Michele is a young fellow from Italy with a keen interest in social, cultural and subjective changes as they unfold through playful repetitive practices. He loves everything evoking such sense of ‘playsure’, from darts to football, from gambling to religious rituals.
This research will focus on changing conceptions of time, pleasure and identity politics, with an ethnographic approach to the emerging transnational Gurung-Himalayan-UK football culture. In the Lamjung District of central Nepal, football appears at the intersection of expanding global capitalism and the aspirations of the various Nepali diasporas in the United Kingdom. Research will be conducted in both countries in order to (a) ethnographically explore the ways football is symptomatic of new kinds of social change in which bodies, rivalry and social compulsions are being restructured and (b) map the institutions and discourses which are encouraging the spread of the beautiful game to recast the recent political history of Nepal in ethnographic terms.
If one history of Nepali football would lead us to Kathmandu and to the Rana’s palaces, where the sport was already played in the 30s by numerically limited ruling elite, another version would bring us to the military experiences of Gurkha soldiers. Returning home with half-packed wallets and disciplined bodies, these soldiers have given inertia to the development of football in Lamjung. Mainly Gurungs, many of them are now permanently settled in UK, where they organize football tournaments and collect money for the development of the game in their homelands. Pitches are being dug, academies established and tournaments organized in every village scattered around the Annapurna massif. Moreover, as football became increasingly popular in the 1990s, the sport was embraced as part of a national ‘mediascape’. Here, the image of the bravery of the martial Gurkha has become suffused with the qualities of the national football team; the war-like screams of soldiers (‘Ayo Gorkhali’) have become the cries of a nation watching football. Including teams such as the Army Police Force, the Nepal Army Club, and Nepal Police Club in the A League, Nepalese football is still tightly linked to the military. In this context, a lot of stuff is invested upon the footballer’s body and an ethnography of players becomes necessary for unfolding it. How football is participating in the formation of new forms of identity, to what extent this is done by using already existing repertoires of meaning, and how much it can say about processes of social change in a country which has not experienced a direct form of colonialism are important themes that will be addresses by this project.
At the same time, players’ daily practices are parsed by images, rules and ideologies coming from multiple sources. Besides playing, football lovers are also watching Western Leagues on TV, making comparisons, creating opinions, constructing idols and shaping desires; youths are in contact with their diasporic fellows through social media and travels; coaches are trained through standardized textbooks, where tactics and athletics are accurately rationalized; ground-sizes are being regimentalized in order to comply with national and international regulations; and discourses of professionalism, infrastructural development, institutional support pepper the daily speech of people and newspapers alike. This kaleidoscope of connections informs the complex relationship that come to be shaped between pitches and screens, actual practices and ideals, expectations and fulfilment. This project will address these processes with an ethnographic study of players’ perspectives.