Anthropologically speaking, football (= soccer) as religion is a given. The cross-over in mainly South American and European countries is remarkable, even Popes sometimes set aside their holy duties to watch matches. In July 2014, the two living Popes were meant to have watched the finals between their two nations together, each egging on their national team. According to media coverage, it was a friendly Vatican couch-match.
I have small doubts, heaven knows football doesn’t bring out the best in people. To wit, my late grandmother had a major influence building up my character thanks to the only piece of advice she ever gave me: “whatever happens in life, remember you’re a lady”. If she’s watching, she probably pales every time she sees me approach a stadium either real turf or in front of a screen. Because football is cathartic, a unique and exhilarating opportunity to forget I’m a lady, at least inasmuch as shouting, groaning, shrieking and expressing general antagonism goes. Win or lose, an after-match flush is both relaxed and invigorated.
Have you noticed how many players from all continents and all top league teams have ingrained habits of making religion-related gesture as they run onto the field and/or when they score a goal? In most cases, the gestures are connected to some form of Christian practice: hurried signs of the cross (often three, presumably to ask for assistance) and pointing to the sky (after a goal, presumably to give thanks for the assist). As a purely cultural- anthropological observation, it’s interesting that so far, after a few weeks and dozens of observed matches, I haven’t yet seen any gestures sourced from other major or minor faiths. Though executing a few tribal dance steps could qualify.
Anyway, Italy is at the heart of the football- as-religion-phenomenon, and though my own unlady-like cheering began in this country, I’m glad to say superstition hasn’t taken hold. A miracle in itself, as it’s ubiquitous. For example, zoom in on the Naples San Paolo stadium: the stairs the players go up to enter the pitch have a series of images plastered along the walls, ranging from the Madonna of Pompei, the Madonna dell’Arco, Padre Pio, San Gennaro, Blessed Gaetano Enrico and a crucifix. I found out that in 2012 the images were removed. They had to be put back up after a few disastrous matches and heated petitions and debates about the bad luck that had beset the home-team when the images were trashed.