What is football? If we wanted to parody Edmond Rostand and his Cyrano de Bergerac, we would say a spherical apostrophe between the words “I love you”. And we wouldn’t go that far from the truth. Many songs, many essays and many phrases about football have in fact tried to tell us about a relationship that is essentially about love.
Indeed, perhaps it is even more than that. Football is for many a faith, a religion. An element to live and suffer for. Otherwise, the rational use of continuing to be passionate about a sport that often disappoints, almost always causes an ulcer, and gives few moments of happiness that last the space of just one night, would not be explained.
PHRASES OF FAITH
And like any true faith, like any true love, football has always pushed men and women to try to express an inexplicable relationship in words. The phrases about football, and about the favorite football team, are therefore wasted. They are found on banners in stadiums and in rhyming poems, on social networks like Tumblr, and in the books of the greatest writers.
Sometimes they are funny and irreverent phrases, other times they are more serious. In some cases, they concern the players in general, sometimes certain specific roles (goalkeepers, forwards, midfielders). Some seem to have been designed specifically to be engraved on the tombstone or to be tattooed on an arm.
In short, there really is something for everyone. We initially chose five which, it seems to us, best summarize all this great variety. Some are very famous and you have already heard them; others, on the other hand, will come to you new. They will all leave you something.
The photo of Germany’s world champion in Brazil in 2014 is by Danilo Borges (via Wikimedia Commons); the sporting phase of Sporting Lisbon – Sporting Braga is immortalized by José Goulão; Philipp Lahm’s penalty in the 2012 Champions League final is photographed by Markus Unger.
1. The most important thing
If you are a football fan and find yourself living – or spending a lot of time – with people who don’t share your passion, you know what expressions they use.
“Football is not an important thing, you give it too much weight.” “Football is the outlet for morons who have no other passions.” ” Football is sick, corrupt, prey to a thousand economic interests, not like …” (add sports as you like, from rugby to badminton).
They are partly right, of course. Football doesn’t decide anyone’s life or death, at least not usually. It is a sport that is sometimes prey to exaggerated economic interests and betrays what is the common sense of loyalty. It is sometimes a disgusting activity. And yet …
Football is the most important thing of the least important things.
Here, Arrigo Sacchi‘s sentence seems to explain the concept well. Yes, football is not important. But of all the unimportant things, it is perhaps the most important. And that’s also why it wins the attention of so many people, despite all its flaws.
A phrase by Arrigo Sacchi
Sacchi, on the other hand, knows about football. Born in 1946, he achieved national and international fame in the second half of the 1980s. Shortly after buying Milan, in fact, president Silvio Berlusconi called him to coach the first team.
At that time Sacchi was a young coach with high hopes, but with very little experience. He had coached Rimini in C1 and Parma, leading them to promotion from C1 to B. The results had been interesting but not extraordinary, and his hiring of him did not please the fans, who in the first weeks asked for his sack several times.
However, his training methods and revolutionary tactics took root quickly. His Milan became one of the strongest teams of all time1, capable of winning a championship, two European Cups, two European Super Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups. With the national team, where he landed in 1991, he had less luck. In 1994, however, as you will certainly remember, he led the Azzurri to the World Cup final in the United States. His team, however, was defeated on penalties by Brazil2.
2. A simple game
Arrigo Sacchi was a great coach, but he never really played football, except at an amateur level. And so he sees football from the bench, from a completely different perspective than that of a footballer.
Gamers, on the other hand, tend to see things more simply. Especially those who grew up in the football of the past, in which tactics were still very elementary and the things that mattered most were the competitive spirit, the energy, the desire to win.
For this reason, it seems nice to insert, as the second sentence of our five, a famous quote from Gary Lineker. A phrase that is perfectly suited to international competitions, to those tournaments – such as Europeans and World Cups – in which the breath of entire nations remains suspended to follow the vicissitudes of 22 boys on a lawn.
Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and in the end Germany wins.
The quote from Gary Lineker
The author of this sentence is, in fact, Gary Lineker, a former footballer who, if you are of a certain age, you will surely remember. Born in Leicester in 1960, he played for his hometown team (when he was still unable to win league titles), Everton, Barcelona, and Tottenham, then ended his career in Japan.
He never won the championship, but he won many cups3. However, he is remembered above all for his performances with the English national team, of which he is the third-best scorer in history.
He led the attack of the three lions in two editions of the World Cup and in two of the European Championships. In this latest competition – 1988 and 1992 editions – his team failed to get through the first round. At the World Cup, on the other hand, he did much better.
In 1986 she reached the quarter-finals, being eliminated by the Argentina of Maradona, then the winner of the tournament. In that match, it was Lineker who scored for England, but the Napoli ace scored two goals: one, unforgettable, dribbling all the opposing team; the other hand.
In 1990, in Italy, England went even further. With Lineker, Peter Shilton, Chris Waddle, Mark Wright, David Platt, and Paul Gascoigne played on that team. The coach was Bobby Robson.
The national team went all the way to the semifinals. In that match, she was eliminated by West Germany, on penalties, after regular time ended at 1-1 (again with a goal from Lineker)4. And the sentence we reported above would have been pronounced by the attacker – with a certain savoir-faire – right at the end of that game.5.
3. Stop arguing
Let’s go back to those who understand football and love it a little. Those who usually piss us off with the usual clichés, but who sometimes also know how to laugh at it. Because football excites us and captivates us, but in the end, it is still a game in which, as Lineker said, 22 adults in shorts running after a ball.
The comic aspect of the matter, in short, does not escape those who can see it in a disenchanted way. And after all, if you think about it, there are even films or songs in which you joke about the game of the ball.
Think, just in passing, of The second tragic Fantozzi, when the accountant loses the national team game because he is forced to see The Kotiomkin battleship. Or what time is the end of the world? by Ligabue, when the Emilian rocker makes fun of Riccardo Ferri’s own goals.
Give him 22 balls, so they stop fighting.
The sentence that seems to us the most beautiful, however, is the one we quote above, signed by a great Italian cinema like Cesare Zavattini. 22 balls, one for each player on the field, would put an end to every quarrel, foul, controversy.
The joke of Cesare Zavattini
Zavattini, from Emilia, was born in 1902 and died in 1989. Raised in Emilia, Lombardy, and Lazio, he began working in the 1930s as a mostly humorous journalist6. In those years he also published his first novels.
He also approached the cinema and in 1939 he met Vittorio De Sica. With him, writing the screenplays, she would have created some masterpieces of neorealism, such as Sciuscià and Thieves of bicycles7. He then also worked for directors, such as Luchino Visconti, Alberto Lattuada, and Alessandro Blasetti. Now an elderly man, in 1982, he also directed his only film behind the camera, La veritaaaà. A strange film, already planned in the 60s and conceived for Enzo Jannacci, who was supposed to play the protagonist.
The project was then revised in the 70s, thinking instead of Benigni as the main actor. Finally, Zavattini decided to play him alone, becoming an actor and director of his project. Also, for this reason, the film is considered his spiritual testament8.
4. Nino, don’t be afraid …
Some time ago we dedicated an article to songs dedicated to football. We did it because there are actually quite a lot of them, and some of them are also very beautiful. From this point of view, the homelands of football music are two: Great Britain – where music is at home – and Italy.
Here, many songwriters have tried to grasp the different faces of this game. Some, like Elio and the tense stories or Enzo Jannacci, have focused on irony. Others on the more poetic and human aspect. Of all of them, however, The football lever of the class of ’68 is probably the most loved song.
The song – written in 1980 – tells of a 12-year-old, Nino, who plays football. From how Francesco De Gregori, the songwriter, describes him, he looks like an old-fashioned winger, fast with the ball and skilled at dribbling. Like all kids, however, he has some fear. And to block him, in particular, is the penalty kick.
But Nino don’t be afraid to miss a penalty kick. It is not from these details that he judges himself a player. You see a player by courage, altruism and imagination.
(Francesco De Gregori)
The song was released as part of the 1982 Titanic album. An album in other ways marked by a certain sadness, a sense of impending tragedy as the title track suggests.
1982, the golden year
The song was a great success, both because of its beauty and because it came in a sense at the right time. In fact, the album was released in June 1982, the same month that the World Cup in Spain began.
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From that championship, Italy unexpectedly emerged as the winner, thanks to a team with talent but also a great desire to win. And it is curious to note that just during the final against West Germany when it was still 0-0, the fast full-back Antonio Cabrini just missed a penalty kick9.
The pieces by Francesco De Gregori
In his career, Francesco De Gregori has not often dealt with football. But of human stories, yes, as of struggles against a destiny that seems inexorable. Born in Rome in 1951, he is one of the greatest Italian songwriters, so much so that he has six Targhee Tenco on the bulletin board.
He made his debut in the early 70s at the Folkstudio in Rome, where his older brother Luigi was already performing10. Here he met other musicians such as Giorgio Lo Cascio and Antonello Venditti, with whom he also recorded his debut album. The great success came in 1975 with his third album, Rimmel, which made him one of the most listened to and followed songwriters. However, there was no lack of controversy, given that already the following year De Gregori was heavily contested in Milan by far-left militants, who threatened and violently insulted him11.
After a short time, however, De Gregori resumed performing and churning out new albums, such as De Gregori, Viva l’Italia, and Titanic. From a sales and inspiration standpoint, that was probably the most productive period of his career, with albums coming out one after the other and easily gaining public acceptance.
Today it boasts in its repertoire of more than twenty studio albums, more than fifteen live (also in collaboration with other artists), and various collections.
5. A few sublime moments
We conclude with what we believe is the most beautiful phrase on the whole list. A phrase that does not concern the great teams or the beauty of football seen on TV, but the charm of the game in the suburbs on Sunday afternoons.
Unlike other sports, in fact, football is not just an activity that is watched at the stadium or on television. An enthusiast also experiences it on his own legs and ankles, at least up to a certain point in his life. Challenging friends and giving life to more or less exciting games.
Even without talent
We are not necessarily talking about talented people. Football is played by everyone, talented and not. By people with golden feet and by others with feet that look like tiles. By those who know how to stroke the ball but also by those who only know how to slap it.
All over the world, they tell us, at any given moment there are a number of people who are born, die, conceive a child, or find a gun pointed at them. I like to think that at any moment somewhere in the world any amateur player is scoring an extraordinary goal. It has happened to anyone who has played football. On some occasions, perhaps even once, we sent the ball into the goal from 25 meters, leaving the goalkeeper salt, or we gored the ball (with eyes closed of course) sending it in seven like a shot. Not all sports offer this thrill. How many times can it happen, going to the municipal swimming pool, that someone breaks the world record? Yet, by the law of probabilities, every Sunday a big belly who spends his days in the pub scores a goal as splendid as those of the unattainable Pele and the mighty Bobby Charlton. It can happen anywhere and if you wait long enough it will happen pretty much anywhere. That’s the beauty of football: a few sublime moments, many ridiculous episodes, and everything in between the two opposites.
Because even those who are not particularly gifted can experience their moment of glory. And what Chris Pierson writes in these lines is what moves every amateur player, every dopolavorista since they invented the game of football: the possibility, almost by chance, to score a great goal, to make a great action.
My favorite year
But who is Chris Pierson and where does that phrase come from? The first question is not at all easy to answer, while on the second we can give you some advice. The quote comes from a short story entitled The golden year, published in the collection My favorite year.
This book was published in 1993 in England and translated into Italian a few years later. It was a collection of stories that had a common trait: to tell, in fact, their favorite football year. The curator of the whole work was Nick Hornby, a writer who had already done something similar (but not limited to just one year) with Fever at 90 °, a book dedicated to his passion for Arsenal.
Hornby himself wrote a short story, and then brought together other prominent British and Irish novelists such as Roddy Doyle, Harry Pearson, and others. Chris Pierson recounted a season in the early 70s of St Albans City, a little-known team from a small town in north London.
Who is Chris Pierson
But who is Chris Pierson then? This, honestly, twenty-five years after its publication, we don’t know. There is a Chris Pierson who is a writer, but he is Canadian, now living in the United States and writing stories inspired by video games. He is just a namesake.
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There is another who teaches Political Science at the University of Nottingham but does not mention the story in his resume. Obviously, it wouldn’t have much to do with his profession, but, if he were the author, it would have been nice to report anyway.
In the end, we found the most likely author of that story thanks to LinkedIn12. He now lives in Lincoln, in the north of the country, but he is the only one who was born and raised in the St Albans area.
An amateur writer, then? Likely. On the other hand, writing is like football. Even there it is possible for a day, perhaps almost by mistake, to write a story worthy of the best Nick Hornby, as for an amateur footballer it is possible to score a goal worthy of Pele.
Another 28 phrases about football, in addition to the 5 already reported
Five sentences are not many to try to tell a sport so loved – and at the same time so hated – like football. Also because there are really many sportsmen but also writers who have tried to describe their relationship with this game.
For this reason, we have decided not to limit ourselves only to the usual five quotes that characterize our traditional articles but to expand the perspective. Below, very quickly, you will find 28 other phrases that we think are worth reading.
– Some think that football is a matter of life and death. I do not agree. I can assure you that it is much, much more. ( Bill Shankly, historic Liverpool manager who won 3 championships and 2 FA Cups in the 60s and 70s)
– Football … hell of blood. ( Alex Ferguson, historic Manchester United manager, winner of 13 English leagues, 2 Champions League, and a host of other titles)
– I try not to use the word football but to use the word ball because this word contains, for me, the primordial origin of the love for this sport. Because I, as a child, did not play football, as eight-year-old children do today, but football. The source of fun, in the deepest sense, is in the relationship between a human being and a ball. Football is something else, less fascinating. ( Umberto Contarello, film screenwriter who worked with Gabriele Salvatores, Paolo Sorrentino, and others)
– And when good football manifests itself, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn about which club or country offers it to me. ( Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer, and journalist who died in 2015)
– As long as football is a game, how do we grow up? ( Marco Simone, former AC Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain striker)
– The player stands on the playing field fully exposed. He is out in the open. If he’s a fool, he can be seen right away, if he’s a rascal, too. ( Marguerite Duras, French writer, and director very active after World War II)
– Calcium is like food: if you get used to lobster, then you won’t want risotto with mushrooms anymore. ( Osvaldo Bagnoli, historic coach of the Hellas Verona championship won in 1985)
– Football is like women, a little irrational. ( Silvio Berlusconi, businessman, politician, and owner of AC Milan from 1986 to 2017)
– Football is happiness, joie de vivre. Calcium is rice with beans. ( Toninho Cerezo, former Brazilian midfielder of Roma and Sampdoria, with whom he won a championship)
– Football is a truly wonderful game, Austin, and it must be played beautifully. (from The cursed United, a film based on a novel by David Peace and focusing on Leeds United)
– Football is a game but also a social phenomenon. When billions of people care about a game, it ceases to be just a game. ( Simon Kuper, Ugandan naturalized British journalist, and writer)
– Football is a ritual in which the dispossessed burn the fighting energy and the desire for revolt. ( Umberto Eco, Italian semiologist, writer, and essayist who died in 2016)
– Football is a sport played by eleven top players and your team. ( Arthur Bloch, American humorist author of the successful series of books on Murphy’s Laws)
– The world of football is similar to that of entertainment: the president of the team is the producer, the coach is the director, the sports director is the same as the production manager, the players are obviously the actors and the game is the film. ( Mario Cecchi Gori, film producer and president of Fiorentina from 1990 to 1993, the year of his death)
– Our sport needs lethal strikers, scorers, heroes. But football is much more than the moment of triumph. Football is teamwork, unity, defense, assists, and sacrifice. ( Philipp Lahm, historic full-back and captain of Bayern Munich and the German national team, winner of 9 league titles, a Champions League, and a World Cup)
– The reason women don’t play soccer is that eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public. ( Phyllis Diller, American comedian, and actress who passed away in 2012)
– In football there is a law against coaches: players win, coaches lose. ( Vujadin Boškov, coach of the Yugoslav national team, Real Madrid, Roma, Sampdoria, and Napoli who died in 2014)
– When you are a kid and you use your imagination, you see yourself scoring goals at Wembley with 100,000 fans screaming your name. You don’t think about everything that will touch you before that moment, like standing on a frozen training ground with trembling knees in front of these giants that until recently you only knew by name. ( George Best, Manchester United Northern Irish striker with whom he won 2 championships, 1 European Cup, and the Ballon d’Or in 1968)
– Those who when they lose Inter or Milan say that after all, it’s just a football match and then go home and beat their children. ( Enzo Jannacci, Milanese singer-songwriter, and humorist who died in 2013)
– If this can be defined as the century of the common man, then football, of all sports, can be defined as his game par excellence. In a world plagued by hydrogen bombs and napalm, a soccer field is a place where common sense and hope remain protected. ( Stanley Rous, the British football referee in the 1930s, was president of FIFA from 1961 to 1974)
– I remain of the opinion that certain curves are much better than certain grandstands. ( Serse Cosmi, former coach of Perugia and other Serie A clubs)
– I fell in love with football as I would later fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, without thinking about the pain of upheaval it would bring with it. ( Nick Hornby, British writer and author of 90 ° Fever, among others )
– Football fans talk like this: our years, our time units go from August to May (June and July don’t even exist, especially in odd years, which don’t have the World Cup or the Europeans). Ask us what is the best or worst time of our lives and most of the time we will answer you with a four-digit number – 66/67 for Manchester United fans, 67/68 for Manchester City fans, 69/70 for Manchester United fans. ‘Everton, and so on – bearing a silent dash in the middle, the only concession to the calendar in use in the rest of the Western world. We get drunk on New Year’s Eve, like everyone else, but in reality, it is after the Cup final, in May, that we restart our inner clock, and we indulge in the promises and regrets and renewal commitments that ordinary people allow themselves at the end of the traditional year. (Nick Hornby, still 90 ° Fever )
– Football is the last sacred representation of our time. ( Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italian writer, poet, and director who tragically died in 1975)
– Football is already difficult for those who understand it, let alone for coaches. ( Franco Rossi, sports journalist of Il Giorno who passed away in 2013)
– Football is simple, but nothing is more difficult than playing football in a simple way. ( Johan Cruijff, flag of Ajax, Barcelona, and the Dutch national team, winner of 3 Golden Balls and 3 European Cups)
– Life is made up of small solitudes. That of the goalkeeper more. ( Fabien Barthez, goalkeeper of the French national team world champion in 1998 and European champion in 2000)
– Only those who have the courage to shoot them miss penalties. ( Roberto Baggio, winner of the Ballon d’Or in 1993 and two league titles with Juventus and Milan)