The late great Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly had many famous sayings that are repeated to this day. The one that struck me growing up was, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Although I have followed football all my life, I have rarely, if ever worn my team’s shirt. For one, I didn’t want to get beaten up by any wayward away fans; and two, I have never liked the tribal allegiance element of the game nor the violence that lies behind it.
Football is also not devoid of influencing national politics to the point of igniting armed conflict as was the case in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador. The political map influences where teams will play; most notable being that the Israeli national team and its clubs compete in Europe. The Palestinian team was only recognised by FIFA in 1998, but has great potential despite the political and social conditions that surround it. I bought the Palestinian football shirt, as a small act of support when at the large protest march against the war in Gaza last year.
Of course, football is a passion among many people in Gaza and the West Bank, and Zeina Hashem Beck puts that into stark perspective in her heart-breaking poem Inside Out, where she paints a scene of Gaza under attack during the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. “my friend’s mom in Gaza is cheering/for Brazil and Holland/all that orange/burning almost/a sunrise all that/smoke”. Zeina goes back and forth from the football to the terrible scene unfolding, “there’s an old woman/who dies holding/her spoon waiting/for iftar/which comes but so do/the rockets/and the news/Brazil loses to Germany 7-1”. The poem continues without punctuation reflecting the relentless nature of the Israeli bombardment, until the end of the tournament when, “a player kisses a trophy/his wife his son/a mother/kisses a dead child/grief inside out/is resistance” Like Laila Sumpton’s poem ‘Morning Prayers’, Zeina juxtaposes the everyday events we take for granted, such as watching a football match with the tragic situation in which Palestinian people live, in a wholly different type of everyday event. (more…)