Opinion: the replacement of any kind of off-season with a transfer season shows how all human life has filled up with football in the last 15 years

In 1978, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard compared the political drama of the failed effort for political asylum by a member of the Baader-Meinhof Group to France beating Bulgaria to secure their place at the World Cup finals in Argentina. "On the night of Klaus Croissant’s extradition", he wrote, "the TV transmitted a football match in which France played to qualify for the World Cup. Some hundreds of people demonstrated outside la Sante, a few barristers ran to and fro in the night; 20 million people spent their evening glued to the screen."

Baudrillard was under no illusions as to the attentions of his nation: the masses cared about the events at Parc Des Princes that night. Lest we forget, that very qualification campaign also contained the original controversial French World Cup qualifying victory over Ireland in Paris, when a Frank Stapleton goal was ruled out for "alleged" offside. No doubt Irish soccer fans were equally interested in the outcome.

It may be tempting to regard football as akin to the modern "opium of the masses", as Italian philosopher Umberto Eco did when he reflected on the 1978 World Cup. In an essay entitled The World Cup and Its Pomps, Eco regarded football as a meaningless distraction, essentially boring and politically corrosive endeavour, concluding with the rhetorical question: "Is it possible to have a revolution on a football Sunday?"

Umbero Eco: not a fan of gegenpressing 

However, this despairing position was not one taken by Baudrillard. He did not regard the masses as manipulated or mystified by football. Instead, he regarded the passion for football as a genuine "indifference" to life and something to be understood on its own terms. Nonetheless, football for both was seen as a way, deliberate or not, to escape reality. Other writers have taken a different view to the thought that football is a metaphor for life, arguing that football is a mirror or even a narcissistic parody of the real world.

What is clear is that football is no longer simply an occasional hobby, nor is it an escape. Rather, it has become an all-consuming passion that increasingly defines the entire lives of fans; from what they wear to the media they consume to where they pray. Its endless availability, quantity and dominance in our life is increasingly ubiquitous. As Gerald Moore says, "what you see with contemporary football is that we consume it beyond the point of passion...we are constantly bombarded with it.".

When the game is everywhere all the time, perhaps life has become a metaphor for football

This filling up of all our valuable and limited attention, desire and time flips the idea that football is either an escape or a metaphor life. When the game is everywhere all the time, perhaps life has become a metaphor for football. Increasingly, football is no longer an alternative version of the world; it is the world. Addiction is certainly part of this world, not solely its distraction devoid of respite but also the speculation it cultivates.

Eco limited his query to the day of the match (specifically the tickertape spectacle of the 1978 final versus the clandestine torture centres of Argentina’s military Junta). We can be bolder and rework that old saying "every day is a school day" as "in the 21st century every day is a football day".

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The replacement of any kind of off-season with a transfer season is the exemplary case of how all human life has filled up with football in the last 15 years. The transfer window, with all its panic, plotting and culmination in a final often-chaotic transfer deadline day, has become a constituent feature of football fandom.

The growth of this aspect of the game and fans' associated devotion to the endless commentary in the shape of speculation, rumours and hearsay has been fuelled by both the diversity of platforms we now consume, live updates on things surrounding the game and the mind-boggling figures attached. Fans have always wondered what fortunes new players may bring to their club. Yet, the recent leaps in transfer records, such as Neymar Jr’s €222 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG can’t help but command our attention.

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From RTÉ Radio One's Today With Sean O'Rourke Show, football pundits Eamon Dunphy and Tim Vickery discuss Neymar's transfer to PSG

In these football days without big league soccer, it has even been suggested that the transfer speculation we consume is the original fake news, yet it remains the focus of our attention. Even the soccer attempted at this time, pre-season friendlies, are but a dull simulation of the real thing. Just as transfer fees themselves are not simple measures of the on field worth of a player, transfer speculation is news untethered from truth and consumed in the absence of any games to play and watch. Its presence ensures that we never experience the withdrawal of the game.  

From an Irish perspective, such fixations may seem strange given that the summer transfer window constitutes the meat of the League of Ireland season and the European campaigns, as well as the peak of the GAA’s hurling and football championships. However, such alternatives only continue the omnipresence of football and, in any case, Irish football fans are no less rapt to the vagaries of the British and continental game than other fans.

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As Eco suggests, football is the easiest substitute for serious political debate after the weather. Eco’s cynicism aside, it is worth remembering that there is a range of things to appreciate in sport such as tactical planning and its execution, movement, style, commitment, the skill of a well-timed feint etc. Record transfer fees are not one of these. The only records that truly matter to fans are who scores the most goals and who wins the most games and trophies. While these things are not at stake, perhaps it is worth taking a break.  


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ