, football matches have ended in violent outbursts by the fans for one reason or the other. Most football matches, however, end peacefully regardless of the results. In many parts of the world where football is popular, most particularly in Europe and Africa, football fields, more often than not, are packed with passionate football fans. So, is soccer a culture that explains everything, that is, domestic happiness, war, national character, and international affairs? It is interesting to find out that, despite the popularity of soccer worldwide, the United State’s population is still far much behind in terms of establishing a strong and unique football culture like, say England (Coakley, 2004). I am an avid English football follower, and I can authoritatively conclude that, although many people attended the match during my field study, the pride and vigor they manifested cannot be compared to one that has been, or would be demonstrated if the same match involved English teams. Sociologists and sport journalists have gone as far as arguing that the U.S, by embracing soccer like other countries, would be like “junking” its tradition – signing on to the one-world agenda. I never thought that football could explicitly define the character of those who even refuse to play it (in my neighborhood, those who refused to attend that crucial match could be part of these “exceptionalists”).
Football alienates friends and brings “enemies” together. For instance, once in the football pitch, even my best friend would not sit next to me because we supported the opposing sides – I sat sandwiched between total strangers, but we shared a wonderful time! Football might not have the relevance of such global matters as global warming, economic meltdown, nuclear warfare, etc., but the general trend in football journalism is rapidly moving in that ambitious direction (Giulianotti, 2004). The sociological theory of functionalism argue that football contributes to the well being of society in that it is a vital mechanism for socialization and teaching the basic values of the society. The American community emphasizes on competition and football certainly instills that value in the youth. However, functionalism also suggests that football could also teach and propagate the value of violence among the youth, a vice that could extend to their adulthood. Most of these sociological manifestations were evident during that final match.
Sport refers to all forms physical activities and forms one of the most complex social institutions in the American society. Sport is either organized casual participation that aims to use, improve or maintain physical fitness while providing entertainment to participants and spectators (Giulianotti, 2004). There are certain attributes that attract people to different types of sports, some of which are personal while others are cultural. For instance, some people have innate passion for different type of sports, like football, while others are influenced by cultural factors and national character. Over the decades, sport has engaged the interest of different sociologist for different reasons. Sociologists are interested in the ways sport interacts and articulates with other social institutions. For instance, sociologists are interested in establishing the ways and means through which sport interacts with the mass media – popular culture; sports and theatre, sport and religion, and sport and social problems (such as drug abuse and violence).