Why do RC Lens players wear a blood and gold jersey? Because they are the colors of Spain, which occupied Artois in the 16th and 17th centuries. For its part, AJ Auxerre, founded by Father Ernest Deschamps, has chosen blue, the color of the Virgin Mary! As for the amateur club Ménilmontant FC 1871, it refers to the Paris Commune. Football is more than football. The colors, badges or emblems of a team express a history, sometimes buried, of demands. When they hold up their favorite team’s scarf, supporters convey more than they realize. Based on these external signs, the names of the clubs and stadiums, the architecture of the sports arenas, Olivier Corbobesse attempts, in a very scholarly work, the risky bet of retracing planetary history by the sole means of the round ball ( 1).
The Iliad, Roman Antiquity, the Crusaders …
The book is chronological. It begins in Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC, when the lion was both an animal associated with deities and the guardian of the city gates. Today the players of the Iraq team are called the Lions of Mesopotamia. “The nicknames given to national teams often correspond to an emotional attachment of the population which supports them, but also sometimes express the way in which a country wants to represent itself to the world”, analyzes this Sciences-Po graduate who is also a certified football educator. In ancient Greece, a fighter named Ajax distinguished himself, according to the Iliad, during the Trojan War. His courage and offensive spirit inspired the founders of the famous Amsterdam club at the beginning of the 20th century, when Greek mythology was all the rage in academia. The Czech club Sparta Prague is so called in reference to the principles of discipline and endurance attributed to the Spartans. As for Roman Antiquity, it resurfaces on the coat of arms of AS Roma (the wolf suckling Romulus and Remus) and on that of Lazio (the eagle of the Roman legions).
The Middle Ages also have extensions to the present day. The Crusades are represented in contradictory ways in the Christian and Muslim worlds: the Crusaders FC, in Northern Ireland, celebrate the Crusaders, while the Salahaddin FC, in Iraq, pays homage to Saladin, who fought the same crusaders. And if the meetings between Brescia and Bergamo are often stormy, the author sees in them the perpetuation of conflicts dating back to the 12th century between the two Italian cities.
… the Spanish conquistadors, the Vichy government
Each era, each region of the world seems to emerge through the practice of football, the most universal sport. Such as the Chilean Colo-Colo formation, a reference to the Mapuche chief who resisted the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. But sometimes clubs, especially created at the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century on the initiative of the wealthy classes, are intended to support a political cause. Slavia Prague, founded by a philosophical circle, promotes the regrouping of all Slavic peoples. Then the working-class world gradually took hold of the football: in Poland there is the Gornik Zabrze club in the mining region of Silesia, “gornik” meaning miner. During World War I, women employed in arms factories began to play soccer. An act of emancipation. But in 1941 the government of Vichy prohibited the female practice of this sport.
Football not only reflects history, it contributes to it. In 1957, in the Belgian Congo, a match pitted local players against a Brussels team clearly favored by the referee, according to the public. The meeting turns into a riot. An event that would be the foreshadowing of the struggle for the decolonization of the Congo. In 1969 the “football war” occurs: a match between Honduras and El Salvador, peppered with incidents, exacerbates tensions between the two countries. Salvadoran air force attacks the airport in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
Football claimed its political dimension when, in Jerusalem, the Palestinian club Hilal Al-Quds chose a crescent moon to surround the entire esplanade of the Mosques as its badge. A protest badge!