Without antagonism, there would be no football. The two teams facing off on a pitch are, by definition, antagonists. But the significance of antagonism in football has moved far beyond the narrow aim of scoring more goals than your opponents. It has attained a political and social dimension that transcends the boundaries of the football pitch. Football, according to David Goldblatt, has “become entwined with every conceivable social identity, and the social divisions that surely follow them.” Religion, economic class, political affiliation, ethnic group; all and many more besides have provided the bases for antagonisms between football clubs. We aim to seek out these rivalries from around the world and bring you their fascinating stories.
In spite of widespread willful denial and ignorance of reality, sport and politics are inextricably and intimately tied together. Perhaps in no other sphere is this more obvious than in the relationship between authoritarianism and football. Authoritarian dictators – on both extremes of the left/right spectrum – have often used football as a political tool to garner support for their regimes or to demonstrate their superiority over their geopolitical rivals. The impact of authoritarianism on football was at its peak during the Cold War, when in the absence of actual fighting the football pitch became the arena on which ideological foes faced off. In this section, Café Futebol explores the dynamics of the shared space in which both football and authoritarianism existed, from Salazar to Shcherbytsky, from the Argentinian military junta to the Soviet Ministry of the Interior.
Though here at Café Futebol our focus is the historic interaction of football with the forces of politics and society, we are first and foremost avid football fans and do delve into issues of the modern game from time to time. Politics plays as much of a role in football as it did half a century ago, although in the post-Cold War, globalized world the nature of this relationship has changed drastically. While we may no longer see nations boycotting tournaments due to ideological concerns, or a dictator barring a player from leaving the country due to his propaganda value, this certainly doesn’t mean that football has transcended politics or social affairs. History is being made and narratives are being written every day.
A propensity to romanticize is inherent in any football fan. To look back on the legends of days gone by shower them with nostalgic adulation. Joyful reminiscing about Panenka’s penalty against West Germany, or Cruyff’s turn against Sweden, or just about any other memory, is all part of the extraordinary power of football to lend itself to nostalgic romanticism, all from just a single moment of brilliance. Whether it be Maradona’s Goal of the Century, or tiny Castel di Sangro’s penalty shootout victory which confirmed their promotion to Serie B, it is these romantic moments that are forever embedded into the collective consciousness of the football fan. This section of Café Futebol is dedicated to exploring these moments of romanticism, both big and small, and telling the stories behind them.
Football, having been the world’s most popular sport for well over a century, has seen more than its fair share of human tragedies. It has claimed “innocent victims in its hellish fires, tragic crushes, and vicious little knife fights.” Entire teams have perished, dying in horrific plane crashes and taking the hopes and dreams of a city or country with them. Café Futebol hopes to highlight the disastrous consequences of gross negligence on the part of the establishment.