The World Cup is for everyone - even those who only care about football every three and three-quarter years

12th June 2018

Your interest in football may vary from being an occasional TV-screen-yeller to counting down the days until you traipse to Russia for the World Cup. Regardless of what anyone claims, you do not have to be a top-notch singer of the national anthem to show your support, nor do you have to be an avid football fan. You can make do as a guilt-ridden but overjoyed supporter whose rusty football knowledge returns when it’s a cup final.

Alternatively, if you have completely forbidden any talk of the World Cup, you have already fallen into the trap. Deep down you know you’ll be watching, mostly because everyone around you will be and there is no way you can let the major fomo rule your life. Luckily for you, your amount of dedication to football doesn’t matter and your support is always welcomed.

Not only this, but the World Cup is the perfect excuse for us England fans, who have long forgotten the taste of victory, to get involved. It’s acceptable to grab that England shirt from the attic, wipe away the dust and wear it with pride, this year. If you need help getting spruced up to look the part, then don’t worry — all the high street stores are swarming with England paraphernalia.

It’s no surprise that over the past few weeks most of us have been warming up for the World Cup. After all, football players have created an everlasting connection with their worldwide audiences. One example of this is current Liverpool forward Mo Salah. His impact, both on the pitch and off, has been dubbed the “Mohamed Salah Effect”.

Even when your best friend ends up supporting the opposing team, there is an enjoyable, if ruthless, banter that you look forward to when your teams face off

Solava Ibrahim, Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University has researched his influential presence and what it means for football fans. Salah’s skilful streak during matches, coupled with his humble personality, means he has quickly become a figure of hope. Not just for Egypt, but throughout the world, he is known for his ability to transform a game. Popular public opinion about Salah highlights that sport has improved and become more accessible to people from all backgrounds. Instead of being categorised as the distant “other”, players and fans are connected for one united purpose.

The impact that footballers have also extends to children. Friendships on the playground are made depending on the football team you support. Even when your best friend ends up supporting the opposing team, there is an enjoyable, if ruthless, banter that you look forward to when your teams face off.

Even if your home team doesn’t progress, maybe your mate’s will

Over the years, some schools have even begun to screen football matches as part of their after-school activities. These moments are treasured, as you recall sitting with the rest of your class. I still have vivid memories of the 2006 World Cup. I was a little child in primary school and all the classes had been assigned a country to support for the duration of the tournament. Art lessons consisted of making sure your crayons were perfectly sharpened so that you could colour in the flag of your designated country. Despite not being a hardcore fan of the team, it was still a valuable experience to learn about the culture of another country.

The same experience goes for adults. Many football fans pick an underdog team to support during the World Cup, especially after England have made an early exit. This only adds to the fun of the tournament, as you learn the stats of the Costa Rican goalkeeper to impress your mates, and they retort with the number of tackles that the Morrocan defensive midfielder has made this season. You’re just there, together, to watch football and have a good time.

Football is the happy medium where being in unison makes you feel a part of something bigger

The energy that is present during the World Cup is almost indescribable. On other occasions you may turn your nose up at the idea of nationalism but, as it’s the World Cup, you celebrate your loyalty to your team. With this loyalty comes a sense of pride for the players. They are representing their team, but also their country. Football is the happy medium where being in unison makes you feel a part of something bigger. It allows you to surpass borders and divisions. Even just being human is celebrated, as emotions are raw and run high for the duration of the match. The adrenaline you experience is incomparable and makes you feel larger than just a common spectator lost in the crowd.

Equally central to the football experience is the unbreakable loyalty to your team. Be it in the stadium or through your television screen, there is room for your passion to flourish. Ørnulf Seippel, professor of the sociology of sports, explains how team sport provides you with a national identity. He says: “I think football provides a type of output for nationalism that is open to various uses. It mostly represents what is called banal everyday nationalism, and this can go together with and support both civic democratic and more ethnic or brutal nationalism.”

While Professor Seippel believes that the nationalism of supporting your team can manifest in either a positive or a negative way, these nationalist sentiments are necessary for boosting the morale of players. After all, we must remember that each time the England team brings us down, we get back up to support them. Which team wouldn’t want an entire country backing them to win? Our unwavering support has a greater function as it motivates and encourages the team to keep going.

The World Cup is more than a matter of seeing your favourite footballer on a different pitch

For some, being a loyal supporter means they will be travelling to Russia for the World Cup 2018. But, it is more than a matter of seeing your favourite footballer on a different pitch. The World Cup being held in a different host city can generate worry and controversy and that is especially the case in Russia. However, the negativity surrounding this disregards the prospect of educating and developing our empathy as the game is taken to an international level.

The Football Association has reassured fans that measures have been put in place to maintain security during matches and the Football Supporters’ Federation has even compiled a guidebook for fans travelling to Russia, encouraging international fans to demonstrate solidarity. The guide aims to protect and advise fans but also raises awareness about being respectful and mindful of cultural differences.

With people all over the world using the game to find solace, nobody can doubt the massive impact of football. While it’s easy to look for problems, it’s also vital to acknowledge the warmth and the bonds that football is constantly creating between people. The World Cup is a glimmer of hope that asks us to look beyond our differences. It’s the time to become engrossed in understanding how the differences do not have to be perceived as divisions, but as a way to unite.

12th June 2018