I’ve never really been a big football fan, but this week I realised I was thinking about one footballer’s leg way too much. Not the man, not the team, not even the pair of legs, but the leg. Wayne Rooney’s leg. It’s been all over the news and even I could not escape the coverage.
The Manchester United player injured his leg during a game this week, was pictured dramatically falling to the ground, leaving the hospital on crutches and is due to miss the next few games because of his ankle ligament damage.
Uninjured, the leg is part of the body, it goes unnoticed, inseparable from the man and team; unremarkable and un-remarked upon. At the point of injury, it is isolated from the player’s body. A separate entity, it becomes the focus of concern and an object with its own trajectory, talked about as such, and implicated in ever wider circles. The injured leg’s disruptive qualities ripple through and highlight multiple spheres as a personal leg, team leg, political leg, economic leg, the nation’s leg.
Bateson (1972) suggests that football is a kind of cultural map, a metaphorical representation. In addition, the game is also political and tied up heavily in global economic systems. People treat ‘the leg’ as heavily symbolic and as the media coverage suggests, we are all implicated as interested parties. In the post-Fordist economy, any footballer’s playing career is relatively short. He is a product, a traded commodity and the functionality and fitness of the player is under extreme scrutiny. Even Gordon Brown used the injury as an analogy for the economy on Monday 5th April 2010 implicating the leg in narratives of national identity.
The ‘basking in reflected glory’ (BIRG) theory is often cited as evidence for continuing support in games like football, with successful outcomes resulting in an adrenaline rush for fans and losses being. Likewise then, fans can feel the hurt and I as a news watcher am also touched by the leg’s pain.
So get better Rooney’s leg.
Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Robert B., Cialdini; Richard J., Borden; Avril, Thorne; Marcus Randall, Walker; Stephen, Freeman; Lloyd Reynolds, Sloan Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 34(3), Sep 1976, 366-375.