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Bread and circuses. How Circus Maximus inspires the Premier League

By Don McMahon

Few football supporters have given it much thought, but the truth is, we are being force-fed gladiatorial-like spectacles each week during the Football season and thus we have become addicted to this tribalism. We cheer on our favourite warriors (the language we use reflects this bellicosity) and proudly flaunt our colours, our banners, our flags and our victories like they actually meant something.

This weekly battleground has its peculiar attributes as well. We eagerly scream for a decimation of our warriors if they are seen to be under-achieving ( the favourite term is deadwood) and true to the Roman Legions tradition of killing every 10th soldier from a unit that ran away or froze in battle, our fickle fans passionately evoke the same ruthlessness when it comes to their less than preferred players.

The title of this post says it all. The modern game of Football has become the equivalent of the Roman’s Circus Maximus, with the bread portion being the steady diet of uninspired football and its rumours,gossip, innuendo, controversies, idle speculations and patently absurd recriminations against all and sundry at their Clubs who have unwittingly or knowingly invited the fans wrath.

The teams able to afford the best on-field combatants flourish, while their rabid fans wallow in the shallow glory that such unequal advantage brings.  Those, like Arsenal, who are more sagacious in their spending, are no less subject to the barbs and arrows of an outrageous, ignorant minority and have fewer options in re-mediating their situation.

Like every tilted competition, the haves enjoy an unlimited and unending stream of options when it comes to reinforcing their stables or achieving their aims. The have-nots, often in order to simply survive, are rigidly confined to focussing on staying afloat or remaining ¨competitive¨.  Thus they are obliged to sell their best players, resort to very unattractive Football and work in obsolete conditions to maintain a semblance of ¨success¨.

Arsenal is neither a have nor a have-not Club at the moment. It is on the verge of a civil war that will pit Jabba the Usmanov and his faithful companion Dein, cheered on by a small cabal of AAA ferrets against the BoD and an absentee landlord who neither understands or really cares about the Club’s traditions and history.

Meanwhile the powerful rich toy with our player’s futures…..RVP being just a case in point. City can sit back and clean out their stables, secure in the knowledge that if Robin stays and plays out his contract,they’ll get him on a free in 2013, or if they really want him now, they’ll send a camel from Riyhad laden with frankincense, gold and myrrh to woo Van Purse-strings to their greener Colosseum.

In Imperial Rome, the gladiators were unpaid but fought for their freedom, earning it after 5-8 years of weekly combat….while the unemployed mobs filled the stadium eating bread supplied by the Emperor and happily cheering on the adversaries displayed beneath them. Today we fill similar stadia and, while eating bad food supplied by the franchises, blithely cheer on our modern-day heroes/villains.

This is the same panacea, so successfully used by Emperors 2000 years ago to quell unrest and social disenchantment and now equally effective at distracting, if only for a moment, the huddled masses from their mundane and unfulfilling lives. Football is up there with the best worldwide opium of the masses and in fact has easily surpassed religion as the Earth’s principle passion, after sex, murder and mayhem.

The many positive things about this addiction are;  it brings the world together in a united passion every 4 years, has  significantly fewer casualties than real war  while being much less murderous in general and assuages the common man’s pathological need to compete and occasionally win, albeit vicariously and extremely clannishly.

As well, it is a way of doing something with one’s family and friends that doesn’t exclude entire sectors of the population based on gender or cultural preferences.  So on with the bread and circuses as the new EPL season looms on the horizon and lets all pretend that everyone is respecting the rules, trying to compete fairly and sharing an equal chance of being victorious. Ah, I love the illusion of equal opportunity, it is so democratic!

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Bread and circuses 100 year ago: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.

What is was like on the terraces in south London.

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The current main series:

 

 

29 comments to Bread and circuses. How Circus Maximus inspires the Premier League

  • Asif

    Well said Don!

  • Mick

    A terrific read. We are indeed spoilt here on Untold to have such quality content offered up for our entertainment.

  • cyberian

    Thumbs up! Let the author return to post again another day.

  • Ha, I enjoyed that!

  • bob

    Really Well done, Don, and beautifully written.

    We (at least partly) part company on these two points:
    (1) “[football]… assuages the common man’s pathological need to compete and occasionally win, albeit vicariously and extremely clannishly.” Sorry, but a more expansive, democratic and accurate sentiment (perhaps you would agree) would be to extend your apt observation to the Owners of said teams.

    (2) “[football]… is a way of doing something with one’s family and friends that doesn’t exclude entire sectors of the population based on gender or cultural preferences.” Sorry, but you do leave out income where whole sections are relatively excluded from viewing the games by ticket prices and by TV subscriptions and by not affording or being welcome at the pubs where locals congregate or sports bars where it can be pricey.

    Both (1) and (2) share the same blind spot. Perhaps you’d comment and clarify.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Don, EXCELLENT!!!! I loved the imagery. Right now we are preparing the Legion for battle as young and old gladiators vye for the opportunity to step into the colosseum, to be come heroes of men, to step into the shoes of weaker soldiers, wounded soldiers and even a jaded Centerion’s whose best was unable to ultimately remove the stain of 7yrs absentia.

    All the whilst a wise, arguably the wisest of all develops our military strategy and formation to deploy our Arsenal to the most leathal effect. I commend all those that realise that it is victory that ultimately brings the spoils of war. To all in the calvery who wear the cannon crest with pride and upmost honour, those are the ones I wish good fortune to. Victoria concordia crescit.

  • GoonerPete

    A brilliant read that, and the parallels are striking.

    Not to be pedantic though, but not all Gladiators in ancient Rome were slaves fighting for their freedom. There’s alot of evidence that shows that a fair number of them were poor people and in some cases even rich people that wanted to be Gladiators for the prestige of it all (alot like the modern footballer). These Gladiators had the risk of dying at any point, but for as long as they were around all the riches and women were thrown at them.

  • Lanz

    Very interesting and maybe educative to some of us but lacks the bit that brings about a laughter or at least a chuckle as you would find in a typical Untold article.

  • nicky

    Don,
    Surprised you left out any mention of the part played by the Christians. Was it for fear of upsetting our PC friends?

  • LRV

    Wow! A very good read Don; a very good read.

  • Ugandan Goon

    @Don,
    Loved the article, tough crowd eh?

  • Mark Ibrahim

    Fascinating read. Perhaps, not entirely historically accurate but excellently written.
    Of course the parallels to modern day gladiatorial exhibition have been spoken of before, but so few people are quite aware of just how similar the scenarios are.
    I like this bit especially: “This is the same panacea, so successfully used by Emperors 2000 years ago to quell unrest and social disenchantment and now equally effective at distracting, if only for a moment, the huddled masses from their mundane and unfulfilling lives.” Spain comes to mind.

  • RobL

    @ Don, nice read – thank you.

    I’d have to disagree with you on the food front – have you been to Wigan or Bolton? Cracking pies.

    Mind you, it’s probably because what’s going on in front of you for 90 minutes isn’t always going to be that satisfying.

    Also heard that Blackburn do a mean Chicken burger….

  • Matt Clarke

    An interesting, entertaining and enlightening read – thank you Don (again!)

    Another interesting parallel is that, besides the gladiatorial combats (ludi gladiatorii) the original Circus Maximus was used for chariot racing (ludi circenses) and wild animal hunts (venationes). Think back to the old Wembley Stadium: speedway and greyhounds.

    (Do I really get UA for free? … Shut up you idiot!).

  • Matt Clarke

    Here is an interesting extract from a study on CM – with further parallels on team colours:

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/circusmaximus/circusmaximus.html

    Factions were identified by their colors: Blue or Green, Red or White. Domitian added gold and purple but they, like the emperor, were never popular and short-lived (Dio, LXVII.4.4). Colors first are recorded in the 70s BC…the Reds …and…the Whites … According to Tertullian, these were the first two factions and, although the Blues and Greens are assumed to have appeared later in the first century AD (the Greens first are mentioned in an inscription in AD 35, recording the victory of the first man to win on his first attempt), it is likely that all four colors extend back to the Republic.

  • WalterBroeckx

    The blue was added when Emperor Abramovicus became emperor somewhere around the year that is known as the year that started the end of the circus we now

  • WalterBroeckx

    Nice artile Dom, has been very worth the read. You always bring something very different. Very Untold in fact 😉

  • Adam

    Im Spartacus.

  • RobL

    No I’m Spartacus

  • Lanz

    @Mark Ibrahim, spare Spain please!

  • elkieno

    no I’m The real slim shady!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice job Dom ,a great read .Just like in the days of old ,
    there would occassionaly come a champion who is just , fearless and upright ,and would inspire others with his sense of righteousness.
    It is for these reasons that we hold AW in high esteem and shout ” Up the Gunners “!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    On a lighter note ,the three wise men reminded me of an old joke .
    A young lady is at the doctors’ and is told by him that she is pregnant .She appears to be taken aback with this news and tells the doctor that it cannot be true as she has never had sexual relations before in her life .
    The doctor gets up and opens a window and looks up at the evening sky for some time. The lady is puzzled by his behaviour and asks him what he is looking for.
    He says that the last time this happened , there appeared a bright shining star in the sky !

  • Adam

    @Brickfields Gunners.

    A man finishes reading “Be the man of your house” and goes home and declares to his wife that things are going to change. “Tonight” he said “You will cook me a gourmet meal, then bath and moisturise me“. “Then we will have the kind of sex that I want”. The wife is shocked and speechless. The husband continues “Then tomorrow night, Guess who will be shaving and combing my hair”.
    She replied “THE UNDERTAKER”.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Brickfields and Adam – haha, nice.

  • My, my – it’s been a while since we’ve caught a multiple identity troll on Untold!

    Dear:

    derek, swales9, dr kox, Yankeegooner, mannuel, mahafatz, mark, Jason, Joe, idea

    Or whoever the fuck you are.

    Your comments have been removed – please do not post here again you odious little cunt.

    Many thanks

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Thanks everyone for your charming and supportive comments and double thanks to Dogface for consigning that ¨odious little c**t¨ Joe(AKA:derek, swales9, dr kox, Yankeegooner, mannuel, mahafatz, mark, Jason,…) to the netherworld of trolls.cretins,morons and Spuds.

    Bob….In answer to your observations…there was no conscious (or unconscious)intent on my part in failing to mention Owners. They are, in my mind, the Patricians to the Plebian majority and are often less involved in the true Football passions but more in the Machiavellian side of the Game.
    As far as who can afford to see a professional Football game, I have never been to England to see one but was able to see many in Germany and Mexico. I obtained free entry into the Bundesliga League matches in Stuttgart and Koln, being a registered referee in Germany. In Mexico it cost about 5 USD to get in to see what passed as marginally professional Football.
    I am not a drinker so cannot speak to the pubs issue but do have cable TV in Quebec, where I get to see the EPL every Saturday morning and the very occasional AFC game…Maybe the UK is one of few European countries that have prohibitive ticket prices…I do know that Germany is not overly expensive and still promotes the Beautiful Game to the common man.

    Nicky…..I didn’t want to identify a sport with the far more ignoble events surrounding the persecution of early Christians, as this is still happening today…nor did I want to raise any religious specters still associated with the Game ( the ¨Yids¨ title for the Spuds, the Celtic-Rangers religious rivalries, etc.)so hope that clarifies things.

  • Matt Clarke

    On further reflection I feel that this article perhaps helps to explain the large number of red cards issued by EPL refs.

    Ever since they have been told to brandish the cards it has become part of the spectacle. They are joining in with the circus. The card is their weapon – the red card figuratively dripping with the wounded footballer’s blood. maybe.

  • Ray from Norfolk

    Don,
    Excellent analogies!
    However: Manchester City FC is sponsored by the Etihad (“Union”) Airways, based in Dubai while Riyadh is in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.