Thursday, November 5, 2009

Come On You Blues! (CYOB!).

I'm a passionate football supporter, specifically of Everton F.C. The shout in the title of the post CYOB! is often heard at Goodison Park, as a call to arms (as such) to egg the team on.

Not terribly related to the classics, you may say, but actually it's not far off. I was listening to Robert Garland's audio lecture series (which I've posted about below) on the topic of Leisure and Entertainment and he mentions chariot racing, and specifically how the participants were identified by certain colours (teams, essentially) - red, white, green and blue (although Tertullian tells us the red and white teams were the originals).

I was familiar with this aspect of entertainment (I recall reading somewhere that Claudius was a fan of the blues), but it had particular resonance with me today as Garland mentions how divisive the races could be, as the fans of each team would engage in goading their rivals, often until the point of violence.

He talks about the Nika Riots, estimating that perhaps 30,000 people died and the Empire nearly collapsed - all because of chariot racing. The kind of loyalty required to a sport and a team required to kick off such an enormous barney reminded me of the sport that I adore so much - football.

The reds and the whites, as the oldest teams, had a great rivalry. I wonder if it was similar to the rivalry between Everton and Liverpool? The Liverpool city rivalry is enormous, yet the identity of being Liverpudlian pulls especially strongly, and so they often call it the family derby, as despite the rivalry, often a single family could be half blue and half red - the same but different. Would a red supporter look across at his white counterpart and identify with their shared Roman-ness, but still feel that intense rivalry burning inside of them? I think it's entirely possible.

I recall reading that the blues and the greens were the teams supported by the Emperors, and so I also wonder if the support for the various teams was dependent on social status or geography, like modern football. It's often said, for example, that the fans of teams in the North of England are more working class (Everton, Blackburn and Bolton etc), while some of the London teams are the reserve of middle and upper classes (Chelsea,Tottenham and Arsenal). It seems plausible, and is another way in which this form of ancient entertainment really as a parallel with modern society.

It was an especially interesting feeling to think that this was an aspect of ancient life that I could really tap into. The ancients (Romans especially) loved their entertainment, and chariot racing was right up there - just as football is in modern times. The passion involved and the die hard allegiance to your team are all concepts which I can understand as a football fan.

Actually, what struck me the most was the fact that if you placed an Everton fan beside a fan of the blue chariot racing team, would they be all that different in this specific situation? I think probably not. Given how the ancient seem so similar to us, but are in actual fact so different when it comes down to it, I think there is great appeal in the idea that humans are humans, regardless of society, era or other such things which separate us.

That the very same feelings stirred up in an ancient Roman chariot race spectator while cheering on his team can be comparable to the ones I feel when I'm watching Everton is one aspect in which I feel I can have a real window into the classical world. It comes to life for me, and that's very powerful.

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