Human beings have always been tribal by nature. People exist as part of tribes that offer support and a sense of belonging. There has always been a balance between competition and cooperation between tribes. This phenomena exists in other animals, whilst there is some aggression between tribes, there is a respect, because those in the neighbouring tribe are often cousins. For example males who go off to mate in a nearby tribe to avoid in-breeding. In modern society, we are still tribal, the system has developed so that often we are a member of many different tribes, from the family unit to ones that cross international boundaries.
I love team sports. Principally I love football and rugby. I enjoy being part of the team, when I play in a team I give everything I can to the team. I also support professional teams. Supporting professional teams provides two services to me as an individual. There is the tribal sense of belonging and desire for the team to do well. There is also the interest and awe of observing professionals demonstrate skills and tactics, beyond my own skill level.
Watching professional sport is also akin to attending music concerts. Again there is the sense of belonging to the tribe of people who venerate particular musicians and the shared joy of listening with like minded souls. The ability to be positive about a particular style without an overly critical response. Arguably this could also apply to religion, career paths or genres of books and films I particularly like.
People sometimes find it strange that I support three football clubs. I grew up in rural Wales, lacking professional football teams. There was no football tribe that I already belonged to, so I ended up supporting three different tribes. I am lucky in that all three of my teams play in blue and white. The three clubs are different sizes and play at different levels of the football pyramid, so each offers a different interest. In rugby, I am more conventional, i support my home town team and my national team. Being Welsh this is mandatory, unless you really dislike the sport. In this sense I was already part of the tribe before I understood the game of rugby.
Whilst fierce rivalries exist between my teams and others. The huge passions evoked during a match are quickly put aside to join the bigger tribe of people who appreciate rugby/ football.
What is perhaps interesting sociologically is that in football I chose the teams to support. I didn’t actively choose through some analysis of the game or the relevant merits of each team, the teams I chose happened somewhat passively, accidentally. However, I have written in this blog about my status as an outsider, yet I strongly identify with these team tribes. Perhaps because I used to have an unfulfilled need to feel a sense of belonging. It is also interesting in that the football teams I support, historically are the big underachievers, the sleeping giants, often overshadowed by bigger more successful local rivals. So, whilst I didn’t actively choose the football teams I support, something in my personality drew me to them, this sense of the outsider and the joy of being welcomed into a big tribe of outsiders.
The biggest football team I support, the one I have been the most passionate about is Manchester City. In recent years, something very odd has occurred. They became a rich and successful club, actually winning things like the FA cup and English Premier league titles. To be honest, I find this a little strange and unworldly, yet am wonderfully pleased by the success. I remember being at a game and the bloke next to me was getting very stressed and vocal about the teams performance against a rival team for the Premier league title. A fellow fan quipped “Don’t worry mate, we’re still in the play-offs!” a reference to the clubs recent past struggling to get back into the higher divisions. To me finishing second for Manchester City still feels like a big achievement.
Supporting football and rugby teams, historically has been about community, specifically working class communities. Life was tough, though there was a sense of solidarity. The achievements of the communities representatives in the sporting arena, when the team won, would provide a sense of joy and pride that would fill the week with positivity until the next game. The success or failure of the team/tribe provides a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs quite separate from the individuals life. In everyone’s struggle to be positive and happy, it is sometimes very useful to have something outside the self to provide extended uplifts or short bursts of sorrow to help keep ones own moods in perspective.