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Opinion Why the football stadium has replaced the pub

(Marina Lutz)

I grew up with the stories of Swiss author Peter Bichsel. I am particularly fond of those that take place in the pub.

The pub is where a cross section of people from society meet and talk over a glass of wine or beer. It’s where they come to argue about politics – issues both big and small, national and local.

I’ve always likened Bichsel’s pub to an Agora of ancient Greece, where people once assembled as part of a democracy to take a political decision. I also have memories of pub life. While growing up in a small Catholic village in the eastern canton of Graubünden, everyone would gather at the local watering hole after Sunday service. It always felt like being on a stage where one of Bichsel’s stories was played out.

Those are childhood memories. The pub is dead. It’s been replaced by trendy bars. Every subculture has its own meeting place. There are hipster bars, bars for bankers, bars for blue-collar workers. But no longer is there a pub where everyone meets.

Our society today is segregated. We live and work with our equals. We move among people who dress the same, have the same level of education, and think the same way. We’ve become a gated community of like-minded people. Almost.

There is still one place where everyone from all sections of society meet, independent of their education, class, or political persuasion. It is a place like the pub of yesterday.

That place is the football stadium. Everyone is there: the politicians, business elite, average office employees, blue-collar workers, unemployed, retirees, and youth. In the stadium, they are all equal.

One man, one game

Football provides an experience we can all relate to. There are many moments we can all identify with and that unite us, creating meaningful memories. The match between Switzerland and Albania (won 1-0 by Switzerland) will become part of Switzerland’s collective memory.

We, the fans, are one, as an imagined community.

Football is political. It conveys democratic values, like fairness and solidarity.

And it can teach us how to be good losers, perhaps the most important of life’s lessons. We have to shake the winner’s hand after the match, even if it’s not easy.

It’s what the English players had to do after losing to Iceland, but worse than that loss – depending on your perspective – was the outcome of the Brexit vote.

The stadium provides a shared experience – common values. At least it still can.

The stadium, through the unchecked commercialisation of football, could soon face the same fate as the pub, and become a place that divides rather than unites.

Will the time come when children are read stories about how it once was in the stadium, not the pub?

Peter Bichsel

Born in 1935, the German-speaking author has written books for both adults and children.

His ‘Children’s Stories’ was intended for adults, while his stories for children show what happens when words are taken literally.

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What do you think of the football stadium as a gathering place? Let us know!

Translated from German by Dale Bechtel,

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