In football there are always two sets of stories, those that narrate what happens on the pitch and those that narrate what happens outside the pitch; maybe you could go as far as calling it two schools of thoughts. The first school, the Quantified school, is where students engage on formation theory, algorithmic data sets, and argue over player and referee performances. It is the school where the driving stories are what happens on the pitch, and the byline is where their ideology ends.
The other school could be described as the Romantic school, and this is where students are engaged with the cultural, emotional, and philosophical implications of what happens on the pitch, and most importantly, what happens off the pitch. For these students, the pitch is the culmination of a train of thought that began in their own experience.
The Quantified school looks at a game, like the Gold Cup quarter-final between Guatemala vs Jamaica, as 22 players whose worth can be calculated by the performance and stat lines of the actors. To them, the match isn’t an amalgamation of human stories but the organic projection of extrapolated numbers. They are the bodies that are reduced to xGs and pie charts on Twitter and YouTube. Through the lens of this school Guatemala vs Jamaica was a TV spectacle or an interesting gambling opportunity between the countries ranked 116th and 63rd in the FIFA rankings. This isn’t the school of thought that I am interested in.
To me, this game was a small window into the vast house that is the role that culture, heritage and identity plays in international football. Both countries had a starting eleven with a number of players born outside of the country but eligible through parental heritage. Most of the players were born in either the United States or in the United Kingdom, both countries with a quasi-colonial or colonial historical relationships to these nations. This game is also a story of post-colonialism and the narrow relationships that exist between countries and that football helps to consolidate. Football has many facets, and this angle would necessitate its own post, but it is important to acknowledge this nonetheless.
As an advocate of the Romantic school, and as a half-Guatemalan man myself, I…