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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Football As Release

Here's an excerpt from Simon Kuper's superb Football Against the Enemy, describing the football stadium's role as the one refuge for dissent in the Soviet Union, in this case specifically in Armenia:

Armenian women did not go to the stadium, so it was a place for male rituals. 'When you go to the stadium,' said Levon, 'you can do some free things.' For instance, only in the stadium was it acceptable to curse. There, it was even considered an art to invent terrible curses. Levon told me of the fan who shouted, 'Referee, fuck your wife in front of the Lenin Mausoleum!' The point here was that to the provinces of the USSR, Lenin's Mausoleum seemed the centre of the world, a place which all could see. The crowd would laugh: they appreciated good curses. 'But there was a debate,' Levon said, 'between those who wanted to invent new curses and those who preferred traditional curses. Once, a man shouted, "Referee, I piss on you!" Another man turned round and asked, "Why 'piss'?" For this was not a traditional curse. But the other man replied, "Why not? It's what I feel like doing."'

The cursing stopped when a bigger ground was built. Now the fans were spread out and their curses could not be heard, and, as Levon told me, 'people need to be heard, not only to cry. In the old stadium you could make a policeman look up shocked at a particularly awful curse.'

In the stadium you were free, to curse, to chant, to be with your own. The normal psychological state of a Soviet citizen was one of frustration. 'Now', Levon said, 'Spartak fans can go anywhere to express themselves: to a political meeting, to a church, to a rock concert. OK, they don't go to political meetings, but you know that they can. Once you know you are free to express yourself as you like, you don't need actually to do it.' So attendances dropped. (p.47)

Kuper, Simon. Football Against the Enemy
London: Orion Books, 1994.
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