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Which gods inhabit football's Olympus?

Saturday 17th July 2021
If football is a religion, it is not limited to just one god, whatever Zlatan might want everyone to believe.
If football is a religion, it is not limited to just one god, whatever Zlatan might want everyone to believe.

Background image: Mosi Knife

You have to wonder about human evolution. Two or three millennia ago, virtually every civilisation saw the world as a complex place, the depth of which scientists continue to plumb today even as laymen strive to keep things in the simplest terms. In accordance with their awareness of life’s complexity, civilisations in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and the South Pacific all developed multi theistic religions in which each god or goddess oversaw a different aspect of life. Apollo carried the sun across the sky every day. Thor brought the rain. Kali, being female, was able to multitask as the goddess of time, creation, destruction and power. A good thing, too, considering that Loki, Atë, Voros, Seth, Anansi, Eshu, Kon-Tiki and Coyote were stirring up shite wherever you looked.

Of course, there were also the overseers, theist CEOs if you will, such as Odin, Zeus, Olorun, Huitzilopochtli and Gitche Manitou. 

Unfortunately, tracking all these gods, knowing whom to please, when and to what end became tiresome. So, those in power simplified religion, naturally establishing the monotheist faiths in their own image, idolising the chief executive. Whether it was HaShem, Allah or just plain God, the memo went out to believe in a solitary, unassailable force for good. That said, our hatred of complications remained in the tendency of each of our chosen deity’s evil counterparts to go by several names. Iblis was also Shaitan. Satan would answer to Lucifer and Mephistopheles among others. 

Football as a religion treads the same evolutionary path. FIFA is all powerful while the five confederations and innumerable federations look after their own continents and nations. There is also IFAB which, almost like Sarasvati, Thoth, Athena or St Peter, exists to sagely codify the rules. On the other hand, football’s governing bodies, like any others, tend to be seen as evil, in it for the money and power rather than the good of the people or the game. For the people, the true gods are found among the players.

Again, though, there were complications. The practice of anointing a new Ballon d’Or winner almost annually for several decades, each special and distinctive in his [or her] powers, made it difficult to remember exactly who gave us what. So, just when the internet fully flowered, providing us with all the space and time necessary to catalog our footballing heroes, we elected to go the binary route and choose between two modern deities, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

In true monotheist fashion, the pair divide fans into two sects, a sporting Sunni and Shiite if you will. Depending on the temple at which you worship, one is good and the other evil. This is not good for the health of the game or supporters. The truth is there are literally dozens of footballing gods and, in the interests of everyone's welfare, I have taken it upon myself to list several here. Please note that, since the god who invented the game has long since vanished into the mists of time, leaving football to its own devices, I have adopted the ancient and wise tradition of African religions, choosing to ignore him as they did Amma and Mulungu. Instead, let's devote ourselves to the pantheon of gods who stuck around to influence us in every manner possible.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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