An enthographic study of group dynamics pertaining to the observance of the ritual of 'football'

Dress - To assimilate among the subjects I observed the meeting place beforehand. Their legs were usually covered in a denim of various shades of blue, or a loose fitting cotton blend with a series of stripes down the side - as these leg coverings look particularly suited for physical activity I first assumed these stripes indicated rank or ability, but judging from the perceived athleticism of the subjects and the seemingly disregard to social standing this was probably wrong.

The top halves were woefully under-covered for the brisk autumn evening, normally clad in only one sleeveless thin layer of material.The front halves of theses top coverings bore a meaningless jumble of numbers and images, although common to these were a theme of place names and years.

Hair was worn short and only in combinations of the species naturally occurring colours, I noted that this could potentially be a problem given that my hair is shoulder length and blue.

Having approximated the mode of dress with the same denim leg coverings of my own and a torso covering which read ‘New York 1982’. It is also worth noting that while this torso covering was new, the decoration was faded and cracked artificially perhaps denoting a respect or deference towards older objects. I hoped I wasn’t engaged and made to explain what actually happened in New York in 1982 and why it was important to me in particular.

But on the day of the observation this was to prove a mistake anyway, when I arrived it seemed the subjects had decided on a more uniform dressed which differed from my own. The torso coverings had changed almost exclusively to a blue colour and the numbers had not only switched to the back but were only of single or two digits.

The crowd were exclusively male, white, and between the ages of 18 - 50, and while there seemed no one enforcing this narrow spectrum it was rigorously adhered to.

Habitat - The building compared to the dwellings that surrounded it was adorned with small triangular flags on a string, these were black in colour and bore the word ‘Carling’. A manufactured sign of separated carved golden letters read ‘The Black Horse’ which was accompanied a hand painted sign that showed a black horse. During my observation the subjects showed no sign of illiteracy so one would presume the sign would be a warning for children or those unfamiliar to the language.

Around the entrance a group of subjects stood with burning white sticks about a finger length long which they would inhales from and blow out foul smelling noxious smoke, this while unpleasant, formed a loose barrier to the inside space that was no more enforced than awkward body position and a cloud of uncomfortable smoke. A sort of symbolic boundary enforced by a trial of discomfort. It’s worth noting that while no formal organisation seemed to be taking place, this guardianship of the entrance took place was constant, seemingly on an adhoc basis from volunteers.

Inside was a series of sparse wooden furniture, stools and tables and benches. No concession to comfort had been made with these items although they appeared well worn and welcoming. The tables were covered with a sticky film so to adhere small cardboard squares. These cardboard mats seem to be placeholders for the drinks, although this wasn’t strictly adhered to so some sort of decorative function also must be presumed.

Along one wall was a series of bottles of various liquids, some of these were presented upside down. As these were never used I must presume these also were decorative of nature. In front of these bottles was a wooden barrier or altar about chest height, this not only delineated the space between for two people dressed entirely in black but also provided a surface to present drinks to the rest of the crowd. These people dressed entirely in black, a female and male, dispensed drinks from ornate spouts attached to this barrier - I suspect these were some sort of clergy or leaders of the ritual as it seems that only they were allowed into the sacred space between the barriers and wall of bottle and dispensed the yellow sacrament. The title for these abitrators is possibly ‘Carling’ as this name was also on their torso coverings but also on the spouts attached to the barrier.

As well as serving the drink/sacrament the pair seemed to be enacting a psychodrama, each embodying different ends of the human spectrum. The female Carling had the suffix ‘luv’ was friendly and welcoming while the male who held both the rank of ‘chief’ and ‘boss’ was surly and authoritative in a pantomime of broadly accepted gender roles.

Neither the barrier or the sacred space behind it was the focal point, all the furniture was pointed to a unremarkable wall.

Behaviour - While everybody seemed to be acting communally welcoming, greeting and interacting superficially with the wider crowd they definitely had split into units of 3 - 5. These seemed to be more tightly knit, each group occasionally breaking into large display laughs designed to illicit the same loud barking sound from another group minutes later.

When the first person had finished his drink a representative would go to the alter and order from the ‘Carlings’ by approaching the barrier and saying the number of people in the group. E.g. “three Carlingluv” or “five Carlingchief”, while the rest of the group finished the drinks in preparation of the next.

I approached the barrier and noticed what appeared at first to be unorganised had, in fact, a unspoken order, despite being randomly placed at the barrier people were being seen to in the order in which they arrived. The Carlings did this from memory and any mistakes being enforced by the crowd themselves deferring to those in front. Interestingly a young male waving his currency above his head trying to ignore this system had to wait much longer as his turn was ignored for five or six successive times. Each time making him more insistent and each time making him more culturally invisible.

My turn came “ One carlingchief” I said, they served me a yellow liquid in a glass. For which I paid a tithe. The drink was golden yellow in colour with a small amount of white foam on the surface. The first sip didn’t really taste of anything but the feeling of cold and effervescence. The second was slightly bitter and heavy on the palate but not entirely unpleasant. I drank more - the glasses hold approximately one fluid pint - and by three quarters I noticed the narcotic effect, while feeling more relaxed and pleasantly ‘loose’ I noticed also having my emotions a little heightened. For appearances sake I finished and went to get another.

While waiting one of the gathered crowd shout towards the barrier. The attention of the crowd turned towards the unremarkable wall, after a pause an unseen mechanism lowered a white screen from the ceiling, first a glimpse of blue then what appeared to be a live feed was projected on it. The feed was of three elders dressed in tidier clothing, both the upper and lower covering were made of the same material and a knot of silk adorned their necks. A speaker transmitted what they were saying and while these elder must have held positions of respect after a minute or so speculation about the forthcoming performance the crowd largely ignored them and continued their conversations and loud laugh barking.

At some unspoken signal the crowd at the barrier began to thin and everybody seemed to settle into seat facing the screen. The screen cut to a large field on that field was roughly twenty men, unlike the crowd they seemed to be made of a broad mixture of races and cultures and where of a younger age, often with severe or unusual haircuts and bearing tattoos. These performers wore shorter leg coverings and the same torso coverings as the crowd, half of the performers however wore a torso covering of a different colour.

The performance on the projected screen started when a third carling placed a yellow orb in the middle of the field and blew a whistle.

The performance that followed was a highly complicated and, at times, quite impassioned. Although some of the acting, especially those involving injury, was a heightened pantomime rather than acting. The yellow was the focus as the different performers propelled it from side to side (confusingly referred to as ‘up and down the pitch’ although there was no obvious gradient). Depending on the side of the field the yellow orb appeared correlated with the mood of the spectators. The performers dictated this mood, if the orb got to the left hand side of the space the performers would communicate jubilation, at the other, despair. These feeling would be mirrored by the spectators both at the field and in the space of the gathering i was attending.I feel the effect of the yellow sacrament being administered heightened these emotions. Despite the projection being clearly one way and the skill of the performers being far higher than the watching crowd, a few present still felt moved to offer advice and encouragement from their seats.

Meaning - the performance is clearly some sort of symbolic ritual. If you take the yellow orb as the Sun and the performers of different colours being avatars and embodiment of good and evil, or more specifically good and evil, it can be seen that when the familiar controlled the Sun or ‘day’ it was cause for jubilation, a mood of excitement often crescendoing into a shared climax of emotion, but pushing against this was the unfamiliar or ‘others’ that same excitement and apprehension peaking into anger and disappointment.

I feel the performance could be allegory to the constantly shifting fortunes of daily life, much like the Carlings psychodrama performance of gender roles, the onscreen psychodrama is one of highs and lows allowing a ritualised expression of frustration, excitement, disappointment, apprehension and jubilation that perhaps wouldn’t be practical to express in everyday life. Taking place in a formalised space and aided by a mild narcotic to bring out and exorcise these sometimes toxic emotional states.

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