Thursday, December 2

In the renewed roar of the soccer crowds, our shared local identity will be felt again | Jason stockwood

FThe National Soccer League kicked off last weekend, while my club Grimsby Town’s first game of the season was one of three in our league postponed due to Covid. This Saturday, at home against Weymouth, marks my first game as a club co-owner with Andrew Pettit in a world irrevocably changed by the specter of the coronavirus. Like many of us who have consumed our soccer digitally over the past 18 months, it seems there will be a psychological and physical distance to go when our fans return to Blundell Park.

I’ve been wondering if part of the collective experience will be remembering what it feels like and what it means to be part of a crowd. If only we will fully realize in those moments what has been lacking in our lives, as we begin to feel a much broader definition of belonging in a world that has been reduced to the family unit, endless Zoom calls, and countless drivers. nameless delivery.

For most of my career, I was lucky enough to live in London and travel the world. When I used to mention to my colleagues or investors that I was from Grimsby and that I was only supporting Grimsby Town, I would often receive amusement and ridicule, sometimes questioned as a kind of misplaced nostalgia or worse still, as a refusal to “run away.” . of supposedly unfavorable origins.

I lived in North London for over 20 years and would try to get my football fix by watching Arsenal. I desperately wanted to feel part of the crowd and yet I never really did. I would walk 20 minutes to the Emirates Stadium from the liberal middle class camp of Crouch End. A Premier League or Champions League match always felt like a high definition experience, watching billionaires sent from around the world gracefully move around a perfect playing surface.

I lacked the emotional element of feeling connected to the people around me. I often reflected, from my seats high up in the midline, how similar it felt to watching characters in a video game move around a screen. It felt like a shared purchase rather than a shared experience, because I knew that most of the crowd would disperse once the game was over.

It is not that elite clubs are not community institutions, but rather that they have a completely different life beyond their communities as global corporations. You may be a fan of Arsenal in New York or Lagos, but that relationship carries a completely different weight if the club represents where your family lives. That’s why Brentford, in their new community stadium, beating Arsenal in the season opener, felt like a compelling symbol of what could be possible.

As I grew older, I was personally concerned with the idea of ​​the place and where you are from. Despite all the positives that neoliberalism has introduced, we have undoubtedly been seduced by the mantra of competitive individualism, the prioritization of higher education, individual mobility, and the idea that the tides rise all ships.

In reality, we yearn for a deep sense of community in our DNA and we have been wrong to fully believe in the high priests of globalization, who rejected people who felt a strong connection to their local community. They said there was nothing to do with post-industrial places that became collateral damage as capital sought ever higher returns and ignored cities built with coal, steel, and fish. As we have seen in our policy, people are no longer willing to be ignored.

It’s a no-brainer to state that a club like Grimsby Town represents its community in a different way than global corporations at the top of the Premier League. I think the questions of what, how, and why those differences exist will be answered in part as part of the fan-led review of MP Tracey Crouch, and also in a new initiative on the way the game runs, called Fair. Game, of which Grimsby Town. is a founding member.

Of all the points that are being discussed, it seems to me that the most important is the somewhat hackneyed notion that when we speak of community in the context of football clubs, the most important is the physical gathering of people in a place to be. the time to share an experience. There are many other ways to connect with clubs, but in an increasingly atomized world, the idea of ​​physical community is not something we often contemplate.

Robert Putnam, in his book The Upswing, writes that capitalism’s original success was due in part to the localized nature of business and the civic institutions that existed as a counterweight to its worst excesses. In today’s public discourse, whether through the idea of ​​”leveling up” or place-based initiatives, there seems to be a recognition that there is truth to this idea and that we must correct these absences as a political priority. And yet it is still not entirely clear how exactly we do it and who is pulling the levers.

One thing that is clear is that it will not be achieved if communities are passive recipients of industrial strategy or consumers of government services. Rather, it will be a core challenge established and supported by communities anchored by the only vested interest that matters: where their families live.

We seem to be occupying a post-industrial space in terms of our politics, values, and sense of identity. For me, this opens up an opportunity: a shared identity despite all our differences would be a powerful symbol of post-Brexit Britain and an opportunity to redefine what we want to become and how we want to be heard and represented. An opportunity for all of us to redefine values ​​that are not purely economic. Like many political movements before us, you can start by belonging to a crowd and wanting to be heard.

When I read Putnam’s book, it became clear to me that one of the few institutions that has endured and still has such power is the professional soccer teams. Grimsby Town FC has a 143-year history and a committed, if somewhat diminished, following today. The team can still generate a sense of belonging and an identity that goes beyond the performance of 11 men in black and white on a Saturday afternoon. And that sense of belonging certainly intensifies through physical proximity in a day.

Exactly how these links can be nurtured and expanded is a question we can try to answer together.

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