With over fifty variations of the definition of religion, it is difficult to confidently declare that a certain group with common beliefs or activities is or is not considered to be religious. What can be considered to be a religion can be vague and sometimes it resides within the person themselves to declare themselves as religious. Having the ability to incorporate personal beliefs into a religion creates the argument that certain aspects of a culture can also be respected as religious. A prominent part of British culture, supporting football clubs, may not be a declared religion, however this type of organization has some of the qualities that a religion holds as well.
British football games are celebrated multiple times a week. Communities congregate in pubs or homes, dressed in the colors of England’s team, chanting and carrying out rituals. All religions have specific rituals and holidays that are celebrated annually or weekly – Ramadan, the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah), Shabbat, Easter, and many more. Supporters of football clubs celebrate their rituals with every game their team plays and the World Cup can be viewed as a major holiday.
The energy within a pub during a football match is contagious, for even if one is not a fan, one still feels united by this bond. Being united by a bond is similar to some aspects of Judaism, for “Jews belong to a people, an extended family, a tribe, a historical community.” Supporting football clubs on a regular basis creates this tribe. Having been in pubs myself, it is exciting to see everyone cheering and drinking together, supporting a common cause. There is a feeling of a family and a sense of belonging.
This sense of belonging is similar to one found within a religion where all followers are united by their rituals and beliefs. A French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, defines religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church all those who adhere to them”
While creating followers of a religion, a religion simultaneously creates others. Similarly, supporting a specific soccer team and following their season, creates others as well – supporters of different teams. Although different religions are tolerant of one another, there is still a sense of separation and this separation is also apparent with the number of football teams to chose to support.
I believe that having the ability to personalize your religion is very important in order to be a dedicated follower of that religion. Being able to define one’s own rituals and beliefs allows for a deeper connection to the religion and a deeper relationship with the divine power. I respect supporting football clubs as being a religious practice because it is the epitome of having the freedom to define a religion personally.
New Religious Movements are becoming more prominent and with the statistic of five new religions emerging per day in some parts of the world, supporting football clubs definitely has the opportunity to be viewed as religious. As more religions emerge, toleration of different people is increasing.