A 90-minute life changer

  • INTERVIEW LASLO SEYDA

Around the world, from Brazil to France, Korea, Chile and South Africa, soccer games make people cheer and weep. We travel the world in pursuit of the ball

Kick-off in Dhaka, Bangladesh: There’s no stopping people who want to play, however capacious their clothes
© MD Tanveer Hassan Rohan

1′

Kick-off in Dhaka, Bangladesh: There’s no stopping people who want to play, however capacious their clothes

Form-fitting and affordable: A David Beckham fan in Rio de Janeiro has come up with his own version of his favorite English player’s national-team shirt
© Neil Bedford

13′

Form-fitting and affordable: A David Beckham fan in Rio de Janeiro has come up with his own version of his favorite English player’s national-team shirt

In the mountain village of Bhachok in Nepal, players just keep the ball rolling and ignore the gradient – they know it’s an uphill battle
© Chris Sorensen

28′

In the mountain village of Bhachok in Nepal, players just keep the ball rolling and ignore the gradient – they know it’s an uphill battle

Forgot to turn on the turf heating? While professional players take the winter off, amateur dribblers in Grue, Norway, are just getting started in the snow
© Levon Biss

37′

Forgot to turn on the turf heating? While professional players take the winter off, amateur dribblers in Grue, Norway, are just getting started in the snow

Talk about a packed sta- dium: No one leaves to get a beer when Changchun Yatai FC plays Guangzhou Evergrande in China
© Gilles Sabrié

48′

Talk about a packed stadium: No one leaves to get a beer when Changchun Yatai FC plays Guangzhou Evergrande in China

Soccer is just as popular in Frisian villages as anywhere else. So what if the chalked goal line isn’t perfectly straight!
© Hans van der Meer

62′

Soccer is just as popular in Frisian villages as anywhere else. So what if the chalked goal line isn’t perfectly straight!

The game is just as good seen from the standing section of a stadium, a VIP lounge or the top of a fence, as demonstrated by these spectators in Cameroon
© Jens Kuesters/plainpicture.com

75′

The game is just as good seen from the standing section of a stadium, a VIP lounge or the top of a fence, as demonstrated by these spectators in Cameroon

Keeping cool: This soccer player in Senegal is still working on his overhead kick … Goal, goal, goaaal! Time for the final whistle? Not quite …
© Gabriel Tizón

90′

Keeping cool: This soccer player in Senegal is still working on his overhead kick … Goal, goal, goaaal! Time for the final whistle? Not quite …

“We’re finally feeling again”

Sports philosopher Gunter Gebauer explains why soccer transcends cultural barriers

Twenty-two players, two goals, one ball – why does the world regularly go ­crazy over something so straightforward?

Soccer is not as simple as most people think. In fact, much of what happens on the pitch is beyond our understanding. Chance – in the form of the ball – plays a far greater role in soccer than in other sports: The ball can bounce, rebound, spin or be thrown off course by the wind. “Ball control” really doesn’t come into the equation.

So it’s not actually a sport but a game of chance?

That’s precisely what makes it so exciting. There’s a special dramaturgy to a soccer game. Each decision, each mistake, can be crucial. As in Shakespeare, the beautiful and the terrible are never far away – it’s all or nothing. It’s no coincidence that the classical tragedy also lasts 90 minutes. Soccer is really just a play acted out on the pitch. Remember the qualifier between Germany and Sweden back in 2012? Germany was leading 4:0, but by the final whistle, the score was 4:4. It was pure drama.

But Shakespeare isn’t for everyone…

We’re all the same when it comes to our love of great stories. The rise and fall of heroes, stories that end with a showdown – we find similar scenarios in South American mythology and African royal dramas. But soccer also appeals to people from different cultures in different ways. Spectators from cultures with a strong dance tradition delight in the virtuosity of the players’ footwork. In Asia, people love the collective effort, the idea that everyone is involved.

And what about Europeans?

In Europe, we tend to celebrate the sport’s artificial primitiveness. After all, what is avoided at all costs in this sport is the use of that significant element of evolution: the human hand. The idea of drawing strength from this weakness has huge appeal. And when the ball hits the back of the net after a seemingly impossible shot, the stadium goes wild.

Each competition inspires more soccer fans. Some just watch while others start playing themselves. Will it never end?

Digitalization is making our civilization more and more artificial. Soccer, once so scorned, provides a nice balance. A mouthful of grass, a grazed knee or a jab from your opponent’s elbow: Where else do you experience such direct physicality? We are finally feeling again. If only for that reason, soccer won’t be losing its fascination anytime soon.