Liverpool’s legendary manager Bill Shankly once said, “Some think football is a matter of life and death, I assure you it is much more serious than that”. Those were the words he used to describe the sport of kicking an inflated ball on a grass pitch. Football is a captivating game and the most followed sport around the globe. BUT it’s still just a game and it’s hard to imagine how it could impact any more than its 90 minutes and the celebrations that follow. It makes me wonder if a game could really affect lives, companies and nations.
Football’s success lies in its ability to appeal to emotions, something humans are designed to respond to. A typical match has everything; adventure, struggle, success, drama and unpredictability. A moment of magic is all it takes to turn things around. And the giants don’t always win because a team isn’t made up of 11 ones but of one 11.
Be it Senegal beating France in the 2002 world cup or Greece winning the Euro 2004 the David’s have regularly underlined the power of grit and determination and have inspired the masses who are struggling with various challenges in their own lives. When a boy from the streets of Uruguay goes on to play for a club like Barcelona or an orphan from Nigeria signs for the champions of Europe, getting that dream college or the ambitious job does not seem too hard. Lionel Messi, from a kid in Argentina with a growth hormone deficiency to the biggest name in the world of sports has personified “Dreams do come true”!
Football today is a multi-billion dollar empire, brimming with resources with some of the world’s richest personalities invested in it. Contrary to expectation the money hasn’t wiped out loyalty and passion. When Juventus got relegated to the second tier of Italian football all their stars stayed and more recently Marco Reus, one of world football’s most sought after talents chose his struggling side over a world brand for much higher salary. The examples are endless. The resources though are having a profound social impact. Thousands of jobs are being created in every continent, raw talent is being nurtured in the best of facilities and it’s keeping a lot of underprivileged children off the streets.
The influence is not just limited to the fans. Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba ended a five year long civil war in his motherland. He did what the government could not. That is the power of the game.
In spite of all the virtues some issues continue to plague the sport. Racism is still rampant in some continents and fanaticism raises its ugly head more often than we would have liked. And like everything else around us football too has scope for improvement.
This game is closer to life than we give it credit for. These aspects of the game that are not talked about, silently work to make the world a more beautiful place. And as Terry Pratchett rightly said, "The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football.”