Desmond Morris published “The Soccer Tribe” in 1981. In it he traces the origins of soccer’s tribal roots and talks about a soccer match as a ritual hunt, a status display, a religious ceremony or a stylized battle. The soccer game can also be seen as a social drug, big business or even a theatrical performance. It is, I am sure you would agree, more than ‘just a game’. As a photographer, I see myself as set a little apart from the tribal rivalries, as a recorder of the events to keep alive the sense of importance attached to this tribal event. Of course, I’m rooting for Dartford, but I have to concentrate on capturing the best images I can. I think Morris’s observations are equally true at Premier League level, and at non-league level. I also think Desmond Morris’ anthropological exploration throws up observations that are still true today, nearly 30 years later.
From the early days of civilisation, when the Rome Colosseum was in use, audiences of 45,000-50,000 would assemble, roughly the same as at any Premier League match today, which is quite astounding to think about. The arena was somewhat smaller than today’s soccer pitch and the bloody slaughter of animals must have been something to behold. On the opening day of the Colosseum, about 2,000 years ago, around 5,000 animals were massacred. This was effectively bringing the hunt to the people, since the realm of the hunter-gatherer was in decline. This type of bloodthirsty spectacle went on for about 500 years and thankfully was abolished. One legacy of that type of ‘sport’ is bullfighting. Interesting that as late as 1825 bull-running was a regular spectacle in Birmingham.
With the decline of bloodsports and the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, a new bloodless, animal-free arena sport came into being – the ball-game. By the middle of the 19th century football had come of age. It is a global phenomenon. The cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 World Cup is estimated to be 26.29 billion. 715.1 million individuals watched the final match of this tournament (a ninth of the entire population of the planet). It truly is global. Far more people watch soccer than any other sport in the history of mankind.
In one chapter, Morris talks about The Tribal Territories, and the draw of its great temple, the soccer stadium. He says:
“So strong is its magic that, for a tribesman to approach it, even on a day when no match is being played, created a strange feeling of mounting excitement and anticipation”
I asked for comments from some of the supporters on the Dartford FC fans forum. It was interesting that the replies concurred with this view.
Always look to my left when I drive past it going down Princes Road. Always look to my left when driving down Watling Street, towards Hill House Road. I just do it. Sohe’s right.
I drive past the ground and always give a come on you darts out loud, the misses (sic) hates it.
“Tuesday night flying back from Edinburgh the Air France Dornier turboprop I was in banked and turned for City Airport over Bluewater and as we flew past the floodlit PP the old ticker skipped a beat as I muttered Come on You Darts. Must have been just as Jon Wallis chipped the keeper.”
Morris describes the floodlight pylons as “huge tribal totem poles”. Comments received would seem to echo this observation:
“Every city or town i drive to i look for floodlights”
“It’s the floodlights that do it for me especially moving up the leagues.”
“When going to evening matches and driving along the A2 westbound, at the top before the road dips down for the Dartford exit, there is always a glance to see if the floodlights are on.”
Interestingly, there is a section on Tribal Chants, which seem to fall into a number of defined categories:
- Confidence and Optimism – “Can you hear us, over there. We are Dartford, Super Dartford, We are Dartford Princes Park”, and “All the lads and all the lovely ladies, walking up to Princes Park to see the Dartford aces”
- Encouragement “Come on you Darts!”
- Praise “We’re only part-time and we’re havin’ a laugh”
- Loyalty and Pride “Tony Burman’s part time army”, “When the Darts go marchin’ in”
- Criticism – I can’t think of one I’ve heard … the chanting just usually goes quiet.
- Comments on the Referee “You don’t know what you’re doing”
- Insults to the Opponents “You’re not singing any more”, “We forgot that you were ‘ere”, “This grounds too big for you” (when only a small number of the other team’s supporters turn up)
and a few other categories.