Slow Football

07 Apr 2009

Good, clean and fair. This is what food should be according to Slow Food. At first glance, applying the edicts of Slow Food to football may seem ridiculous (particularly to speedy strikers), but deeper thinking in this regard suggests some possible parallels.

‘Good’ football, for example, could include not only quality, passing play on the pitch, but also a celebration of ‘the beautiful game’ as a global spectacle capable of bridging the gap between people of different cultures and nationalities. Indeed, in the area of anti-racism, football in recent years has often taken a prominent lead. Its global appeal puts it in an ideal position to promote the kind of ‘international exchanges of experiences, knowledge and projects’ to which Slow Food has committed itself.

‘Clean’ football, to anyone with any knowledge of the recent Italian game, is long overdue. Corruption in football is not confined to Italy of course, with many cases of ‘bungs’ in the British game. Players cheating on the pitch, through diving, or violently protesting their innocence when decisions go against them also need to be cleaned up.

‘Fair’ football will need to be more than the implied paradise for referees; a collection of twenty-two well-groomed men apologising for any wayward tackle, cheering each other off the pitch at the end of the game. It will be essential to arrest the current crisis in the football world precipitated by the dominance of corporate culture. Football, like food, is in danger of losing its simple pleasures in the pursuit of profit.

However, what would ‘Slow Foot’, a term already used by some Italian journalists, look like in reality? Of course football inhabits the same cultural world as food in many respects; football players and supporters, like consumers, have also become ‘enslaved by speed and succumbed to the same insidious virus’ of ‘Fast Life’.

In Britain we still live in a culture where the working week constrains our enjoyment of life and we look forward to the weekend and the one ‘gastronomic occasion’ — the traditional Sunday lunch — for some relief. Of course if you play Sunday football even that may be sacrificed. In Britain we work longer hours than the rest of Europe which is reflected in the release of tensions in the form of ‘binge drinking’ and violence on the streets; scenes which often carry over into the football stadium.

Just as shopping at the local butcher or greengrocer encourage us to form links with our neighbours, playing football for a local team enables us to exercise, share experiences with others and meet people we may not encounter in other spheres of our lives. Philosophy Football FC (PFFC) in some ways has followed the Slow Foot ethic before the term was first coined.

Set up in 1995 following the formation of our parent T-shirt company (www.philosophyfootball.com) which explicitly rejected commercial sponsors logos and instead printed memorable quotes from philosophers about football, (or footballers about philosophy), our team has made fourteen international football friendship tours and has participated in a range of other events to promote football in local communities, opposing racism and violence. (www.philosophyfootballfc.org.uk)
British football culture, like British culture generally, can be a harsh and austere place and it will not be an easy task to become a Slow team.

Our life as a squad has become more convivial since we exchanged a pint of beer and a packet of crisps for regular evenings at a local tapas bar — in our view the best in London. The squad itself, of whom none work together but share in interest in football, has tried to reflect the London diaspora as a group of friends drawn to the city from different nationalities. Under a British-Italian management team of political philosopher Geoff Andrews and Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Filippo Maria Ricci, it has sought to bring together writers, students, critical consumers and ordinary philosophers.

Good, clear and fair then? A slow philosophy of football that seeks to defend the simple pleasures of the beautiful game.

Ally Clow, a London-based musician and event planner, is captain of Philosophy Football FC.

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