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As Liverpool Football Club legend Bill Shankly OBE once said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”

Football is more than just a game.

Billions of people from all around the world, from the third world countries to the most developed countries, love football. Many non-football fans will say “but it’s just a game where 22 players chase after the ball! Why do you care so much about it?” but they will never understand how we fans feel about football without them becoming football fans themselves.

Allow me to explain…

Every football fan chooses a team to support when they first watch football and stick with the team through thick and thin until their time on Earth is over (except a few who are “glory-hunting” fans). If not, they will support players and/or managers or are just neutral fans. From winning big trophies to getting relegated, the fans will experience a rollercoaster of emotions. This love for their football clubs is unmatched by any other. You can break up with your loved ones or even divorce them but one can never and will never jump ship to support a “more successful” club (again, except “glory-hunting” fans).

As Italian football legend, Francesco Totti once said, “They taught us at school that family is the most important thing for a human. Roma (his club) is my family. Have you ever heard of someone who left his poor parents to live with rich strangers?” when asked why he rejected a move to Real Madrid, the greatest club on the planet. He then retired from the club, having spent 28 years playing for the club since the youth academy days. 

A former Arsenal FC player Dennis Bergkamp once said, “When you start supporting a football club, you don’t support because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong.”

Football has taught me about loyalty and love. Never abandon who picked you up when you were nothing and repay them with love when you become successful. As many people say, “loyalty is tested when times get rough” and many footballers have proved it right. 

Ending a Civil War, or any kind of war is not easy at all. However, football has done it. It was 8 October 2005. The final spot for an African country in the 2006 World Cup was either Cameroon or Ivory Coast. A win for Cameroon against Egypt would see them qualify for the World Cup for the 6th time. A draw/loss for Cameroon and a win for Ivory Coast against Sudan would take the Ivorians to their maiden trip to the World Cup. Both games took place simultaneously. Ivory Coast, knowing that they had to win at all cost, got the job done and beat Sudan 3-1. Meanwhile, Cameroon took the lead in the 20th minute, but not for long when Egypt scored the equalizer in the 79th minute, swinging the tide back towards the Ivorians’ favor. A drop in points for Cameroon, as long as the Ivorians win, would see the Ivorians qualify for the world cup. After Ivory Coast’s match, the players were standing around their captain, Didier Drogba while listening to the radio and waiting.

“A penalty for Cameroon.” The Ivorians’ hearts sank. The game was seconds away from a full-time whistle. The Ivorians thought their hopes of playing in the World Cup had gone down the drain… until Pierre Wome’s penalty kick had crashed against the goal post and flew wide. The Cameroonian players were dazed and despondent in the penalty area, while on the other side of the continent, Ivory Coast erupted. They had made history. Suddenly, it seemed like the country forgot that they were divided.

With the celebrations unfolding, a TV camera focused on Drogba as he grabbed a microphone and said to the camera, “Please lay down your weapons and hold elections”, followed by the players kneeling in front of the camera.

Slowly, the clip of this message was played relentlessly on the media, with a glimpse of hope that it might change something. Change did follow as a peace agreement was signed.

Have you ever woken up at 3 or 4 in the morning just to watch a game on a routine basis? The most popular football clubs are located in the top 5 leagues in Europe: England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France. A lot of fans live outside of Europe, including Asia, the west coast of America, and Oceania. Because of time zones, 12 pm games are played at 4 am in Oceania and the west coast of America while 8 pm games are played at 4 am in Asia. Despite having work or school that day, these football fans decide to sacrifice their sleep to watch their teams play, whether they win or lose. This level of dedication and commitment cannot be seen often in any other sports. 

Photo: Reuters