Imagining community through sport at Edge Hill University

Dr Jack Sugden

In 1983 Benedict Anderson wrote ‘Imagined Communities’, a book that pointed out, among other things, that the communities, towns, cities and especially nations in which we live are not actually real. Although they might feel real to us, part of our lives, our identities, have you ever actually seen an England? Touched a Manchester? The point I make here, in an admittedly abstract way, is that we dwell in a world in which we are divided by many categories and identity hooks that are essentially made up.

The United Kingdom only exists because we all agree it does, just as we agree to follow, uphold and even celebrate its laws and culture. If we were to wake tomorrow having forgotten the UK, it might be a nightmare in terms of law and order, but we may also feel free, albeit isolated and alone. As though these categories and labels dive us they also unite us, giving us commonalities that we share, and which make us feel safe, like we belong. It is this exact feeling of collective national consciousness that captivates the nation during a royal wedding, at times of national crisis, or during the football world cup, the last two being much the same.

Football for Peace in Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab kids pre-game

 In terms of sport, from growing up in Belfast during the “troubles” I was witness to bitter and divisive nature of sport, but also, fleetingly, its capacity to cross the sectarian divide through a football team made up of both Protestants and Catholics called ‘Belfast United F.C.’ Continue reading