Football can make even the toughest and least emotional of individuals cry. From dramatic Champions League victories in Istanbul to penalty shootout heartbreaks in the World Cup, this game that we have called our own has a near-unbreakable grip on the chords of our collective hearts. A goal will pull us to one side of the emotional spectrum, a save by the goalkeeper will pull us to another, and a rare moment of madness will leave us in a rollercoaster ride between the two extremes.
But what is it about football that makes us cry? What is it about the world’s game that makes us so emotional? What is it about football that unleashes an avalanche of emotions so much more intense than we would normally experience and display in our everyday lives?
As is the case with many of the most complex issues in life, there are no simple answers to these questions.
But hey, why not at least try?
For many people, football serves as an escape from the cruelty and darkness of their everyday lives. An escape from the unemployment, poverty, crime, bullying, violence, and the myriad of other human sins that, for some disgraceful reason, we continue to inflict on each other. In her article for The Guardian named ”The barra bravas: the violent Argentinian gangs controlling football,” award-winning human rights journalist Annie Kelly captures this sentiment perfectly when describing why so many young men in Argentina join the violent barra bravas gangs:
“As with many poor men across Argentina, football has shaped Mendez’s [not his real name] life and his identity. He says football is the one glorious thing in his life, a chink of color in the monotony of poverty, crime, and unemployment that surrounds him and his young family.”
“The one glorious thing in his life.”
If football is indeed “the one glorious thing” in people’s lives, then it very easily follows that the emotional reactions to it — both positive and negative — are exponentially heightened.
Think about it like this: We often cry for, with, and because of our loved ones, our spouses, our children, our family, and our friends because they are glorious parts of our lives that we don’t want to lose. Our emotional connection to them is near-unbreakable because they are such radiantly beautiful parts of our existence.
They are a break from the monotony of our jobs, our annoying bosses, the disintegration of trust, love, and peace in society, the endless list of existential threats to humanity, and the various other sad aspects of life. It’s the depth of the relationship we have with those people that determines the intensity of our emotional reactions to them.
But many people don’t have family, children, friends, or spouses to love. For some people it is “the monotony of poverty, crime, and unemployment,” rather than love, that surrounds them every second of their lives.
So when they find something that can act as a replacement for the things they are sorely missing in their lives, is it any wonder that they cry, laugh, kiss, and scream about it?
“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”
One of the key theories of the late Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung was his discussion about “the shadow.” He argued that no matter how pure of heart we might think we are, everyone has a dark side. A part of your character that you don’t show anybody or talk about in your daily life but contains your deepest desires that you desperately crave to connect to.
A primal part of your being that society frowns upon and considers inappropriate to display in its purest form. It is who you really are and what you really want. (It’s something that I found so interesting that I dedicated a chapter to it in my upcoming book.) Unfortunately though, it is a part of our humanity that many of us are unaware of or, worse yet, willfully repress and hide from both ourselves and the outside world.
Jung believed that most people wear a mask of normalcy to conceal their shadows for the sake of their loved ones because they simply wouldn’t understand. This mask of normalcy is similar to something that Robert Greene, in his best-selling book Mastery, called “your false self.” In this book, Greene discusses how unlike our shadow, our false self is “the accumulation of all the voices you have internalized from other people–parents and friends who want you to conform to their ideas of what you should be like and what you should do, as well as societal pressures to adhere to certain values that can easily seduce you.”
What then, you wonder, does this have to do with crying in football? I believe that football is one of those areas of life that allows people to tap into their shadows and tap into the full range of human emotions that they either suppress or fail to express in our everyday lives. An area of life that allows them to truly be themselves.
“If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.”
“To be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of thousands of people.”
—César Luis Menotti
Football has a surreal ability to make people feel represented.
Imagine that you’re an everyday, poor black Uruguayan in the early 20th century and you witness the dazzling achievements of Isabelino Gradín and Juan Delgado, the first black players to play for Uruguay and the first black players in the world to play for an international football team. Here are two people that shattered racial and socioeconomic barriers in the world’s most popular sport in order to provide you, a hopeless individual, proof that it can be done. That people of your skin color can become something and can rise out of adversity.
Or imagine that you’re an Algerian in the late-1950s/early-1960s and you see the Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN, form its own (rogue) football team as a symbol of Algerian Independence in its fight for freedom from French rule?
The depth of emotion that you feel when something or someone represents you — be it a politician, a football club, an athlete, or a national team — can spark the wildest of emotions in you. From tears of joy and defiance at seeing your country fight centuries of colonization to tears of even greater joy when you finally see someone that looks like you become a legend in the world’s most greatest game.
Whether they be tears of joy, anger, defiance, or sadness, the tears of football fans rarely truly originate in football, “any more than tears flow from a handkerchief.”
“We are because we win. If we lose, we no longer exist.”
—Eduardo Galeano, “Football in Sun and Shadow”