Stephen Mumford’s short monograph on football(soccer) is a philosophical love letter to the game. His goal is to explain, from a philosophic point of view, why football has such a hold on us. Worldwide, it’s the most popular game and this has given rise to any number of theories of why that is and what that means about the world or about the game. Mumford takes a stab at this by using philosophy to examine the nature of the game itself.
While I think Mumford does a great job of pulling at these pieces and examining the nature of soccer, I ultimately think the project itself was doomed from the start. I guess that’s because I’m a sport pluralist: much of what he says about soccer can be said about other sports. I love soccer (though clearly not as much as Mumford); I’m just not convinced of soccer exceptionalism.
But that said, this book is delightful. Mumford takes on the familiar idea of soccer as “the beautiful game” and examines the aesthetics of football and how they relate to the playing of the game itself. I particularly found the chapter on space and how that works in soccer to be one of the most interesting chapters (maybe because much of it was novel to me). The last two chapters, Chance and Victory, explored important philosophical questions about sport and games.
The book is short, 121 pages. There are no footnotes and only short bibliography. The audience of this book is, I think, someone who enjoys sports/soccer and also has a taste for philosophy. That doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to professional philosophers and academics (it appeals to this one); I think it can. It might also be a good book to introduce a more traditional philosopher to the richness of the philosophy of sport.