Sports are unilaterally known to be a great binder and a great divider. It is a paradox of itself. I have lived in two separate countries with two incredibly different cultures of sport. What is the difference? What is sports culture like in Scotland? What is it like in the US? Those were the (fairly ominous) questions that my editor presented to me.
Let us start first with the REAL football. None of this nonce game where there is but two or three occasions where you use your foot. No, let us take a look at the jogo bonito played by swathes of boys and girls in the playgrounds of their schools across the globe.
In Scotland, I was born a Catholic. I was not confirmed, yet I was born into a Catholic family. We attended Mass only on special occasions, and attended rosaries and wakes before funerals. But what bearing does this have on football and who I support?
Well, back in the mid-19th century, the Irish had this problem with growing potatoes, and so a lot of people emigrated to a lot of different places. One of those cities was Glasgow and the other was Edinburgh. Two football clubs were set up in Edinburgh: Hearts of Midlothian (Hearts), established in 1874, and Hibernian FC (Hibs), established in 1875. Hibs, a prominently Catholic club, helped to found the beginnings of another football club in Glasgow, called Celtic. If you take a look at their uniforms, they are very similar. To counter this Catholic and Irish growth of free expression, another club popped up—Rangers. They quickly earned such nicknames as ‘The Huns’ and ‘Scotland’s Shame.’
Now that the history is established, how has that affected the culture? Well, as we all are keenly aware, when religion becomes embroiled with something as passionate as sport, violence usually occurs. And so, in the 1970s and 1980s in Scotland, the Ultra’s started popping up. Essentially, they were fans who were entirely dedicated to their respective clubs. They would do anything to show the other team’s Ultra’s that they were the best club—that often included beating people nearly to death.
In the stands, this means chanting and singing sometimes inappropriate songs that make fun of any player—your own team or the opposition’s—and the referee a common occurrence. In fact, it is strongly encouraged to chant and sing whilst in the stands. Celtic Park (the stadium where my team plays) has been commonly described as being the most atmospheric of any stadium in Europe. Having been there, it is quite the experience to be surrounded by a sea of green and white, all singing songs. One particular favourite of mine is ‘Merry Christmas, F- the Huns’.
Contrast this to the football fans and culture in the United States, and the MLS almost becomes a joke to its Scottish counterpart. World Cup chants are hilariously juxtaposed. The example that is immediately brought to mind is the American ‘We believe that we will win’ in 2014 was just painful to a football fan’s ear. Why? It’s so…unsubtle.
Football culture in the United Kingdom is to be overtly depreciative of the opposition, and to be banterous with one’s own players. An infamous chant for Jason Lee, who was playing at Nottingham Forrest in 1995-1996, regarding his haircut still cuts deep 22 years later. ‘He’s got a piiiiiiineapple, on his head, he’s got a piiiiiiiineapple on his head!’. These were Nottingham Forrest fans chanting about one of their own players.
To say that the MLS fans are wrong would be incorrect. They just have such a non-culture and are widely regarded as the place that good football players go to live out the rest of their careers in a comfortable environment with a stupidly high pay rate. Football culture is deeply ingrained in everyone in the UK, especially Scotland. It is indicative of political views, religion and socio-economic hierarchy. In the US, it hasn’t formed its identity yet. Sports culture, especially that of football, is a ridiculously complex discussion in the UK. In the US, it barely even seems to permeate into everyday life. It’s a franchise, a capitalistic notion that has nothing to do with the people involved—or so it seems to me.