Football; a pastime, a passion, or for many a release. It is usually argued that football is the biggest and most watched sport on Earth. Some people may stress otherwise and suggest cricket, think of the population of India alone for example and then add some. Or say a pub sport such as pool or darts, unlikely I'd say and in some eyes not 'real' sports but they do have large reservoirs of untapped amateurs.
In reality it would need a brave person to seriously debate that football isn't at the front of most categories in sport. The most watched, the most played and the most popular, it is difficult to see any other that competes. Football though, like anything popular, will have many detractors and so it should, otherwise the world would be a very boring place, a communist utopia perhaps (if such a thing could exist).
Where the sport doesn't actually get an abundance of credit is as a part of wider society, it has often been taken for granted as an avenue for people to 'get away from it all'. Certainly in previous periods of an economic downturn it has acted as a bastion for social classes, in particular the working class. In recessions past football was a source of entertainment where the masses could vent their spleen, meet up with friends for the day and forget their worries.
It is notable that whilst the First and Second World Wars brought a halt to the operation of the normal football leagues, every effort was made to maintain football in some form. Some famous players continued to play in a special wartime league which consisted of ten regional mini-leagues based around the country. That effort was made in order to maintain some semblance of normality, it cannot be underestimated how entertainment and sport can be a tonic for the worst of times.
Not quite so endearing, but still relevant is how the Colosseum and gladiatorial combat was an early original equivalent. Quite a lot more blood-thirsty and amoral than football is now, it was more of a tool to appease the mobs, still you should get the point. As society has changed so has the role of modern sports and entertainment in it, but mostly it has been in context.
A simple test these days comes round every two summers, if we are lucky enough to pass the qualifiers. Whenever England play in an international tournament there is a generally more positive atmosphere that can be felt, of course the sun will help with that but it is noticeable. It is one of the rare occasions that there appears to be a little less embarrassment and cynicism around us.
People are more patriotic in a way that doesn't sprout self-inflicting fears of being a closet racist or just plain ignorant. At least with football the overwhelming majority are uplifted by a festival of (hopefully) sporting excellence and a shared passion that supercedes club rivalries. There are many people who never watch football but will find themselves caught up in the throes of its delight and disaster.
Of course it could be said with fairness that it would be difficult to avoid even if you wanted to. It is true that football in the last twenty years has looked like it could and may become a victim of it's own excesses. Glorious, constant promotion and coverage could possibly see the sport face massive overheads one day, if investors move on and decide that they've had their fun. I hope and believe it won't happen on a large scale, but as I've said before some constraints such as wage caps should be brought in.
Football is our national sport for a reason, it fits our psyche more, for mostly better and on occasion for worse. I only yearn for the day that England somehow cut through the swathes of reasonable doubt and win the European Championships or the World Cup- that would most certainly lead to a 'right old knees up'. It would also be difficult to imagine many other national acts that would spawn such rejoicing on a large scale. Until of course the day we cure global warming, feed the world, cure HIV...........!