4 Parallels To Theatre: 4) Football
Football – Liveness, conflict and strategy When, in the final year of my degree, I announced to one of my tutors that I was going to write an essay on the theatricality of football, I received a comprehensive diatribe against the mere idea of any similarity. I was told that if football was like theatre, then everybody would stand up and cheer when a beautiful goal was scored by the opposition, for a start. Needless to say, said tutor was (I think) trying to stretch by argument by giving me a number of counterpoints to argue against, rather than simply going at me. To take that memorable point of people not cheering when the opposition scores, I was and still am of the opinion that that’s evidence for football being theatrical, not against it. I can’t for example remember going to see a good play which people didn’t disagree about or come out feeling differently to one another. Yes, we can all appreciate the pure aestheticism of football and theatre, but it is the points of conflict on and off the pitch and the stage that give both disciplines their lifeblood and longevity of popularity. Strategically speaking, there are also many similarities in the environments which nurture both good football and good theatre. If you take the two most successful teams in the Premier League over the past few years, Liverpool and Manchester City, they have a number of things in common compared to other teams. They have had the same manager for a number of years now, for a start. It seems ironic and almost unfathomable that other teams hire and fire at a rate of knots in order to try and keep up with the success of these two when so much of it is surely down to giving an individual time and space to mould and nurture a team. Indeed, both Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City achieved results in their first couple of seasons that could well have got them the sack under other circumstances. But their clubs stuck with them and are now reaping the rewards. Some people will level the argument, perfectly justifiable, that with the amount of money that both of these clubs have to spend, they have effectively bought their success. However, when you look at the fact that other clubs have spent the same amount of money to less positive ends, it’s clear that the success comes from an ethos of creating a culture based on long term values rather than short term results. It’s the same in theatre. Not every production with a huge budget is successful and likewise a small budget is no reason for failure if the right cultures and conditions are in place to make the work well. Perhaps most importantly, both theatre and football are live art forms (apologies to those who I offend by calling football an art form). Even if you know the plot of a play, or indeed have seen the same production of it before, you don’t know exactly how it will play out on the night. Likewise, even if you turn up to an FA cup game in which the best team in the country take on lowly opposition who, on paper, have no chance of getting a positive result out of the game, you have no way of conclusively predicting which way it will go. That’s the magic of theatre and the magic of the cup!