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Football Fans Vs. The Bureaucratic Modern State: Debate Over Road Signs in Britain Both Geometrical and Sociological

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Author’s Note: As a marginal Sociologist I will support Mathematician Matt Parker from the perspective of my own discipline. In the spirit of C. Wright Mills, it is a Sociologist’s job to point out the difference between “personal troubles” and wider “public/social issues”: One person’s unemployment is a personal trouble; but if that person can transcend their individuality and see that others are unemployed as well the personal trouble becomes a wider social issue, like an economic recession. In this case, what may at first seem like a small personal “trouble” (people upset at a minor detail on highway signage) could actually be part of a wider public/social issue (the inflexibility of the modern bureaucratic state or the dumbing down of modern society in the context of one-dimensional thought). This is why it is important to move away from our own individualism and start thinking outside of ourselves.

Yesterday, on 31 October 2017, the BBC ran a piece focused on the incorrect depiction of footballs on British roadways. The piece notes that “Currently, the image on the sign is made entirely of hexagons but a ball like that would be geometrically impossible to make. Instead, a real football has a mixture of hexagons and pentagons . . .”. Mathematician Matt Parker has started a petition—and gathered 20,000 signatures from football fans supporting him—to get the signs changed. Even though UK law stipulates that the hexagon pattern is the only one that can depict stadiums, Mr. Parker rightly points out that this incorrect depiction of footballs is “embarrassing” due to the UK’s national tradition in sport and “very proud” tradition in math and science.

 

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Does This Really Look Like a Football Without the Iconic Pentagon? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41813720

 

Of course, the bureaucrats in the British government are not amused, and their argument is that traffic signs are merely a “general representation” of the activity they are supposed to depict. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation (DfT) claimed that since these signs have been in use since 1994, “drivers have become ‘accustomed’” to the design. The spokesman goes onto explain that any new details would not be visible from the distance drivers typically see them from while on the roadway, while adding that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”

Mr. Parker’s response points out the odd contradictions in the DfT’s response:

I’m not sure what the DfT thinks a football looks like but they say both: the change would be too small to be noticed and that the correct geometry would be so distracting to drivers it would increase the risk of accidents. I’m not asking for angles and measurements on the sign, just for it to look more like a football.”

Mr. Parker does well to point out the contradictions inherent in the response, and while the signs should certainly be made to look more like a football there is also a worrying condescension that comes out of the DfT’s response: the bureaucratic state seems to be assuming that its citizens are morons. To say that a new design will not work since drivers have become “accustomed” to the current one suggests that British drivers suffer from a sort of mental atrophy. Has the modern world become so one-dimensional in its thought that the modern mind is no longer flexible enough to comprehend any changes to what it is accustomed to?

It is certainly ironic, since—in other areas of the modern world—it seems that the bureaucratic state is all too willing to force change on its citizens in the name of “progressive” politics: In the United States the name of the first President, George Washington, can be removed from the church he worshiped at while statues of prominent figures from American history can be removed to white-wash the history of slavery in the United States, yet British drivers cannot deal with a “change” to their highway signs? It would seem—to me at least—that this is an insult to the intelligence of British drivers.

Similarly, the argument that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary” and thus increase the risk of an “incident” seems to ignore the fact that—in the modern world—we are already distracted by much more than the correct depiction of footballs on a highway sign. I—like anyone who has ever driven on a highway—am quite certain that the millions of people taking selfies in their cars, texting in their cars, stuffing their faces with fast food burgers in their cars, or even doing make up in their cars are much more likely to cause an “incident” on a roadway than someone “distracted” by a geometrically correct depiction of a football on a highway sign. To argue otherwise—as the DfT did—is merely to insult the intelligence of British citizens.

In fact, if modern society were not as dumbed down as it has become, it is likely that this incorrect depiction of a football would be more likely to cause an incident than a correct depiction would be! (Of course, that would hinge on people actually knowing what a football should actually look like…or knowing that “Bluetiful” is not a word, as I have argued before). The football sign row shows that the bureaucratic state in Britain is more willing to insult its national traditions and history—as well as the intelligence of its citizenry—than attempt to rectify an oversight in graphic design. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok—we are human after all (for now at least). But it is pretty embarrassing for the government to give excuses that are—for lack of a better word—just lame.

 

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In Italy, Signs That Actually Look Like Footballs Are Not Causing Massive Pile-Ups On The Autostrada (At Least, Not As Far As I Know). So If They Can Do It In Italy, Why Not In Britain? Image Courtesy Of: https://footballtripper.com/san-siro-stadium-guide-milan/

 

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Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA, USA: New England Revolution-Houston Dynamo (2-0) Matchday

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A few shots of the New England Revolution-Houston Dynamo match at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The stadium’s capacity is 67,756 for American football and 20,000 for soccer (or just football). The stadium itself is easy to access, half-way between Providence, RI and Boston, MA, and as a bonus parking is free for soccer games. The write up for the match is here.

 

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Dinamo Stadium, Samarkand, Uzbekistan – FK Dinamo Samarqand

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This is the home stadium of Uzbekistan’s FK Dinamo Samarqand, the (now) all-seater 16,000 capacity Dinamo Stadium built in 1963. At the time of my visit in 2010 renovations had not yet taken place, as a result the pictures shown here are from a time when the stadium’s capacity was 13,820.

Like the stadiums of fellow “Dinamo” teams (supported by the secret police in Soviet times) across the former USSR this one also boasts the stylized “D” of Dinamo in the classic blue and white–Chisinau’s Stadionul Dinamo and Kiev’s Dinamo Stadium are a few other examples.

FC Dinamo Samarqand were founded in 1960 and have gone through an amazing twelve name changes. This is currently the team’s fourth incarnation as FC Dinamo. Despite being a relatively old team (for Uzbekistan) they have not achieved great success in the Uzbek leagues. They’ve been relegated twice from the country’s top league but have since achieved relative stability as a mid-table side in the country’s highest league, the Uzbekistan Professional Football League. The Arslonlar, or lions, have yet to win any silverware in Uzbekistan. As a fan of the fellow Aslanlar of Galatasaray I’m hoping this changes soon.

 

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Renovations were starting to get underway upon my visit.

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DИНАМО Written in Cyrillic Script in the Stands:

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A Classic Soviet-Era bowl, similar to the demolished Chisinau Republican Stadium, complete with running track.

 

Also, a few bonus shots of pick up soccer in the shadows of Samarkand’s old city and the Bibi Khanom Mosque, completed in 1404. It wasn’t the only pick up game I saw in my Central Asian Journey:

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The Beauties of Samarkand:

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Football in the Shadows of the Bibi Khanom in Normal Color and Sepia:

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A Believer Strolls Nonchalantly Through the Afternoon Match

 

Slavia Stadium/Ovcha Kupel Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria – PFC Slavia Sofia

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Slavia Sofia are one of those teams that I have a soft spot for, in part due to their history. They are, after all, the oldest team in Sofia. Founded in 1913, Slavia have won 7 Bulgarian championships and 7  Bulgarian cups. Their Ovcha Kupel stadium has a capacity of 15,992 and was built in 1930; it has undergone three renovations recently, all before my visit. As such, my pictures are of the current state of the stadium. I visited on a quiet New Year’s day in 2010, when the stadium was covered with snow. A romantic notion to say the least. My Slavia shirt can be seen here.

At least I know where I am:

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Its New Years day in Sofia:

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The author, trying to stay warm:

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Chernomorets Stadium, Burgas, Bulgaria – PSFC Chernomorets Burgas (CLOSED)

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When I visited this forgotten piece of football history, wedged between a highway and the railroad tracks, there was no signage explaining ownership. In fact, one would have been forgiven for thinking that there had never even been a tenant for this ground. The weeds growing through the concrete would back you up on that assumption. Enter: The internet. I learned that this is in fact the old Chernomorets Stadium (its Wikipedia page has a nice picture of the ground under snow) that was built in 1954 and closed in 2006. It supposedly has a capacity of 22,000 but I couldn’t imagine that. Now, its just a reminder of urban decay (something I am personally a huge fan of). Still, a ground is a ground (and I can’t help but think that the weeds add a certain “je ne sais quoi” to this ground–the green contrasts well with the clear blue sky).

Nature reclaims what was once its own:

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Lazur Stadium, Burgas, Bulgaria – PFC Neftochimic Burgas and PSFC Chernomorets Burgas

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This is a bit of a vintage visit by now but hopefully–like a fine wine–its gotten better with age. One of the tenants from the time I visited–Naftex Burgas–has since been disbanded and reformed as the present day Neftochimik Burgas. I spent a long time in the stadium with an official who knew no english, but by way of a little bit of old fashioned body language I was able to convey to him that I wanted a shirt. Since Naftex Burgas was all but disbanded at the time I visited in early July of 2009, he supplied me with a Chernomorets Burgas shirt for which I am very grateful. I can still remember explaining to him that I lived in Austin, Texas, and his eyes widened when I pointed out “Остин” on the map in his office. Later upon returning home I was able to also find a Neftochimic Burgas shirt online.

As for the Lazur stadium it is pretty modern as Bulgarian stadiums go, with a capacity of 18,037 while boasting a 3 star rating from UEFA. Even the Bulgarian national side have played some of their games here, in addition to a few smaller Bulgarian clubs without suitably modern stadiums that qualify for European competition. At the time I visited the seats were yellow and green, to go with Naftex’s colors, but apparently they have been changed to blue (to correspond with Chernomorets’ colors).

Clearly the stadium was due some cosmetic renovations at the time of my visit:

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Some of the more right-wing Naftex hooligans have left their mark:

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3 Star Material in UEFA’s eyes:

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I wonder where this bus is now:

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The bus of the stadiums other tenants:

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Spartak Stadium, Varna, Bulgaria – PFC Spartak Varna

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I visited the Spartak Stadium in Varna on a mid-summer day, with skies as blue as the waters of the Black Sea rolling onto the shore a few blocks away. The stadium is a pretty standard Bulgarian affair, although it didn’t seem to have as many amenities as city rival Cherno More’s Ticha Stadium. The 13,000 capacity stadium is home to PFC Spartak Varna, a side whose shirt I was unable to attain at the stadium. Fortunately, I was able to find a match worn example off the internet once I got back home.

I suppose that I might have been a bit of a bad-luck charm for the side, since they ended up suffering some financial problems and ended up being relegated to the third level of Bulgarian football , the amateur V AFG, in 2010–a year after I visited. It’s a tough blow for a side that was the first Bulgarian side to appear in the now defunct UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup and that shares the name “Spartak” with their more illustrious cousins in Moscow.

 

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Id live in one of those apartments, great seats on match day:

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Skies as blue as the Black Sea:

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At least I know where I am:

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The architecture outside the stadium is…interesting:

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But its a different “interesting” than Bulgarian advertising. I actually liked Mastika–they didn’t need to go to such lengths to hook me. I’m not complaining though:

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