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Like the World Cup, much of the appeal of the Olympics as a spectator event comes from nationalism. Despite numerous predictions over the decades that in the future athletes will compete for the corporations they endorse, there has been almost zero development in the direction of Team Nike v. Team Coke contests. Nobody would watch.

Territorialism remains the dominant emotional impulse among spectators. (For example, in golf the chief spectating evolution over the last generation has been the rise of the America v. Europe Ryder Cup team event.)

On the other hand, the desire for victory is so great that spectators will typically accept as their representative any talented ringer who dons the local colors. hbd chick points out that practically nobody on either Super Bowl team came from anywhere near the cities they represented. 

As I get older and the male urge to pick a side, any side, diminishes, my interesting in cheering for hired gladiators falls away. The last time I fanatically rooted for a local pro team was a couple of decades ago when a good friend’s younger brother was the leader of the team. 

In the last decade, I got interested in local high school football again. But my interest fell away as recruiting increased among San Fernando Valley teams. For example, my old high school wound up with a quarterback who lived 40 miles away in Claremont in the far San Gabriel Valley, requiring his parents to drive 160 miles per day to deliver him to this top football program. Out in the countryside, that wouldn’t seem too outlandish, but in a metropolis of 17 million people, it’s a little much.

As you get older, the sheer number of people you’ve met continues to increase and you come to be more interested in the web of connections. (For example, lyric poets tend to evolve into social novelists as they age.) But the structures of modern American sports (e.g., the pro drafts almost completely randomize players geographically) militate against that.

hbd chick goes on to say:

what DOES make sense to me (as far as any sports game could) are sporting events built around real groups — groups of people that have some sort of ties to one another: 

– ashbourne’s royal shrovetide football match where the game is between the town’s “up’ards” and “down’ards,” i.e. individuals actually born in the town to the north or the south of the local river.

From Wikipedia:

The Royal Shrovetide Football Match occurs annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. Shrovetide ball games have been played in England since at least the 12th century from the reign of Henry II (1154–89). The Ashbourne game also known as “hugball” has been played from at least c.1667 although the exact origins of the game are unknown due to a fire at the Royal Shrovetide Committee office in the 1890s which destroyed the earliest records.[1][2][3][4] One of the most popular origin theories suggests the macabre notion that the ‘ball’ was originally a severed head tossed into the waiting crowd following an execution.[5] … 

The game is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, starting each day at 2.00 pm and lasting until 10.00 pm. If the goal is scored (in local parlance, the ball is goaled) before 5.00 pm a new ball is released and play restarts from the town centre, otherwise play ends for the day. Despite the name, the ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, carry or throw it. Instead it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs, like a giant scrum in rugby, made up of dozens if not hundreds of people. When the ball is goaled, the scorer is carried on the shoulders of his colleagues into the courtyard of The Green Man Royal Hotel, and into the small bar, known as the Boswell Bar.[31] 

The two teams that play the game are known as the Up’Ards and the Down’Ards (local dialect for “upwards and downwards”). Up’Ards traditionally are those town members born north of Henmore Brook, which runs through the town, and Down’Ards are those born south of the river. Each team attempts to carry the ball back to their own goal from the turn-up, rather than the more traditional method of scoring at/in the opponents goal. There are two goal posts 3 miles apart, one at Sturston Mill (where the Up’Ards attempt to score), the other at Clifton Mill (where the Down’Ards score). … 

The actual process of ‘goaling’ a ball requires a player to hit it against the mill stone three successive times. This is not a purely random event however, as the eventual scorer is elected en route to the goal and would typically be someone who lives in Ashbourne or at least whose family is well known to the community. The chances of a ‘tourist’ goaling a ball are very remote, though they are welcome to join in the effort to reach the goal. When a ball is ‘goaled’ that particular game ends.

The game is played through the town with no limit on number of players or playing area (aside from those mentioned in the rules below). Thus shops in the town are boarded up during the game, and people are encouraged to park their cars away from the main streets.

Does anybody remember the name of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves story in which Bertie gets roped into taking part in one of these kind of ancient village ballbrawls?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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  1. It was one of the last episodes in the tv series.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    this phenomenon is *uniquely* noticable in European football. There are many teams in Europe with *fierce* "brand identities" as we'd call them in America. As an example, Glasgow Celtic is *the* brand for irish/scottish Catholic militarism with not-so-disguised ties to the IRA, while the Glasgow Rangers function the same for protestants in Scotland and Ireland.
    However, now there are South Koreans and Brasilians and Swedes and Hondurans playing for these teams. It's kinda tough to whip yourself into a sectarian franzy cheering a south korean against a brasilian and thinking that it will matter in Belfast or Aberdeen

  3. I guess you know the classic line by Orwell, the extent of which is: "Sports is war without bullets."
    Just an aside: your recent discussion of topography made me think of Tocqueville, whose classic Democracy in America actually begins in Chapter One with a discussion of America's geography and how it has had such an influence on the country's subsequent history. (He compares for instance the rugged terrain of North America with the beauty of the Caribian islands, and how the attractive topography of the latter was actually a curse for its residents in the long run: slavery, lack of real business develop, etc.)

  4. Seahawks had a couple local players. Jermaine Kearse went to the same high school I did in Lakewood WA (which is a military bedroom community/low-income housing area about 40 miles south of Seattle). There is another player from Bothell which is an upper-middle-class suburb north of Seattle.

  5. In the "Ordeal of Young Tuppy" Bertie doesn't play rugby but his friend Tuppy Glossop does.

  6. How about that episode in The Wire where there was the basketball game between the gangs?

    Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale visit a gym to arrange a junior college athlete to play for them at an upcoming Eastside/Westside basketball game.

  7. "hbd chick points out that practically nobody on either Super Bowl team came from anywhere near the cities they represented."

    this has almost always been the case in professional play in league sports. the trend that bothers me, which i've posted before, is mercenary players in individual sports. and it's now spread to team sports like soccer and basketball.

    mercenary players is an ongoing problem in track & field, but now i notice it in winter sports. it seems like half the skaters are just russians skating for some other country.

    "As I get older and the male urge to pick a side, any side, diminishes, my interesting in cheering for hired gladiators falls away."

    it's better to not get too deep into fandom. you can continue to enjoy the sport without getting too attached to any particular team. i gave up on the steelers years ago, around the time cowher left and dan rooney went off the deep end politically.

    i didn't care much when initially they kept winning with cowher's team, because i knew they had no long term future and the culture of the team had changed so much that they would be bad pretty much forever. and of course, they became ideologically opposed to anything i believed in as well. as preposterous as that sounds. how could a SPORTS team be IDEOLOGICALLY opposed to anything? that sounds stupid, jody.

    well, welcome to the obama era. who could have predicted even 20 years ago that people would begin to have POLITICAL disagreements with their local sports team, beyond arguing about who should foot the bill for a new stadium.

  8. Steve, if you want to see where local sports with unassuming local heroes still thrives, check out Irish Hurling.

    No names on jerseys, only the number of the position. No professionals, only amateurs risking loss of teeth and concussions for the love of the sport alone.

  9. Japanese baseball clubs (/teams/franchises/whatever) have generally been named for their corporate owners rather than their cities. But they hardly represent them, and some corporations are so tied to their cities– Yomiuri newspapers and Hanshin Railways aren't going anywhere soon– they 're a de facto local team anyway.

    It seems that a team's sale would therefore be bigger news than its relocation, the opposite of the North American situation. Is this true?

    One club has changed its nickname once, from Orions to Marines, and its city thrice, going from Tokyo to Sendai, back to Tokyo, and thence to Chibu. But they're still Lotte.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    C. Van Carter is right. Tuppy Glossop plays rugby in "The Ordeal of Young Tuppy."

    Here's an exchange between Tuppy and Bertie during a time out:

    [Tuppy] raised his eyebrows. At least, I think he must have done, because the mud on his forehead stirred a little, as if something was going on underneath it.

    ‘Do you imagine,’ he said, ‘that I would slink away under Her very eyes? Good God! Besides,’ he went on, in a quiet, meditative voice, ‘there is no power on earth that could get me off this field until I’ve thoroughly disemboweled that red-haired bounder. Have you noticed how he keeps tackling me when I haven’t got the ball?’

    ‘Isn’t that right?'

    ‘Of course it’s not right. Never mind! A bitter retribution awaits that bird. I’ve had enough of it. From now on I assert my personality.’

  11. The "wall game" at Eton is a posher and funnier version of this sort of thing, played on a very narrow field adjacent to…a wall. Somebody scores a goal about once a decade on average:

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I've thought before that there was a business opportunity for a new minor league that distinguished itself as having teams with only players that come from the teams' local areas. There would have to be proof that players had lived in the area for a certain amount of time before they were eligible to play for the local team.

    The teams might not be the best collection of athletes ever, but the close affiliation with the local fans would, I think, make up for it in terms of generating fan enthusiasm.

  13. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "what DOES make sense to me (as far as any sports game could) are sporting events built around real groups — groups of people that have some sort of ties to one another."

    Modern sports focuses so much on the purely athletic aspects of them that they seem to lack much sportsmanship. Sports are much less interesting without the elegance and beauty that comes from a highly developed sense of sportsmanship. Instead, they becomes similar to over-produced popular music – rather crass and manufactured instead of possessing an integrity and being organic in nature.

  14. Apparently, from what my north side and North Catholic connections tell me, Dan is the only leftist Rooney, while the rest of the family is still conservative and thinks Dan is kind of senile and "out there."

  15. At summer camp during elementary school I made friends with a Polish kid from the South Side of Chicago, born to a single mom.

    At that age he thought he liked the Cubs, but we stayed in touch and at some point he was around enough neighborhood male influence to completely and vehemently recant that youthful indiscretion.

    By the time he was in high school it was White Sox all the way.

  16. Nobody would watch the Olympics, nobody would pay the big money to build the venues and all the other expenses, if they were just contests of interested individuals and fleeting cooperations of individuals.

  17. That's the marketing brilliance of the Seahawk's "12th Man" deal. The fans are made to feel a part of the team. Based on jerseys I see around the Puget Sound area, "12 – FAN" jerseys outsell anything else, though "3 – Wilson" seems to be gaining.

  18. Celtic's main rivals are Hibs and Aberdeen. It's hard to be worked up about an obscure third division team in the Irn Bru league.

  19. Since the Green Bay NFL franchise is "publicly owned" does there exist any requirement or even financial incentive for the players/staff to buy houses, develop property or otherwise participate in the local community? I don't mean being part-owner of a rib joint in the nearby mall.

  20. I grew up hating the SF baseball Giants but after moving to N. California found that the upkeep was too much work. Also it was interesting to me to learn that seemingly nobody around here cares about the Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland A's, whose fan base is like the west coast version of the Yankees': short on locals but rich in well-placed media personalities

  21. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The "hired mercenary" phenomenon is the main reason I don't have any interest in most pro team sports. Individual events can be fun (I'll watch almost anything- golf, boxing, bowling, MMA, those crazy Lumberjack competitions like the ones we used to have at summer camp, or the strongman contests with all those 'roided-up Scandinavian dudes), but how can I root for my favorite players if I can't even remember whether they're still on "my" team, or they've been traded to our archrivals this season? Didn't Gavin McInnes once call all of that stuff about injuries and contract negotiations "Celebrity Gossip for Men"?

    "What DOES make sense to me… are sporting events built around real groups — groups of people that have some sort of ties to one another".

    You have to be careful how you choose the groups, lest things get out of hand. I once went to support some roommates playing at an amateur sporting event, and some of the members of the opposing team happened to be traditional ethnic rivals of some of "our" guys (yes, there were some immigrants on both sides). By the time we left, tempers and tensions were pretty high; I think if we'd lingered for 30-60 seconds longer, I'd have been dragged into a fistfight involving a couple dozen guys. On the walk back I checked behind us several times and made sure the group stayed together until we were well away from the venue. But hey, at least our game didn't start a war between any Central American countries.

  22. I think you mean "The great Parson handicap" ?

    P.G.W. at his finest.

  23. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    You would have thought that, as geography and distances go, North America would be pretty much about locally born players. I suppose TV money, air travel, national scouting and the draft system more or less means the whole of the States is the catchment area.

    In the UK the demands of success (mostly fuelled by TV money) mean that soccer clubs are obliged to take on somewhat uncertain players from abroad, most of whom have trouble with English and in one case I know, flaunted the usually tight quarantine laws to sneak his dogs in from a country known for rabies.

    Thee players have no great loyalty to the team they are paid to play for (though there is a great deal of showmanship kissing of club badges on the field) but also have no great loyalty to the country they are in. I have heard stories of players on astronomical wages not paying tax to the host nation, through some complicated financial deals.

    Mostly the English leagues had the greater talent and money, but drew players from all of the British isles. The further problem is that players from Africa have to be allowed to go and play in the African Cup of Nations or if South American, be released from club duty to play for their country in that continent. This leads to players getting weary from all the extra travel, and less likely to be sharp if they return uninjured from playing abroad.

    The fact that there are few local players in the bigger teams means that promising young British players now have to be 'loaned out' to other lower league teams to get playing experience. While this briefly helps some struggling team (my own team has benefited from this but equally been made to suffer from coming up against a good player 'borrowed' by an opponent) and the whole lower league structure becomes something of a merry-go-round of players coming in for a few games and then returning to their own club, perhaps to be loaned out to a rival team in the same division later.

    The loyalty then is among the fans and local derbies (especially between two teams in the same city) are hugely important to the supporter but unlikely to stir the players the same way as all this is just a transitional job, a temporary place to earn a living.

    Add to this the apparent tendency of players to retreat into their self-contained world of music via earphones even in the dressing/locker room it is said by some to be hard for players at the club to even communicate with other players.

    Sometimes the average fan may wonder if the players on their team care about anything but money.

  24. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    She was tired of 'hiding'(like Jews during the Holocaust)? In Hollywood? Coming out homo in Hollywood is like coming out Muslim in Mecca. You are rewarded with all sorts of prizes.

    It's the anti-'gay marriage' people who will be blacklisted if they come out.

    I'm so sick of this faux courage.
    Doing something with wind on your back but pretending to go against the wind.

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