Skip to content

About the Book

It’s a Simple Game, Really.

Take a ball. Move it, bounce it, run with it, keep it in the air.

Just don’t use your hands.

Such a simple idea. But a surprisingly fun amusement.

Now add nine of your friends. Pass the ball back and forth. Try to control it within an enclosed area. Try to get it into a net eight yards wide by eight feet high.

Just do it without your hands.

Still simple; and a great way to pal around with your buds.

Now add ten other people, but still use just one ball. This other ten, they will try to pass the ball; they will try to get it into their own net. All the while trying everything they can to keep you and your friends from passing the ball, from getting the ball into your net.

And nobody is using their hands; at least not on the ball.

A bit more chaotic, sure, but not complicated. All you have to do is get the ball into the back of the net. Simple.

Now add two more people, a guard for each net.

And let them use their hands.

Now we have some real fun! In fact, it’s so good that a few people might stop by to watch. And they too will be entranced by this simple game.

Play the game with finesse and agility, strength and speed, intelligence, foresight and style, against a few who are intent on preventing you with guile and brutish rancor, and more than a few will watch.

Billions of people will be enthralled. Grown adults will weep in frustration or cry out with joy according to your fortunes. Total strangers will lean on each other in despair, or dance in exultation, depending on how you play. Children will be named after you. Captains of industry will mortgage their lives in an attempt to ride on your coattails. Cities will stop, halting in mid-breath, just to follow your exploits.

All because you can make a ball dance, in a tangle of high-speed human traffic, in the biggest venues constructed by humanity, without using your hands.

Such a simple thing, when compared to the fervor and fanaticism evoked.

This is soccer as we know it.

The fascination with soccer is remarkable not only in the strength of the passions kindled, but also in the way it transcends every human division.

Social, cultural, economic, educational, national, regional, tribal, even gender—soccer’s enchantment cuts across all these differences.

Not even philosophers have been immune to soccer’s spell.

This is the origin of the book you now hold in your hands. I am a philosopher who loves soccer. I have spent the majority of my life either playing, coaching, refereeing, or just watching soccer. When I’m not engaged in soccer, I’m contemplating questions as universal as soccer’s fascination. Questions like: What makes a thing that thing? What is the right thing to do? What makes something beautiful? Why am I part of this group? What is the best way to organize a society? Is there such a thing as luck? How can I judge things correctly? How does language convey meaning? These questions, in one form or another, have been wondered about for thousands of years, and, on the face of things, have little or nothing to do with soccer.

But these questions are human questions. They are a part of us. They don’t make us who we are, so much as they arise out of our being. That is why they have continued to pique our collective curiosity, to demand our intellectual energy, urging debate in ivory towers and neighborhood pubs, for thousands of years.

Our fascination with soccer must come out of the same place. The worldwide zeal, the excitement that emanates from the boardroom to the barrio, the all-inclusive, all-embracing rapture can only be explained by a common well-spring. Soccer has become such a universally loved game (in a mere 150 or so years) because ultimately soccer is a human game like no other. Thus the study of soccer—be it historical, sociological, economic, or philosophical—is a study of humanity, in all its glory and debauchery. And there is nothing more worthy than that.

Crazy, huh? But, oh so simple.

It turns out that I’m not the only crazy one. There are lots of philosophers who are as infatuated with the game as I am; philosophers for whom the game is an integral part of who they are. And there are other(non-philosopher) fanatics who have pondered the essential questions of philosophy through the lens of soccer. There are so many out there, in fact, that I could have edited three books. But reading such a book would take too much time away from what’s important (soccer!), so I’ve limited the book to thirty-one chapters.

As you turn through the pages, you’ll see Kierkegaard and Aristotle, Plato and Nietzsche, Kant, Dewey, and Sartre. You’ll also see Pelé and Maradona, Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Fàbregas, and Beckenbauer. But mostly you’ll see very bright and intelligent folk—people who know their philosophy—writing passionately about the game they love. And, when it comes right down to it, that’s what’s
worth reading.

The universality of the appeal of soccer is reflected in the international team of authors: forty authors from fifteen different countries. Each with their own particular perspective on the game. As editor, I have tried to keep their language as close to the original as possible, in an attempt to preserve their unique voice. I have not selected between British or American spellings, punctuation, or the name of the game; rather I have allowed each author to use what they were most comfortable with. I don’t expect this will cause undue confusion for you the reader. For whether the word is “Football” or “Calcio,” “Fuβball” or “Futballcipö,” “Fútbol,” “Fotball,” “Bo-o – l bo- ,” “Voetbal,” or “Soccer,” we all know what it is: glorious!

Because at the end of the analysis, it’s a simple game, really: get the ball into the back of the net.

Just don’t use your hands.

—Ted Richards

%d bloggers like this: