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Football and Social Media: An Intriguing Relationship Reflective of Wider Societal Trends

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Social media offers an interesting form of postmodern communication between groups of people, yet—due to its banality (indeed, it has become the main form of communication for many people) the interesting aspects are often overlooked. Particularly, the Tweets of football fans are particularly fascinating since they tend to eschew the the rules of decorum and instead tend to say what they “really feel”.

Most recently’ the Italian side AS Roma’s English language Twitter account responded to Juventus’ announcement of a new store in Rome with a Tweet reading “Finally, something in Rome you really DON’T need to see”. While this may seem, on the surface, to be insignificant—just another off the cuff comment produced by the hyperreality that is the internet—a deeper look tells us that, in fact, the AS Roma fans might be getting at something deeper.

 

 

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Rome Has Many Famous Sites…the Juventus Store is Not One of Them. Image Courtesy of: @ASRomaEN Twitter Account.

 

AS Roma’s Tweet is first and foremost a rebuke at Juventus’ greed (itself born out of extreme capitalism). As the fiasco surrounding Juventus’ new badge showed, the team shows no shame in pursuing re-branding opportunities in a bid to increase their financial gains. Indeed, their eagerness to change their badge showed that the team has no respect for tradition or even their fan base (but, in typical fashion, the main (lame)stream media celebrated this abandonment of tradition). Opening a shop in Rome, a seven hour drive from Juventus’ home city of Turin, is just another manifestation of this greed. In this sense, AS Roma’s Tweet was also criticizing the rootlessness of postmodern society. This is an age when the football club—long a symbol of local pride—has become a globalized commodity. No longer content with the opportunities for financial gain in one city (or even one country), the team has become a global product to be consumed—making it indistinguishable from McDonald’s and Starbucks.

 

It is interesting to note that this is not the first time a football club’s humorous Tweet has become an internet sensation. Back in 2016 (I wrote about it here), the Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg hit back at the British newspaper Daily Mail for ridiculing their badge by naming it one of the “10 worst”. Like AS Roma’s Tweet, Zenit’s Tweet was also a form of social commentary. After all, what business of the Daily Mail’s was it to criticize the badges of football teams? It was a form of “journalism” (the quotes well deserved) that could only be produced in the postmodern hyperreality, where empty reporting is encouraged so as to generate more traffic (and, thus, more profit). It was also a news story which kept with the dominant technocratic trends of modern society with an obsession for rankings and categorizations. Most interestingly, the Twitter exchange between the Daily Mail and FC Zenit was also related to tradition. The Daily Mail—in a bid to save face—appealed to tradition by telling FC Zenit that they preferred the team’s old logo. FC Zenit responded in kind; indeed the Daily Mail’s old logo was much more “traditional” (adorned, as it was, with two British lions). Unfortunately for the Daily Mail, however, tradition does not sell in the modern world, and that may be one reason that the paper had to “modernize” their logo by making it a bland (and inoffensive) stylized letter “m”.

 

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Note the Number of Likes on Each Post, as Zenit Seem to have Outdone @Mailsport. Images Courtesy Of: @zenit_spb Twitter Account

 

By using the Sociological Imagination (to borrow C. Wright Mills’ term), we can see that these two humorous Twitter exchanges represent much more than mere online banter. They show us that online social interactions in the football world are also reflective of debates in wider society, and in this case it is specifically the debate between notions of “progress” and “tradition” which takes center stage.

The Top World Cup 2018 Shirts: A Lesson in Late Stage Capitalism and Global Homogenization

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Four Years ago, I wrote a piece detailing my top picks among the 2014 kits and my choices for the top five classic world cup kits. With just seven days until the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia, I thought I would do the same. However, this year, the list will be a little more sociological than the one from four years ago.

Indeed, outlets like GQ have provided their rankings, as well as a slew of other websites; one need only search “top world cup shirts 2018” in order to be bombarded by hundreds of choices. This is why my list will not be so much as a ranking. Instead, it will be commentary on just how late stage capitalist logic—and one dimensional thought—invade every aspect of our lives. This invasion—similar to the colonization of the life world by the system, that Sociologist Jurgen Habermas has written about—is very evident in the world of football shirts.

For an introduction to the topic, please see my earlier post from 6 July 2017 here. In short, my argument is that when the logic of consumption drives the creative process, one dimensional thought becomes the norm. Designers and creative minds are unwilling—in fact, in some cases, they may even be scared—to stray from the “tried and true” methods. After all, these are the methods that have brought profit. Therefore, creativity is stifled by a dominant form of one dimensional thought which cannot stray from its own money-making logic.

This is why cars have started to look more and more the same, and why mobile (or cellular) telephones are virtually indistinguishable from one another regardless of if they are iPhones, Samsungs, Nokias, HTCs, LGs, or any other brand. As a human society, we have become used to images—we are obsessed with them, as Jean Baudrillard has said—and this means that our reality is more of a hyperreality dominated by these images. We know what a mobile phone should look like, anything that does not look like the image we have been grown used to cannot be a phone (think of flip-phone versus iPhone). Similarly, with cars, we see the same process. We have become used to what a “luxury” car should look like, so we cannot conceive of anything that does not look like what we expect (perhaps this is why Hyundais and Kias look virtually the same while also resembling more expensive brands like BMW and Audi).

 

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Which One Of These Is a Phone? Image Courtesy Of: https://thoughttamales.wordpress.com/tag/prepaid-cell/

 

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The Same Car? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.carwow.co.uk/blog/kia-sportage-vs-hyundai-tucson

Unfortunately, football shirts are not immune from this ongoing homogenization in the name of increasing consumption, and the latest World Cup shirt designs show this. More than a few of this year’s shirts bare a striking resemblance to older shirts, which makes for a very boring overall lineup.

 

Spain 2018. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/gallery/world-cup-kits-ranked-2018

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Spain’s 2018 shirt did not impress GQ, and this is perhaps because it is just a re-hashing of the country’s classic 1994 design.

 

Spain 1994. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.branchofscience.com/2014/05/nineties-kits-usa-94-special-part-two/

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Colombia 2018. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/gallery/world-cup-kits-ranked-2018

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Another shirt that GQ didn’t like. Perhaps that is because this is just a modernized version of Adidas’ 1996 template; the antecedent of this shirt was perhaps Romania’s Euro 1996 shirt.

 

Romania 1996. Image Courtesy Of: https://thefootballshirtcollective.tumblr.com/post/142359500227/repost-199698-romania-home-shirt-from

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Mexico 2018. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/gallery/world-cup-kits-ranked-2018

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Mexico’s 2018 kit is not very imaginative (and has no resemblance to the beauties from 1998 which actually paid homage to Mexico’s Central American heritage). Instead, this kit seems to have been inspired by Bulgaria’s 1994 World Cup Kit. I suppose that is globalism at its best; in 20 years Mexico went from gaining inspiration from their own history to gaining inspiration from…Bulgaria. Maybe it is due to the fact that both countries’ flags share the same tricolor, who knows.

 

Bulgaria 1994. Image Courtesy Of: http://kirefootballkits.blogspot.com/2011/10/bulgaria-kits-world-cup-1994.html

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Germany 2018. Image Courtesy Of: : http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/gallery/world-cup-kits-ranked-2018

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While Germany’s shirt might be striking in this line up, it is merely a rehashing of the classic West Germany shirt from 1988. And, like so many shirts on this list, the new one is not as nearly as well designed as the old one. Indeed, sequels are never as good as the originals.

 

Germany 1988. Image Courtesy Of: http://hullcitykits.co.uk/meet-the-hck-staff/

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Nigeria 2018 (Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/gallery/world-cup-kits-ranked-2018

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Nigeria’s new kit has been widely touted as one of the best in this year’s tournament. GQ calls it “eccentric”, and given that it is already sold out in the UK it goes to show that sometimes it pays to stray from one-dimensional thought. Yet, at the same time, even this shirt is not completely unique. When I first saw the shirt I couldn’t help but think that I had seem something like it before. Indeed, it bares some resemblance to Holland’s classic 1998 design and West Germany’s Euro 1988 Away kit as well as Northern Ireland’s 1990 Umbro shirt.

 

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Holland 1988. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.retrosyrarezas.com/products/holland-netherlands-mens-retro-soccer-jersey-euro-88-gullit-10-replica

 

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Germany 1988-1990. Image Courtesy Of: http://kirefootballkits.blogspot.com/2016/07/germany-kits-euro-1988.html

 

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Northern Ireland 1990. Image Courtesy Of: http://nifootball.blogspot.com/2006/10/iain-dowie.html

 

It is important to note that this list—and this criticism of the 2018 shirt line up—is not to say that respecting the past, and paying homage to past designs, is not a bad thing. Indeed, respecting the past and what has come before is a good thing. But this does not mean that we should be blind to the fact that, in the name of consumption, we are being sold the past back to us in the present. It means that while we—as consumers—are paying more and more for our products, while the designers may be getting less and less creative. And it also means that there is a very real double standard in world football when it comes to shirt designs.

I will leave this post with a comparison between the 1996 Turkey Home and Away shirts and the 2016 “Spider Man” home and away Turkish Kits. Perhaps, in this instance, the designers would have done well to seek some inspiration from the past. But even here, the “past” of 1996 still represented by an Adidas template.

 

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New vs. Old. I am not a fan of the new shirts at all. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

In March 2018 a Turkish sports pundit, Mehmet Demirkol, came out threatening to take the Turkish FA to court if they did not return to the classic Turkish national shirt design. The classic design has been changed on and off for years, culminating in the monstrosity of the 2016 “Spider Man” kits. And it is here that I agree with Mr. Demirkol. There is such a thing as national symbols, and—as Mr. Demirkol argues—the football shirt is a national symbol. We do not see international corporations like Nike and Adidas playing with German, English, Brazilian, Dutch, or Argentine kits. No, such countries have been wearing similar designs for years. Indeed, as I pointed out, Germany has returned to a classic design for the 2018 World Cup. Yet countries like Mexico and Turkey have their kits played with—and their national heritages ignored—by the whims of global capital. In order to resist the ongoing global homogenization of global corporations and globalist ideas, it is important to respect your national heritage regardless of which country you come from. And, even when it comes to football shirts, we can still stand up for our countries in the face of globalism.

 

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The Classic “Red Stripe” Design Evoking the Turkish Flag. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/yazarlar/baris-kuyucu/17-yil-sonra-klasik-forma-1206165/