Cleveland to host Honors College talk on football’s rise
From its origins as a working class pastime in 19th century Britain, football now reigns supreme as the most popular sport in the world. But why?
The answer, according to Todd Cleveland, a history professor and former striker, has to do with empire, globalization and access.
“What’s really interesting is how different communities have taken the game and imbued it with new meaning — made the game their own, brought in their own styles and tactics,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland will discuss the rise of soccer globally in its public talk, “Soccer,” which will be offered online via Zoom at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 19.
The Cleveland Conference previews its signature Spring 2023 Honors College Seminar, Soccer. Please complete this online interest form to gain access to the conference.
Although it started out as a game for ordinary Britons, today football has a following all over the world. Cleveland explains that the global circulation of the game is intrinsically tied to stories of colonization.
“The game was initially spread along the networks of empires,” he said, noting that the British brought football to different colonized peoples. “Sailors, soldiers, missionaries introduced the game, and not necessarily for altruistic purposes – they thought it was a way for colonized subjects to vent harmlessly.”
Cleveland observes that the British had not anticipated the resonance football would have with local populations, who often incorporated it into existing sporting traditions. “They introduced a particular game and a way they thought it should be played,” he explains, detailing how different communities have since embraced it. For example, various dribbling and simulation techniques have become popular tactics for teams in Africa. For Cleveland, this ongoing adaptation gives the game an interesting dimension.
Cleveland also credits football’s widespread popularity to its affordability. Having lived in various parts of Africa for years, he remembers performing in various settings. “I played with things that only vaguely looked like a ball – a bunch of socks rolled up with rubber bands around them. The cost of entry is basically zero, and it can be played in fairways and fields , virtually anywhere.
Examine a world game
Beyond origins, the Cleveland conference will examine how football reflects contemporary patterns of globalization. He points to the international connections formed by professional teams where, for example, a Ugandan player could play in Germany or Spain.
“If you look at Europe’s elite teams, they bring together a global community in the locker room every weekend with players from Africa, South America, all over Europe and more and more North American players. Americans.” He also notes that English has become a lingua franca for teams, as most players already speak it as a second language.
Despite its working-class roots, football today exemplifies global trends in wealth and influence. Cleveland notes that many top franchises have been acquired by billionaires, some of whom are rather controversial.
“One of the most interesting and controversial owners are sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East,” he explains. “Essentially, countries own teams, and that’s problematic because any public discontent about that isn’t allowed or stifled.” The Cleveland conference will also discuss the upcoming World Cup tournament in Qatar, where hundreds are believed to have died building stadiums.
Outside of the international scene, Cleveland is excited about the continued growth of soccer in the United States. He attributes his popularity to security issues around American football, as well as the country’s success at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. “The growth has been incredible,” he says.
About Todd Cleveland
Cleveland is a professor in the Department of History at the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. His research focuses largely on the interactions between Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans during the colonial period and, in particular, on the labor and social relations between the Portuguese and indigenous African populations.
Cleveland’s research has further focused on the history of sport in Africa and is featured in six books, including Following the ball: the migration of African soccer players through the Portuguese colonial empire, 1949-1975 (Ohio University Press, 2017) and Sport in Africa, yesterday and todayco-edited with Tarminder Kaur and Gerard Akindes (Ohio University Press, 2020).
He is currently working on a book project that examines the history of Africa and the Olympics. He holds a doctorate. in African History from the University of Minnesota.
Signature seminars explore various topics
Football is one of three Honors College signature seminars scheduled for spring 2023. Other topics to explore include death and art, taught by Lynn Jacobs, professor emeritus at the School of Art, and dinosaur science, politics and culture, taught by Celina Suarez, Associate Professor of Geosciences.
Deans of each college can nominate faculty to participate in this program, and those selected to teach will become Honors College Dean’s Scholars.
Honors students must apply to participate, and those selected will be designated Dean’s Signature Scholars. The course application is posted online on the Signature Seminars webpage. The deadline to apply is Monday, October 31.
About the Specialized College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and brings together high-achieving undergraduates and the university’s top faculty to share transformative learning experiences. Each year, the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman scholarships that provide $80,000 over four years and more than $1 million in research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students benefit from small, in-depth courses and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with cross-disciplinary collaborations encouraged.
About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A offers an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to the Arkansas economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and employment development, discovery through research and creative activity while providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation ranks the U of A among the top 3% of colleges and universities in the United States with the highest level of research activity. US news and world report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. Learn how the U of A is working to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.