Friedrich Schiller, does his name ring a bell? Don’t check frantically Joachim Löw’s 23-man squad for the Euro, the man is not the Bundesliga latest Wunderkind.
As a matter of fact, he would qualify for two national teams, since he was awarded French citizenship by decree of the National Assembly on 26 August 1792, for his merits as a herald of liberty. This happened six years after the publication of his ‘Ode to Joy’, which Beethoven immortalised a quarter century later.
It is strange that Europe should have made of an emphatic ode to joy its official anthem. ‘Europe’ and ‘joy’, in these troubled days the connection is far from obvious. Will football and its big quadrennial continental party bring some joyfulness back into the morose setting?
It will not be easy. The host country, for one, seems to be poised towards ‘the final struggle’ rather than ‘the spark of the Gods’ sung by Schiller.
And yet, social sciences research, at its most rigorous, comes to the conclusion that, as disturbingly trivial as it may sound, football is joy. More precisely: it’s a wonderful pretext for being joyful.
According to the photos taken during the innovative field work carried out by the Loughborough team under Borja García with supporters from several European countries, football is not so much about watching football, but about exchanging smiles and taking group selfies, with both close friends and unknown foreigners.
Football is first and foremost about social bonds. These bonds can take different forms: sometimes they can be sometimes slightly masochistic – nothing equals the sweet-sour joy of mourning together a painful defeat. Very often they easily cross borders of all kinds, precisely because no developed linguistic competence is necessary. And because no real football fan, as our research has shown, never ever seems to get tired of talking about his passion.
Of course, the capacity of football to bring joy, has long been noticed by politicians. That’s why they unfailingly support their national federations in their bids for hosting mega-events. 20 years ago, after ‘thirty years of hurt’ and 200 years since Schiller’s poem, English spin-doctors turned simple ‘joy’ into the politically relevant ‘feel-good factor’.
But organised joy ordered from above is superficial and ephemeral. The deep and sustainable joy is the one that is encapsulated in the souvenir of the smiles exchanges, like those in the pictures of our research guinea pigs. Or in the feeling of having been momentarily absorbed in a solidary community before returning to one’s ordinary individualist life.
This kind of joy happily ignored the national borders everybody seems to be talking about in Europe these days. Friedrich Schiller lucidly observed that it had the capacity ‘to unite again what customs have strictly divided’ and that under its ‘gentle wing’, all humans became ‘brothers again’.
Football as a little break of unifying joy in a strictly divided Europe? I’m not asking for more. Sincere thanks in advance.