Hopped up on emotions: the Euro 2020

I’m not generally into watching sports. In fact, most of the time, I cannot get myself follow what’s happening on the screen, even if I try. Somehow, this drastically changes when the football world cup (or, alternatively, the Euros) reaches its zenith. When playing ball turns into a zero-sum game, I am suddenly really invested! But only if I have people around me how are supporting their team of choice vehemently – not once have I managed to motivate myself to watch a game on my own.

My mom discovered her passion for watching soccer games later in life and can tell you everything about her favourite team, Borussia Dortmund. When there are any bigger soccer games shown on German public TV, you can be sure she’s watching. Unlike my dad, who could not care less – so much for gender stereotypes! I think it’s because of emotions running high that I also end up getting excited to the extent that I scream at the TV when it comes to all-or-nothing international matches, I even though I’m not actually an enthusiast of ANY sports.

Variations of this image capturing emotional moments of two Swiss team supporters made their rounds online during the Euro 2020

It may sound weird, but there is something really transfixing about a team trying so visibly hard to claim relevance (and a substantial price), watching them jump on each other overcome with pure joy and grown men in the audience not ashamed to have their tears being documented – something they might not feel free to do in other public contexts. I bet my grandfather shed one or the other tear as well when he religiously attended the semi-monthly games of the relatively small football team of my hometown in Germany, Offenbach (the team’s name is Offenbacher Kickers, in case you were wondering).

Even though it was sometimes bothersome living in Germany during the big football competitions, the car-hooting and late-night shouts of jubilation in the streets were somewhat infectious. It is worth mentioning that this typically only happens when male teams are playing, which tend to serve as the implied default-gender when speaking about the sport (a quick Google and image-search of the term ‘German national team’ will demonstrate this default-thinking). This is despite the German women’s national team, for instance, being highly successful and ‘women football’ having achieved record viewership in 2020 because of new broadcasting and streaming deals. But let’s bracket that for now.

I do quite fondly remember the (men’s) world cup in Germany in 2016, when, for a moment, it felt as though coming together to watch football was the only thing that mattered. I was working at a Burger King outlet at the main train station in Frankfurt at the time. Watching dressed up and cheerful fans throughout the workday made me smile and was a much welcome sight breaking with the mind dulling routine of selling burgers. It was also the first time that it was widely acceptable to ‘show flag’ again in Germany after the second world war. While I’m critical of expressions of national pride (as they tend to imply the exclusion of others) and was worried that the situation will somehow turn hostile, I recall this period to have been mostly light and cheerful.

And then, of course, there was the (men’s) World Cup 2010 in South Africa. I had been to Cape Town a couple of months prior for an internship and was planning a semester abroad at the University of Cape Town at the time, which turned into a permanent move. Given that, I was following the coverage around this World Cup especially closely on TV. The sensation of a momentary feeling of togetherness communicated through celebratory images made it all the way to my couch and got me exhilarated. The feeling was overpowering, even though it was fleeting and interspersed with news coverage about the financial spending South Africa had to undertake to be able to host the tournament, and how this compared the country’s other urgent investment needs.

The Cape Town (Green Point) stadium built at the cost of R4.4 billion for the world cup 2010

I have long been somewhat intrigued by how watching sports brings people together on the one hand and, on the other, serves as a platform for violence (again, as far as I know this is not typical for any ‘women’s sports events’). In the shape of sheer hooliganism, the latter seems incomprehensible if thinking of football as a mere ball game, especially when caught up in a beautiful moment. But it is indeed much more than that – it’s an intrinsically social affair. It is a microcosm with its own dynamics, a space with its own rituals in which everyday social rules become amended. And one that I cannot help myself getting sucked into when surrounded by football enthusiasts.

I imagine that, in one situation or another, we all might be susceptible to let ourselves float as a part of a group dynamic that emphasise commonality, nurtured with each burst of emotion. Given how dependable we as humans are on one another, having amplified responses to a tangible shared sense of vulnerability is not all that surprising from the perspective of an anthropologist such as myself. But it’s still remarkable and quite obviously something I’m not immune to. As already mentioned, the unfortunate part of the story is that where there is demarcated inclusion, there are usually also markers of not-belonging. When excitement peaks, these run the risk of being escalated. Such was evident in the aftermath of the Euro final. Footballers of the English team who were cheered on by the masses on the field found themselves racially abused online following their team’s defeat (a ubiquitous rather than an exceptional phenomenon for Black players).

Where there are moments of sheer thrill, these are not bound to last. A mere day after the Euro final, all its intensity had completely worn off for me. And whomever stranger one had ended up hugging and crying with in the audience of a stadium, one may keep their distance from the next day when meeting at the supermarket. But there is always a next time to get that intriguing rush of raw, unfiltered human expression. Hopefully minus any potential elements of aggression.

The ongoing tale of finishing up my PhD: Part 2

This is an extension of my April blog contribution ‘The ongoing tale of finishing up my PhD’. Even though I found the research and write-up of my PhD thesis enjoyable and its challenges eventually vitalising, the experience was overshadowed by the arduous months of waiting for my results. Thus, my degree  turned into something of a time-distorting rabbit hole, much like the one I liken Tinder encounters to in my thesis.

One year after my initial PhD submission, following re-submitting my substantially revised thesis in March this year, I finally received my results yesterday!

I had to force myself to slowly, word-by-word, re-read the soberly formulated outcome – just to be sure I got it right:

‘Dear Leah Junck, The Doctoral Degrees Board (DDB) has agreed that you should be awarded the PhD degree subject to addressing the required trivial/typographical (including all changes, criticisms and suggestions indicated by all three examiners) to the satisfaction of the supervisor and the DDB.’

Letting the words sink in made way for a relief that is hard to describe. An initial burst of energy released itself through my body. It clashed with accumulated tensions that have been grimly but calmly nestled into my bones over the past year. This newfound vigour made me jump up and down my living room, throwing my arms into the air as though testing their aliveness. I felt a grimace control over my face and, gratefully, let it distort its concentrated frown. I had prepared myself for bad news and, in my mind, already drawn up a ‘gracious loser speech’. All of this could now stop taking up mind-space! Opening a beer, I sat on the balcony, and let a sense of calm wash over me again, mixing with the occasional tingle of excitement as I let the long-awaited news sink in.

Unfortunately, this calm was soon compromised by an email containing the announced ‘trivial/typographical’ changes to be done. The remaining examiner, whom I thought I had eventually convinced of my academic merit, still had quite a bit to say beyond trivialness and typography. As I mentioned in my previous post, most comments from my three examiners were very insightful and made my thesis all the richer. Yet, some of these new ones felt personal, questioning my disciplinary integrity and commitment given my drawing on a variety of disciplines.

The process of substantially re-working my thesis was structured by a ‘Template for Corrections to a PhD Thesis’, which had been sent to me along with my initial examination result. In the four months that I spent on revisions, the two columns grew into a detailed 14-page document. It outlined the comments of the examiners and my responses to each of them, including how and where in the thesis they had been addressed. Now, I have the same document in front of me again and am starting the process of explaining myself in this format once more. This is fair enough – it is a PhD after all, and that’s only worth something if people can trust in the thoroughness of the examination procedure.

However, I cannot help but wonder what things would have been like had I submitted in a different system. At many other universities, a thesis defense forms part of working towards a doctorate. When I realised this was not going to be the case for me at UCT, I was glad. The idea of it seemed stressful and I would have feared for my exam anxieties to pop up again at a rather inconvenient time. Now, I look at it differently. A thesis defense could have been an opportunity to explain myself in a way that I might not be able to when limited to a form. Beyond that, I imagine actually seeing your examiners to be a different experience entirely. Without the veil of (one-sided) anonymity, there is bound to be an actual conversation, an exchange – even if this happened in times of a pandemic through a computer screen. Had this been my experience, I might have walked away from this life episode with a feeling of finalisation. As it is, I will fill out my new response form as diligently as I possibly can and send it off – knowing it will be without a response from my remaining examiner.

Then I will wait a little more – for finally being able to graduate in December 2021, 1,5 years after what I thought was ‘the’ thesis hand-in and end of this story. Perhaps, the event will give things an air of finality. Or maybe, like my PhD itself, processing its completion will simply take time rather than a final act.