The football teams on the island of Kythera, I think there are 8 of them in competition every Sunday, are a varied bunch in the sense that each team seems to have its own uniform identity, cut from the same cloth. I don’t know, it’s probably just my fantasy about them. One team seems to be made up of men the same height, one team of Kytherians from the same village, one team of Greek boys with Australian connections, one team of Albanians, another team where each player kicks the ball using the same technique. Of course not understanding the Greek language very well has probably contributed to my delusions. Or maybe it is the inherent tendency to look at the enemy as a monolith in order to depersonalize and compete ruthlessly against it. I play with the Localistas, after all. To me, each team has a uniform identity. Except ours.There is no way I can describe a Localista player except to say he is unlike any other Localista player. We are a kind of a gypsy team, a rebel team, an old team, a young team, an experienced team, an inexperienced team, a predictable team, a very unpredictable team. We play well, we play badly, we play passionately… we play. We sometimes know how to have fun with the whole thing. We sometimes win, and if we could find a way to play to our capacity, I think we would always be a serious threat against any of the other teams. It’s easy to love the Localistas.
There is one temperament of the Localistas that seems to be shared with most of the other teams. The ability, eagerness and passion to argue in the middle of the game. I don’t mean argue with the referees, or at least exclusively with the referees, I mean argue with each other.
The oft-heard greek word, malaka, is very present in these arguments. I don’t really understand many of the other words and expressions but I do understand the word ‘malaka’ very well. (An anecdote about my Greek father would be appropriate here, but some other time.) ‘Malaka’ has a lot of meanings and colourful uses. The American translation does not do it justice. In the same context, ‘jerk’ means pretty much a horrible person. In Australian English we have an improvement, ‘wanker’, besides of course the normal meaning, has the added meaning of someone who is egotistical and self-indulgent, typically a fault of many artists. I suppose playing football well is something of an art.
I’ve always had this idea, probably inherited from my Australian Anglo-Saxon socialisation, that too much emotion on the pitch leaves one vulnerable and open to exploitation by the competition. All energies should flow into the game. If I were a coach, I would insist on never over-celebrating a goal, for example. Over-celebrate and something inside you thinks you’ve won, thinks it’s all over. The enemy is never more motivated witnessing this, and maybe we are never less. (Of course you can make an argument that when the competition witnesses our celebration, they feel like losers, giving us the advantage. Good luck with that argument, malaka.) Many of the player interactions are not arguments at all but the reverse, moments of praise. If a player (on any team) does something well or useful, then a heartfelt ‘bravo!’ often follows. Between the somewhat balanced disputes and bravos, I wonder sometimes if there is any mental energy remaining to simply concentrate on the ball.
As far as internecine disputes go, morale is very well understood by the whole world to be a deciding force in any battle. Psychological strengths and weaknesses, just as much as physical skills, are reflected in the play. Positive, well directed energy is so ephemeral, hard to muster at will. Let’s face it, half of any game is a battle of wills and energy and mind. In that environment, when and how one argues with each other becomes crucial. Luckily though, there is a solution to the Greek argumentation crisis. After all, this is the country of Socrates, of the Socratic Method. I can’t help wonder if Socrates started positioning his arguments using ‘vre malaka’, or the equivalent at that time. Probably not. He was very interested in making progress and solving problems. (In case there is anyone who thinks football and philosophy don’t belong in the same sentence, they should take a look at this clip (click on cc button for greek subtitles).)
(Maybe things have actually improved. I just remembered my father telling me about his days at school in Corfu/Kerkira where the boys kept knives handy in their socks during games. Until now I assumed the weapons were for the other team.)
The teams who beat us seem to argue less. I wish I knew if they were arguing less because they were winning or if they were winning because they were arguing less. After a victory, you definitely don’t hear much whining.
It’s possible we could unleash an additional weapon against the competition, the weapon of language. Or more precisely, of not using language. Just working together as a team, mysteriously on the same wavelength, seeking out harmony, trusting that the other players are always doing their best and don’t need anyone screaming at them, malaka, distracting them at that crucial moment during a game when they make a mistake and therefore learn. No disputes, at least during the hostilities. No fighting in the war room.