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Fútbol and Heritage in Argentina

For the past ten days, I have been in Argentina – specifically Buenos Aires and Rosario – leading a course about soccer and globalization in conjunction with the Clemson men’s soccer program. The students had a series of lectures and presentations pre-departure, mostly based off of Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of GlobalizationFoer’s thesis is that “globalization has failed to diminish soccer’s local cultures, local blood feuds, and local corruption, and may have actually increased the power of local entities.” The students have been asked to reflect on this global/local tension of soccer cultures through a series of seminar discussions and journal entries while we are in country. Upon our return to the United States, the students will have to complete a major paper that, in part, addresses Foer’s thesis as viewed through the lens of their own experiences in Argentina, including playing games against local squads (such as the reserve teams of San Lorenzo and Newell’s Old Boys, to name but two), going to local matches (including at River Plate and Argentinos Juniors), and through their own informal interactions with the sporting and non-sporting cultures of Argentina.

As you can imagine, the students have experienced many different aspects of globalization and its local resistance throughout the journey thus far, from playing an impromptu five-on-five street match against locals in the La Boca community to being swept-up in the atmosphere of El Monumental during a match.


(Street match in La Boca)

During my conversations with the students, and perhaps because of my own research interests, the role of heritage and its relationship to Argentinian fútbol has become a focal point of our discussions. One of the aspects I pointed out to the students, particularly after we toured La Bombonera – home of Boca Juniors – and visited the team museum, is that heritage (including team traditions, history, rituals, and culture) is one of the products that is packaged and sold to fans both locally and globally. Similarly, I told them that touring team museums and stadiums was, in a sense, an entry-point for many to acquire or re-enforce their fandom. Judging by the number of students who left La Bombonera with Boca merchandise (and who said they would support Boca upon their return to the US, despite the fact we did not actually see Boca play in their home stadium), there is something to the theory that experiencing heritage may lead to support and fandom.


(Touring La Bombonera)

The students noticed that, despite the local cultures and chants, the teams were largely sponsored by international companies – and, often, American companies like DirectTV. They also commented that most of the music played in the stadiums we went to were American or British artists.


(Watching a game at El Monumental, home of River Plate)

However, the interesting thing that the students did mention – and related to both globalization and heritage – were the styles of play they were encountering when playing against Argentinian clubs. They noted that it was a very distinct style of play, similar to the style that the Argentinian national team plays, primarily in terms of speed and aggression. Interestingly, they noted that some of the teams they’ve played anticipated a very “American” style of play from Clemson, and were surprised when Clemson played above expectations. Similarly, they have noted both the style of refereeing to be different and, in some cases, more knowledgable than US referees (with a few exceptions). They have also been enamoured with the fact that they are immersed in a soccer culture all the time, something that they rarely get to experience in the US.


(Clemson versus San Lorenzo, with the Estadio Pedro Bidegain in the background)

One of the interesting aspects I have noticed at each of the grounds we have visited are the murals situated outside of the stadiums. While many are fútbol-related, others appear to be more about social and political struggle.


(Two murals, one fútbol-related at San Lorenzo, the other more politically related at Boca Juniors)

We still have a few days remaining in-country, and I expect there will be more lessons to be learned – both on and off the pitch. We have seen some of the impacts of inflation in the country, and while in Buenos Aires we witnessed several major protests right on our doorstep. The students have two more games to play in Rosario, as well as a number of non-sport activities including a city tour, and I expect we will have many more interesting discussions about globalization, heritage, and soccer.

The Geography of Celebration

There are moments in our lives that we anticipate will be memorable – graduations, weddings, the birth of children, the death of those close to us, and so on. We typically take steps to plan these events, both from a practical standpoint but also because we know that these events will be milestones; moments that either we want to remember and cherish (particularly if these are positive events) or know that we will remember, even if they are painful.

More collectively, memories tend to be reactive. That is to say, an event (normally a shocking or unexpected one) happens which becomes a memory; a “where were you?” moment like September 11, 2001. Certainly, in sport, there are unexpected moments – victories (or defeats) that will be recalled and rehashed for decades to come. However, sport also does often offer the opportunity to plan a memory, knowing that a particular moment will likely form a part of a collective biography. As I wrote about last spring, there is a tendency to form an “anticipatory sport heritage” whereby we rapidly assess the impact of a sporting event either in its immediate aftermath or, at times, before the event has even happened. As such, some events are thought to be “memorable” before they’ve event occurred.

This evening is the National College Football Championship, played between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers. As a faculty member at Clemson, we were provided instructions by our Provost – Dr. Bob Jones – on how to academically approach the following couple of days, knowing that many students, staff, and faculty would either venture to Arizona for the game or, at the very least, be distracted (if not a little fatigued) whether the Tigers won or lost the game. In the Provost’s words from an email sent to all faculty, staff, and students on January 2, he notes:

“A national football championship is, for most of us, a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a key part of American higher education culture. This is true for students, staff, and faculty. It is a special opportunity. We have an obligation to facilitate participation, so long as it does not diminish the core academic mission of the university.”

Of course, it is quite impossible to say whether this event that (at the time of writing) will be “once in a lifetime”, or that we can instantly assess its significance in our own lives or the legacy of our university.

But, we can probably guess that it will be important, regardless of the result. Perhaps if Clemson loses, and perhaps wins in the coming seasons, the “once in a lifetime” will be contextualized in terms of an era of success. Or if they lose, and never return to the Championship, the memory will be bittersweet. If Clemson wins, perhaps it will be something that the Clemson community will view as an integral part of its history; something to be shared, recalled, and nostalgized for years to come.

One of the aspects I will be interested to see, should the Tigers be victorious, is the Geography of Celebration. That is to say, which areas in or near Clemson become the focus of public celebrations? I expect that it will probably be the College Avenue area, which is the main street of Clemson leading up to Bowman Field and the “entrance” to the university:


Most of the bars in Clemson are on College Avenue, and there is the icon of the Tillman Hall/Old Main building at the end of the street. However, there is not much at this location that is specifically related to football in particular (although the field itself, historically, was once the football field). There is nothing like Auburn University’s Toomer’s Corner in this area, which has become a part of football lore and tradition:


There are football-related icons in Clemson, particularly Howard’s Rock and the Esso Club:



Both are near the College Avenue area and, in the case of Howard’s Rock in particular, are symbolic of Clemson football. As such, it will be interesting to see if there are several different celebration locations in Clemson itself, or if they ultimately meld into one particular place.  Added to this geography, however, is the fact that the largest remote viewing party is at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, approximately 30 miles from Clemson University. It is possible, then, that the celebration will be quite diffuse.

Of course, with such a large area – and several different iconic locations – it is possible that, win or lose, there will be a large area to monitor and potentially police. Many sports celebrations, or reactions to defeat, have sparked antisocial behaviours, most notably in Vancouver in 2011:


Perhaps it is no coincidence then that Clemson’s President, Dr. Jim Clements, sent the following email this morning to the entire university:

“Whether you plan to watch in Arizona, at a viewing party or from the comfort of home, please remember that we are all representatives of our great university. I’m glad that the Clemson family knows that just like our student-athletes and coaches, we win or lose with class, dignity and good sportsmanship.”

Of course, one hopes that such incidents won’t occur. However, the idea that we must plan for many eventualities does have to take place. Furthermore, in the age of mobile technologies, celebrations (or any form of public gathering) can be dynamic; they can form and disperse quite quickly.

From a heritage standpoint, there is something to be said that many public celebrations tend to take place at or near icons of place (many, if not most of which, could broadly be considered heritage). It is also interesting to see which icons are “chosen” as sites of celebration, and for what reasons. In Clemson’s case, I imagine that the College Avenue/Bowman Field area will be chosen in large part because it is central, well-known, has amenities (mainly bars), and, perhaps, because it is next to an icon and symbol of the university. However, it will be interesting to see that, if tonight and the coming days, other symbols and icons – such as Howard’s Rock – become the sites of a broader, collective celebration. Similarly, if they lose, which icons become the sites of mourning and why?

Canadians Abroad: Thoughts on Hockey Gold

Watching Canada’s 3-0 victory over Sweden in the men’s gold medal hockey final yesterday, someone on social media commented (and, forgive, I’m not sure who it was) something to the effect that “how did we watch sports before Twitter?”  Indeed, part of the fun of watching the men’s final on Sunday was the connecting with other Canadians on social media, particularly as many regions in the country amended their liquor laws in order to allow bars to open for the early-morning game. One Edmonton-based commenter even made the comment that Twitter was like one, big Canadian pub during the game:

Having lived away from Canada for nearly five years now, moments like Sunday – and, to an extent, Thursday’s women’s gold medal hockey game (unfortunately, I was teaching during Canada’s comeback versus the US and couldn’t watch the game) – help me to maintain a connection to my home country.  I certainly don’t hide my national identity down here in South Carolina, but normally my accent gives me away and I often end up talking about the Homeland with grocery clerks, waiters, and gas station attendants.  Certainly, I’m proud of my citizenship, though as the years go on I do feel myself becoming less attached to Canada.  Moments like Thursday and Sunday were a nice reminder of my heritage.

Perhaps most surprising to me was that I actually cared as much as I did about the result of both games.  I grew up playing hockey, have long been an avid hockey watcher, could quote stats and hockey history, etc, though – for a variety of reasons – I have drifted away from the sport in recent years. In the sport tourism class I teach, we talk often about globalization and mobility, and how these things can create – in a sense – a crisis of identity.  If I were pressed, I probably care more about baseball and cricket right now than I do about hockey, and maybe that’s both a part of my current address as well as my personal/professional tastes and interests.  Certainly, I quasi-follow college football and the NFL now because of where I live.  However, the space-time collapse of things like social media meant that I could engage with my Canadian hockey heritage, even if only for a few days, and share something of the experience of being back home.  In many ways, these interactions with my fellow Canadian hockey fans re-enforced my sense of identity. At the same time, neither hockey game – nor the Winter Olympics, for that matter – was really on the radar of most people in Clemson (beyond ex-pats and Olymphiles, I suppose) so my sense of nationalism was somewhat limited to the virtual space and time created on Twitter.  I suppose this would have been the case with or without Twitter and global broadcasts of sporting events in real time, and maybe the fact that watching the Olympics isn’t as all-encompassing as it was in previous generations re-enforces the globalization and mobility argument.  After all, we can disengage or ignore something like the Olympics ways that we never could before.  Still, the real-time feel of Twitter helped me feel a little more connected and a little more Canadian, but anecdotally it would seem that it was just we Canadians (where ever we might be) talking to ourselves.

A View from Backstage

The idea of going behind the scenes is an alluring one.  As Dean MacCannell argued, the “backstage” is where the secrets are, where people are truly themselves, and where we can see something “authentic.” Of course, a behind-the-scenes view is often still, in some ways, a front stage experience (perhaps the presence of the outsider makes it so).  In any event, the backstage can be a commodity – particularly in sport.  In sport heritage research, there have been a number of studies about behind-the-scenes stadium tours – including a few by yours truly

This past weekend, I was invited to spend twenty-four hours with the Clemson Tigers football team as they prepared for their home game on Saturday versus Wake Forest.  Inviting faculty to spend time with the team happens every week, both home and away, so my visit was not unprecedented or even extraordinary by any measure.  Still, the idea of the program – as it was presented to me – was for student athletes to see faculty in a different light and environment, and for faculty to understand a little about what goes into the university’s most recognizable program.  I suspect that I have had a few football players in my classes perhaps also singled me out, though I don’t know this for sure.

In any event, there were a few major components to the visit.  On Friday evening, the visit began by sitting in on a speech by head coach Dabo Swinney to his players, followed by dinner with the players and coaching staff.  As it was Homecoming Weekend on campus, the team and coaching staff participated in a rally at the near-by basketball arena. We were quite literally backstage during the rally, as the picture below demonstrates: 


Following the rally, we were police escorted (!) to a nearby cinema, where an entire theatre (plus drinks and popcorn) were available to us.  After the movie, we were police escorted (!!) to our hotel (yes, they stay overnight for home games) where there was more food waiting (!!!) in case we weren’t stuffed already.

The following morning was breakfast, again with the coaching staff (very nice people, all around) followed by team meetings for offense, defense, and special teams.  Lunch, then a walkthrough of their key plays for each of the units.  Below is the walkthrough for the offense – notice everyone is now in their jackets and ties:



After the walkthrough, we loaded onto the team buses for the game.  We arrived at the stadium and participated in the Tiger Walk – which is, essentially, the team walking through tens of thousands of supporters, plus the marching band and cheerleaders.  Let’s just say that having kids high-five me and adults wanting to shake my hand for the better part of five minutes was pretty surreal (if not just a little embarrassing) for an assistant professor.

Following the Tiger Walk, we sat in on Coach Swinney speaking to a room full of new recruits.  Of course, college sports teams must replace their labour every year.  Some of the talk was about the football program, but much of it was about the academics at Clemson:


We were escorted (not by police this time, thankfully!) to the field level to watch the team warm-ups:Image

Finally, we went to our seats to watch the game – a 56-7 victory for Clemson:



The view from the backstage of a football program was interesting, to say the least.  It is very regimented and, despite the luxuries, the players are under tremendous pressure to perform. It was also interesting to see that each of the coaches emphasized academics over athletics (unprompted, many said to me that the first thing they tell freshmen is that 98.3% of them will never play professional football, so they better focus on their degrees).  Of course, this may have all been for my benefit – and, as Clemson is a top-10 ranked football program, it is easy to support the academic side when the athletic side is going well.  The backstage can, after all, feel real and authentic even when it is not.

I also struggled at times with the privilege of the football program and, try as they might to meld the athletic and the academic (and, I do not doubt their sincerity in this effort), it still very much felt like a professional football program sitting uncomfortably next to a research institution.  Perhaps the privilege of the program could be considered a form of “payment” for the players’ labour – but, I’d find it challenging to remain grounded and level-headed if I received a police escort to the cinema every Autumn Friday night!

The logistics were fascinating as well – and, it was great to see the inner workings of the stadium, as well as all of the memorabilia.  Why Clemson doesn’t offer stadium tours is beyond me!

As to whether programs like this could be successful in creating a kind of empathy between faculty and athletics is interesting and worthy of study, I think.

Cultures of Play

I know very little about basketball.  Normally, this lack of knowledge does not hinder my professional life, even working in sport heritage research.  However, being on a basketball tour of Italy – as I am now with the Clemson men’s team – I have had to make a quick study of the sport and its nuances.  I have to admit, many of the cultural dynamics of the sport would have escaped me had it not been for the players describing the Italian style of play in cultural terms. To wit, they have been keeping travel journals as part of their coursework, and many have described how Italian basketball players and teams have a different “culture” in terms of how they play, and how this is one of the main differences that they have noted between Italy and the US.  For example, many of the players note that the Italian teams they have faced are very good outside shooters, and that they don’t play the same, inside aggressive style as US teams do.  Similarly, they said that the teams are quite good at passing, which is not as prevalent in US basketball.

Of course, there have also been some cultural adjustments that the players have had to face.  For example, in last night’s game just outside of Florence (which Clemson won handily 103-58) Clemson was called for travelling (or “walking” as the Clemson coaches call it – again, another reference that was foreign to me) 15 times.  As it was explained to me, this was in part because the rules – and the way they are called in Europe – differ from the way they are in the US.  Of course, this cultural difference was frustrating to the players and coaches, even though the knew they had to adjust to the local interpretation of the rule rather than vice-versa.

However, even for a hockey guy like me, there are some cultural traditions on this tour that are familiar.  For example, there is an exchange of gifts at the beginning of the match – which is very common in other international competitions – and the opposing teams have been posing for pictures with one another after the game (see below).  Last night, they even played the national anthems of the US and Italy – even though the game was held in a small gymnasium in front of, perhaps, 100 spectators.  


A Type of Sport Heritage

I am in Italy at the moment with the Clemson men’s basketball team.  As part of their trip, many of the players have been taking a course for academic credit – essentially, a revised (i.e.: site-specific) version of my undergraduate heritage tourism class that I deliver each year at Clemson University.  We met three times back in South Carolina, covered some of the basics of heritage tourism, heritage site management, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.  On site, the student athletes will be completing some assignments for the course – in addition to playing four games over a ten day period across the country.

In any event, I was pleased that our first stop of this sports tour was a kind of sport heritage site – perhaps one of the most famous “sport” sites in the world, in fact:


Targeting Sport Heritage

Heritage sites are often targeted during wartime – the idea being that by destroying the symbols of a people you destroy something of their identity as well.  The genesis of the World Heritage Convention was, partly, as a reaction to the destruction of cultural properties during the First World War (though, of course it wasn’t until 1972 that the World Heritage Convention was created).  UNESCO even adopted a specific convention that addressed the targeting and loss of heritage sites during armed conflict.  There are numerous recent examples of heritage being a casualty of war – most notably the dynamiting and destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

However, sport heritage seems to be benign enough to escape targeting – or so I thought.  Certainly, sports rivalries can become heated – and often other non-sport heritages will be played out on the pitch (most notably the sectarian divides in some football/soccer rivalries, as well as politics of the India v. Pakistan cricket rivalries come to mind).  However, the idea that sport heritage sites and artefacts may be targeted by vandals or rival fans seems a bit far-fetched.  However, it was reported this evening that Howard’s Rock – an important symbol for Clemson University’s football program – was vandalized earlier this month.  The incident echoes that of the poisoning of the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner at Auburn University in 2011 by a rival fan from Alabama University.  It is unclear at this stage whether the vandalism at Clemson was by a rival fan, though given the importance of “The Rock” to Clemson students and fans, it seems likely that this is another case of sport heritage being targeted.