All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football. (Albert Camus, 1913–
Albert Camus (1913–1960) was an Algerian philosopher, a novelist and a Nobel Prize winner for literature. Much like his contemporary Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus’ work reflected a philosophy of the absurd together with an understanding of personal alienation and disenchantment with living. Yet qualities of human dignity and social connection also featured as an important part of his belief in conducting life within a schema of human integrity. They are principles which apply to mental health and well-being along with recovery approaches to mental ill-health.
Albert Camus and football
Camus was a goalkeeper and so the guardian of the university football team Racing Universitaire Algerios. He was regarded as a fervent and courageous player but sadly perhaps failed to progress in football because of contracting tuberculosis, an illness for which there was little or no hope of cure at that time.
Long before the then popular Manchester United footballer Eric Cantona made football and philosophy fashionable, Albert Camus spoke of football as a metaphor for human existence and developing personal identity. Camus recognized virtues in football concerned with working together towards a common purpose. In the mid-1990s, perhaps echoing Camus, Eric Cantona once revealed that a part of the secret of Manchester United’s success at that time was predicated on the team members both respecting and protecting one another.
Looking out for one another
Albert Camus described a similar ethic of looking out for your friends, personal integrity and even-handedness as providing an uncomplicated morality for living and framework for conducting human relationships. Camus believed that sport and particularly football at that time encompassed a sort of virtue of personhood, which might offer people a more appropriate framework for living than politics or even philosophy could ever provide.
During the 1950s, Camus was asked to comment about his experiences of football and particularly the time he spent with Racing Universitaire Algerios. He responded by saying that he learnt much of morality and duty from sport and particularly during his time as a footballer and goalkeeper with Racing Universitaire Algerios.
Camus referred to recognizing from football and his experiences in goal particularly that the ball never comes to you entirely as you might expect it to and he believed this was a reality reflected in life more generally. His personal approach to life was to treat winning and losing with equal regard and not be overly influenced by either. Albert Camus viewed the game of football as a philosophy that is lived rather than intellectual, detached and concerned with personal individuality and social relating.
Goalkeepers perhaps take note; Camus was generally recognised as an outsider –that is to say on the fringe of social groups and his position as a goalkeeper likely reflected this aspect of his personality. The unabridged version of Camus famous quote reads: