Soccer is a unifying force in many societies, it plays an important role in the building of a person and a community. It is a path to mattering, and to some a path to a better life for them and their families. From city hubs to the remotest islands of the world, football is used as a catalyst to enhance and unite many people under a common goal. For example, in Jamaica, soccer plays an important role in brokering peace between rival gangs in many inner-city communities that have been plagued by the scourge of crime and violence. Sport has potential impact on social welfare and its regenerative qualities it could have on the community.
Sports is a mechanism that can increase income and jobs, improve education, health, and social inclusion, research shows that the impact of sport extends to domains that are considered harder to reach through more traditional political and civic activities. Of all British sports, it is perhaps football which has the greatest potential to reach and engage many children and young people in more lesser off communities and harsher conditions. The research also concluded that despite the apparent lack of evidence to support the social role of sports and soccer, it has (in the past) been positioned by the UK government as a key vehicle to generate greater social inclusion for children and young people.
The different stages some people go through when trying to make it as a soccer player are very eye-opening. Some people may start out playing on dirt, maybe even with no boots but this can be beneficial for their soccer ability. When you’re forced to play in these adverse conditions, e.g. dirt, uneven surface, the ball may bobble all over the place. This forces you to step up your game and think of different ways to strike the ball, dribble with the ball, pass the ball or even how to keep possession. It encourages you to think of different ways to move the ball and that can be very helpful, we are forced to learn how to overcome and not let our environment adversely affect us. These pitches became our mecca and we played with whatever space we had. We played as much as we could growing up, and we all knew who the “kings” of the pitch were, the best players.
They mastered every skill and knew every bump, hole, and dip where we played. We took these critical skills from these initial pitches to 11v11 pitches. Small pitches were also about taking risks, trying things that may not work and expressing our personality. We didn’t have the fear of losing the ball or the game. That risk taking also helped us later, in 11v11 situations, it gave us confidence. That confidence shaped our personality and identity.
Most of us end up playing some level of organized 11v11 and that’s where we stop. Our careers end, some in primary, middle, or high school, some in university and others in academies. Some of the more serious players continue playing on amateur teams to keep the dream alive. In those highly organized environments we learn team dynamics, respect and camaraderie for our teammates and leadership. These are life lessons and many of those teammates become friends for life. I count many of these teammates as some of my closest friends some 30+ years later. Wherever I went in the world I knew I could go to the local football club and find a family. Those clubs and their pitches became my sanctuary. I looked forward to the weekend ritual of playing on them and now, if I get the chance, go back and visit.
But what about the final stage? Everyone’s dream. To play at their clubs stadium or to play at the biggest stadiums in the world.
Every soccer fan fantasizes about stepping out on to the pitch in front of tens of thousands of fans and experiencing that type of electric atmosphere. 70,000 people all gathering and unifying over one commonality between all of them: to see their team win. Sports has that power like nothing else and especially soccer, the biggest sport in the world which has 4 billion fans globally, everyone has that special bond. The stadiums and the pitches are part of that, some of the most iconic stadiums in the world include the San Siro, Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabeu, La Bombonera, Old Trafford, Anfield and Signal Iduna Park just to name a few. Their pitches are maintained to an elite level compared to Sunday league but the core ideas of the game still remain: soccer is a sport about bringing people from each and every background together and uniting them for a common goal. Kids go from playing under some of the harshest and worst possible conditions to playing on stages and at stadiums some can only dream of and that’s why we call it “The Beautiful Game”.