This past weekend, the English football season opened after weeks of anticipation about what the new season will bring. Football in England is not just a game—it is culture, and life itself. It is a regulator of the national mood, a critical way in which the tone of communities in the country is regulated.
You see generations of people, young children to senior citizens, families, people who across time have passed on the habit of going to the local game and supporting their side. There are a large number of people in suits and ties, fans of both genders. The different social classes are in view. Team colours are ever present, in the clothing, the flags, the scarves, sweaters and team shirts, with the names of club and favourite players emblazoned.
On the field, we see young men from across the globe, in their prime, pursuing their career dreams by playing for English clubs, each club bearing the name of the geographic space of its origin: Manchester, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool.
What lessons are there for us that can be deduced from English football?
An important lesson is that sports must not be seen as a mere adjunct to national life. Sports indeed can be merged into the fabric of what we do. It can help provide a psychic rhythm that is useful in the construction of culture and the strengthening of communities. People who live in Marabella would attest that Southern Games was an organiser of our lives in the old days. It was something to which young and old looked forward annually. Guaracara Park was an important geographic space to which our heroes came. Social history was created there. It is there that Roger Gibbon, Hasely Crawford and Edwin Roberts first made their mark. Michael Anthony’s The Games Were Coming has its basis in Southern Games.
The Savannah in Port of Spain was the home of many sports teams in cricket, football and rugby. Malvern, Colts, Providence, Carib, among others, played there. It is there that men like “Jap” Brown and “Buggy” Haynes made their names. In The Dragon Can’t Dance, Earl Lovelace reflected upon the centrality of the Colts-Malvern game
to life on Laventille Hill and into Belmont. The Savannah was home to 100 pick-up games among young men who often did not know each other, such was the level of civility.
Preysal is both a place and a cricket
team, the one indistinguishable from the other. When their Inshan Ali bowled
in the Oval, Central emptied. Everyone in the Oval to see their boy. Likewise, Nyron Asgarali and the Wanderers cricket team of Gilbert Park established cricket as an important organiser of Central youth.
A second important lesson is that sports can be the basis of a vibrant economic sector. There can be inter-community leagues of all sorts, that can be televised, much like Best Village used to. People would pay to attend. This could include netball, wind-ball cricket, small goal, along with regular sports such as conventional football and cricket. Over the years, visionaries such as Eddie Hart, at the community level, have shown us how critical a role sports can play in pulling youth together and galvanising them in wholesome activity.
A third lesson is that sports give us heroes that help us to construct national identity. Sir Bobby Charlton remains a towering figure in England, decades after he starred for “Man U” and was a fixture on the national side. Usain Bolt and the Jamaican athletics teams are the basis of a significant fraction of the Jamaican tourist economy. Bolt memorabilia can be seen in every craft market there. When you enter the
immigration lounge in Antigua, you see
the images of Curtly Ambrose, Viv Richards and Richie Richardson, shown to visitors as the island’s heroes. Kirani James is at the front lines of Grenadian tourism.
Sports indeed can be an organiser
of national like, and the basis of a youth-based economy.
Theodore Lewis is professor
emeritus, University of Minnesota, USA. He has since returned home
and is mostly retired now.