“All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”
Here at The Equaliser we like to think, perhaps a trifle pretentiously, that football and philosophy are more closely related than some would have us believe. That in mind, Albert Camus is something of a hero to this humble blog, the French-Algerian goalkeeping philosopher having merged two of the world’s greatest muses, sport and existential thought.
A pioneer in that most noble of footballing traditions, the reflective, melancholic goalkeeper, Camus was the first in a lineage that has since brought us such memorable characters as René Higuita, Ramón Quiraga and Fabien Barthez. A noted Marxist and an influential author and thinker, Camus was the semi-professional custodian for the national title-winning Racing Universitaire Algerois in his native Algeria before turning to his academic pursuits on a more permanent basis.
In 1942 he wrote L’Etranger (The Stranger), arguably his most influential work, a book which expresses through the actions of it’s protagonist, Meursault, Camus’ view that life has no rational or perceptible meaning. This central theme in his work saw Camus continually state his belief that the universal struggle to attach structure and meaning to our lives is ultimately futile and, in his words, absurd.
The notion of “the absurd” Camus put forward in L’Etranger and his essay of the same year, The Myth of Sisyphus, led indirectly to the revival of “absurdism” in modern philosophy.
Taking up where Søren Kierkegaard left off , Camus blurred the boundaries of philosophy, theology and literature as he presented the dualism between happiness and mortality and focused much of his writing on the paradox between the commonly held view that life is simultaneously centrally important and completely meaningless.
Of course, like all the best cult heroes, alongside his philosophy Camus was a committed anti-authoritarian. During the Nazi occupation of France he was an active member of the French resistance and, in his work L’Homme Révolté, put forward a savage critique of the Soviet state and revolutionary politics in general. Lev Yashin, that most famous of Russian goalkeepers, was likely unamused at the outburst.
Although he tragically died in a car accident at the age of just 43, Camus’ footballing legacy lives on. In 2008 a new goalkeeping academy was established in France, founded upon the principles of sporting excellence and morality propounded by the famous author. With the support of patron Fabien Barthez, the facility has stated that it aims to put education and philosophy ahead of the relentless pursuit of simply “winning”.
Indeed, the academy founders talk very much in terms Camus would have related to, “Every time a child saves a ball it’s similar to every difficult situation they will face in life. Every time they jump to catch a ball, or go into a tackle, they need courage and commitment, and it’s similar in life.”
Today, fully fifty years after his death, Camus’ notion of football as an educational and philosophical endeavour lives on in small but invaluable corners of a global game. We have much to thank the Nobel Prize-winning goalkeeper for.