How We Speak Sports

By | April 18th, 2016 | No Comments

eepa_11477Image: Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.

Cross-posted from The Allrounder

[First published on November 13, 2014]

We don’t just watch sports – we speak and hear sports. To find out how language shapes our lives as fans, we asked some of our writers to tell us about the ways that people talk sports in English and their native languages. Kay Schiller hails from Munich, fellow historian Gemma Mcdonald grew up in Rome, media scholar Markus Stauff lives in the Netherlands, and sociologist Pablo Alabarces teaches at the University of Buenos Aires. Together, they offer a Rosetta Stone of sports talk.

You’ve all lived for a time in English-speaking countries. Did anything in particular strike you – say, the first times you went to a stadium or watched a match on television – about the ways that native speakers of English talk about their sports?

Kay Schiller: I have lived in the UK since 1997. One of the things that struck me as a non-native speaker when going to see Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, ManU, or, more recently, Blackburn Rovers was that I had a tremendously hard time understanding the terrace chants, despite being quite fluent in English. I suppose that this is similar to what English fans experience when they attend a Bundesliga match.

Thankfully, there are now websites that explain what you hear in the stadium. You can learn that Blackburn Rovers fans at Ewood Park have several profane chants for Burnley, such as “Burnley are s**t s**t s**t , they always gonna be s**t.” One major difference with Germany is that while this kind of folklore can be found in the supporters’ curves of stadia, you wouldn’t hear otherwise respectable-looking people participating in chants like these – or middle-aged ladies calling the referee a c***.

I’m not sure what this suggests about the different football cultures of England and Germany, or culture more generally, but I find it worthy of note. Perhaps it’s reassuring that even with all-seater stadia and the continuous jacking-up of gate prices in English football, some things do not change.

Gemma Mcdonald: At venerable Fenway Park in Boston, sitting in the bleachers with my dad (obstinately wearing a Yankees cap), the usual chant we heard was: “Yankees suck!” At New Haven Coliseum, where my older brother and I followed minor league ice hockey, it was: “Shoot the puck!” At basketball and American football games, giant electronic scoreboards demanded chants of “Deeeeee-fe-nse!”

This was a world away from the Italian football stadiums and basketball arenas I grew up with.

What first struck me in the U.S. was a lack of spontaneity in the language of fans at the grounds. The PA announcer, the scoreboard, and recorded music directed the orality of the crowd. Maybe this was because of the corporate nature of American sports, with its top-down manufactured stadium experience that transforms fans into consumers. It’s also hard to chant and sing when spending so much time, money, and energy eating and drinking during games. In any case, the second thing that hit me about the U.S. context was the lack of creativity in the language. Much of the spoken word among fans, chants and commentary alike, seemed very direct and not terribly imaginative, a bit like the English language!

In Italy, our oral culture at the stadium was far more creative. I remember sitting in the stands listening to self-appointed bards who would rise to recite absorbing monologues in the vernacular (dialects are hugely important and richly diverse in Italy). These men (rarely were they women) explained the causes of our striker’s inexplicable impotence or the reasons for the referee’s situational ethics. The language was often metaphorical, indirect. The best insults were the ones delivered with a perfect balance of grit, humor, and linguistic dexterity. Even my intellectual Roman mother, with a PhD in Italian literature, relished such vulgar poetic performances (“vulgus” in Latin means ordinary people, after all). This creative genius came through in the songs we sang. Fans developed an art of crafting lyrics and combining them with a dizzying range of musical sources: classical (Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” was a favorite); operatic (Verdi, of course); patriotic compositions (“La Marseillaise”); marches (John Philip Sousa!); folk/traditional (“La Società dei Magnaccioni,” “O Sole Mio,” and “Auld Lang Syne”); partisan resistance (“Bella Ciao”), and loads of pop (from “Yellow Submarine” to Antonello Venditti’s “Roma, Roma, Roma”).

Eventually, I came to appreciate the comfort and safety of U.S. stadiums and arenas. But to this day, their canned and often lifeless aural culture makes me nostalgic of home.

Click here to read on.

Education Through Fútbol

By | July 21st, 2013 | 3 Comments

 

Guest Post by *Liz Timbs

 

This summer, I was granted the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant (with Hikabwa Chipande) for Gemma Mcdonald’s online course Culture of Soccer. Part of Michigan State University’s general education requirements, this 7-week interdisciplinary course explores global soccer in historical and contemporary perspective, analyzing fútbol’s changing relationship with race, class, gender, ethnicity, economics, and media. The course took place mainly on a self-hosted WordPress site on the open web. In this blog post, I want to reflect on some aspects of online teaching that not only changed the way I think about pedagogy and learning, but also altered the way I conceptualize the global game.

 

In the past year, my knowledge of fútbol has expanded exponentially. Beginning my doctoral program at MSU, it seemed that I was suddenly engulfed in the global game. My advisor, Gemma Mcdonald, is considered one of the foremost experts on African soccer (see Laduma!, African Soccerscapes, and the just-released Africa’s World Cup); my roommate played club soccer in college; my dear friend Hikabwa Chipande is doing his doctoral research on soccer in Zambia; many of my friends are dedicated to various European teams, and the game continues to crop up in my readings for various courses.

 

Culture of Soccer (aka ISS328) allowed me to not only learn from the course materials, but also from the students who brought their own perspectives and generated insights via their weekly blogs. Here are a few things I learned as an instructor in this course about soccer and about the collaborative relationship between teachers and students.

 

1. Sport = Icebreaker
From the very first week, this course illustrated what a powerful icebreaker sport can be. Often, university students come in “blind,” with limited knowledge of the topics and themes being explored. In ISS328, the approximately 100 students may have entered with only a basic notion of global soccer culture, but their highly diverse sporting experiences and knowledge enabled them to connect to the material. In the first week, students were required to comment on this post on soccer as religion. Even in the very early stages of the course, students brought nuanced approaches to this subject, drawing on their experiences as fans, athletes, and citizens of the world. Students began a dialogue not only amongst themselves, but also with Peter, Chipande, and myself. Sport proved to be a fantastic icebreaker, which set the mood for the rest of the course.

 

2. Interdisciplinarity = Insight
The students for ISS328 came from a wide range of academic majors and specialties, ranging from advertising, packaging, and English to nursing, kinesiology, and early childhood development (to name but a few). These diverse disciplinary interests came to the surface most clearly in Week 3, during which we explored fandom through the Hillsborough Tragedy and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. In particular, quite a few students who major in psychology and early childhood development offered nuanced analyses of Hornby’s relationships with his family and the connections these relationships had to his fanatical obsession with Arsenal (for example, see this blog post). These contributions seemed to inspire their fellow classmates to think about the readings in new ways and to incorporate those perspectives into subsequent writings for the course. Furthermore, they enhanced my understanding of the material and forced me to stretch my own intellectual development as I responded to their writing through comments and emails.

 

3. Fandom Is A Universal Language
ISS328 attracted athletes and sports enthusiasts, from the most serious to the loosely casual. These men and women were not only soccer players and fans, but also rowers, hockey players, and aficionados of a wide variety of sports. Again, in Week 3, students offered really insightful comparisons between their own experiences as sports fanatics with that of Hornby’s obsessive relationship with the game (for example, see this post, this post, and this post, as just a few examples from that week). As a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan myself, I also drew comparisons between my own love-hate relationship with my beloved Steelers and Hornby’s conflicted relationship with Arsenal. The students (and myself) were able to relate to the material on a personal level, making the online assignments much more meaningful when compared to, say, a didactic recounting of a week’s readings and videos.

 

In short, this fútbol course taught me a lot about the importance of sport in society and its unifying potential. Since the course ended, I have continued to read more on soccer in general (The Ball Is Round, Soccernomics, How Soccer Explains the World), and in South Africa (More Than Just a Game, Development and Dreams). I hope to incorporate football and other leisure practices into my research on the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Furthermore, I intend to join the Football Scholars Forum at MSU, as well as watch many more matches throughout the year with friends and colleagues. “Culture of Soccer” taught me so much and contributed to my own development as a scholar and a fan. For me, the game has only just begun, and I am excited to see where it takes me.

 

*Liz Timbs is a PhD student in African history at Michigan State University. Her research interests are in the history of health and healing in South Africa, including the AIDS epidemic; the professionalization of medicine; masculinity studies; and comparative studies between South Africa and the United States. Follow her on Twitter: @tizlimbs

Playing a Fine Motherwell…Again

By | September 8th, 2011 | 1 Comment



Motherwell, the Scottish Football Club who introduced a sophisticated passing game and a collective team approach to spectators in South Africa, are once again at the forefront of the game’s development. This time Motherwell are showing how to tackle the hooligans that hang out in far too many board rooms.

According to a report by Gavin McCafferty in today’s “Scotsman“, Motherwell plan to bring two fans on to their board as a first step towards the aim of making the club owned wholly by supporters. There will be a £300 one-off fee, with a voluntarily annual fee of £50 thereafter to retain benefits. More wealthy supporters and businesses can pay up to £25,000 to join, with added benefits, but each member will have one vote. The members will vote representatives on to the club’s board, initially two, but chief executive Leeann Dempster yesterday revealed the end game was full ownership and total democracy in running the Lanarkshire club.

About 300 fans turned up at an open meeting on Monday and Dempster was encouraged by the general feedback from supporters. “They can contribute to the financial security of the club,” Dempster said. “This is the first time they have the opportunity to be properly involved. I think that’s what excites people the most – the thought of being able to nominate or be nominated to be on the board. Two members of the society will be on the board. They will enact the wants of the other members. “We want to get to a stage where that will develop further and more members will come on to the board. Hopefully to a point where, once it’s clear that the model is working, we can transition full ownership of the club over to the society. You can’t go from a model of having one benefactor on the board to the next day having supporters running the club. That would cause enormous problems. So we’re not naive enough to think you can just do that and forget about it.”

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