The 10 Greatest Traditions in World Football
Football is a game that thrives on its traditions. It’s a nostalgic sport that celebrates its past, with fans often the most resistant to change. Some things are considered sacred, and losing them would be genuinely traumatic for supporters.
A list like this one inevitably leans towards the personal, so any other suggestions are welcomed. Different fans have different ideas, so we can only compile the definitive list by including all opinions.
Read on for my 10 greatest traditions in world football.
10. The Goal Kick Chant
This is actually an incredibly annoying tradition that takes place around the world, and the older I get, the more I grow to despise it.
However, when starting to go to football games with friends instead of parents, it offered a convenient excuse to swear at the opposition goalkeeper. Which is obviously a great time.
As the ‘keeper starts his run up, the crowd simply attempts to put him off by increasing in volume and then confidently assuring him that he is not up to the standard required to play professional football.
The exact words differ in each country, obviously, but none of them are very nice. As traditions go, it’s really quite appalling, but its popularity shows no sign of waning.
9. Il Ritiro
An Italian tradition, Il Ritiro was supposedly invented by Inter manager Helenio Herrera in the 1960s (via SerieAWeekly.com), and involves bringing the team into seclusion to ensure that they focus solely on football.
This can take place in the preseason, where all the training for the upcoming year takes place, and where the fitness is monitored and assessed.
Another option is for a ritiro before every game, intended to draw the team together at the training ground and get them prepared. This usually takes place the day before the game.
If a team is in crisis, however, they can often find themselves yanked away in the middle of the season and forced to leave their families. This is intended to shake bad habits and get the team back to winning ways.
It’s obviously an unproven method of coaching, and seems to be on the decline, but it’s a uniquely Italian approach to football that demands total dedication from the players.
For that reason alone, it deserves its place on the list.
8. Match of the Day
More of an English institution than an actual tradition per se, but I’m English and it’s my list, so here it is.
Before the TV deals ran into many billions of pounds, BBC’s Match of the Day was the best way to get a look at the games taking place each weekend.
A simple setup with a main presenter and a rotating cast of guest experts—mostly ex-footballers—ensured immediate success. Its location towards the end of the evening’s programming made it a small victory for young children, too, as being allowed to stay up and watch it meant a great deal.
With its iconic theme tune, along with debate amongst the panellists and special guests, it was—and remains—a place where football fans could condense the week’s action into one programme.
Anyone unfortunate enough to sit through an episode of ITV’s “The Premiership” knows how essential it is that Match of the Day continues on our screens.
It’s the best show about football on television, and has been since its inception on August 22, 1964.
7. Derby and Rivalry Games
From El Clasico to Port Vale vs. Stoke, the rivalry games are often the highlight of the football calendar for each set of fans. The atmosphere in the ground is different, the build up to the game is different, and players who understand the game make an extra effort to give their fans a victory.
Of course, it doesn’t always end well. Fan violence was a frequent occurrence, and still occasionally takes place. The Tyne-Wear derby, for instance, now takes place at 12.45pm GMT to ensure that fans have limited drinking time before the game.
Of course, this is only a fractional part of the occasion that gets all the attention. Derby games are often good-natured affairs, despite the mutual loathing of each other’s teams.
If the team you support takes home no trophies in a season, a derby victory is always the next best thing.
6. The FA Cup
This year has been a prime example of the power of the FA Cup.
Open to all teams in the league system, it offers a chance at silverware for the bigger teams, and a chance at “giant-killing” for teams in the lower leagues.
By the fifth round of this year’s tournament, there were just six Premier League clubs making up the last 16. Brentford were holding Chelsea, Oldham took down Liverpool and drew with Everton, and Blackburn Rovers won away at Arsenal.
It’s this sort of magic that makes the FA Cup continuously watchable, despite squad rotation making the tournament less of an event for the bigger clubs.
5. Boxing Day Premier League Games
Many people—including myself, actually—would prefer to see a winter break in the EPL that mirrors the ones taken elsewhere in Europe, which gives players a chance to recover over the festive period.
This is mainly because of the galvanising effect this has on the second half of the season, as well as reducing injury risk for international summer tournaments.
However, should this winter break actually be enforced, we would lose one of the best fixtures of the year. The rest of the festive schedule is far too crowded, but the Boxing Day games are fantastic occasions that would be sorely missed.
There’s not many better things than shovelling Christmas food into your face before heading out to the ground and cheering your team on, usually in incredibly inclement conditions.
Of course, the other option is to continuously feed yourself while drinking a beer and watching the game on TV, which has the additional benefit of keeping your body temperature high enough to survive.
It’s just not the same, though, is it?
4. Promotion and Relegation
The concept of promotion and relegation was thought up by a genius. Giving small teams something to play for, and large clubs something to fear, the system works perfectly across Europe and maintains interest at both ends of the table.
Arsenal have not been relegated since 1913, which is the only time in their history that they dropped down a division. Other teams face a yearly fight to remain relevant across the top divisions, with survival celebrated as if it was a league title.
With the increasing amount of money pumped into the sport, teams often gamble their future on survival. Next year, for instance, sees the new £5 billion Premier League TV deal come into force, so teams like QPR keep spending in the hope that it will ensure survival and a share of the profits.
All money aside, promotion and relegation create a fair league system that guarantees an ever-changing football landscape and continues to captivate.
3. Transfer Windows
Although a relatively new tradition—arriving for the 2002-03 season—the transfer windows are a form of brilliant madness that see clubs lose their minds and spend money like a drunk on Ebay before their time is up.
It’s impossible to be less than enthralled as you watch the updates taking place across the world, with players switching sides at an incredible rate.
The most comical action of this year’s window involved West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie driving to QPR to force through a deal that wasn’t even taking place. His actions were dismissed by his manager, Steve Clarke, as “total lunacy” (via The Guardian) and he was promptly fined two weeks’ wages.
In terms of other benefits, the transfer windows also serve to ensure that players cannot constantly seek a move to other clubs. It can cause trouble for smaller clubs as they are forced to sell their best players in January, but it means that both sides of the New Year are completely different prospects.
2. You’ll Never Walk Alone
I’m not someone who would refer to themselves as “a Liverpool fan,” but the sight of 40,000 people holding scarves aloft and singing the old Rodgers and Hammerstein tune never fails to move me, as well as the words emblazoned across the Shankly Gates.
After Gerry and the Pacemakers turned it into a hit in 1963, the Liverpool crowds started to sing it at Anfield. However, when it fell out of the charts, they continued to sing, turning the song into a defiant anthem that pledged unending loyalty to their team.
After Liverpool overcame insurmountable odds to take the Champions League trophy in 2005, the song took on further meaning as a statement of dedication.
In September 2012, the Pacemakers’ version of the song re-entered the UK charts, following a campaign by Liverpool supporters in memory of the 96 people killed in the Hillsborough disaster.
It’s worth mentioning that Celtic, Hibernian, FC Twente and Feyenoord supporters also sing the song, but none of them hold it as dear as Liverpool fans.
1. Swapping Shirts
When Andre Santos asked for Robin van Persie’s shirt at halftime, Arsenal supporters were incensed. Santos was having a poor game anyway, and the quest for van Persie’s shirt should have been far less of a priority than sorting out his defending.
In 1966, England beat Argentina 1-0 to advance to the semifinal of the World Cup. Manager Alf Ramsey was disgusted with Argentina’s dirty tactics, to the extent that when he saw one of his players exchanging his shirt after the game, he intervened and pulled it away.
The act of swapping shirts is important.
It is believed to have originated in 1931, when France beat England for the first time and the French players asked to keep the shirts as a memento. Since then it has been accepted as a form of mutual respect and an acknowledgement of the other player’s efforts during the game.
Going back to the FA Cup, if a “giant-killing” team takes down one of the Premier League’s biggest sides, a shirt from a top player can be the pinnacle of a career. Most lower-league sides feature players who have regular jobs away from football, so getting the jersey of one of the world’s best counts for a lot.
It’s a reminder of football’s origins—as well as a piece of history, never to be repeated. Which sums up every game ever played, really.