Is your football team a religion?

Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.
5 min readApr 12, 2024
My personal picture in front of Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

Is it a big statement to call your football team a religion?

Can we draw a line between love of football and love of a religion?

Let’s analyze.

If you look up this statement online, you will find many disagreements, but as someone who experienced both believing in religion and none, as well as having my love for Real Madrid for the last decade, I can tell you a bit of my vision.

My argument relies on one thing: Human beings need to belong in something greater than themselves.

This applies not only to religion but also to national identity, community, and even urgent issues like climate change. One needs to strive for something beyond oneself in order to find purpose and meaning in life.

On religion

To give you a little bit of background, I grew up as a Muslim in Indonesia, a country with the biggest Muslim population in the world. I grew up not only as a cultural Muslim, that is celebrating the public holidays, fasting during Ramadan, but I genuinely believed in Islam. I prayed five times a day and genuinely felt close to my Deity. I also observed the non-obligatory (sunnah) practices when I had the chance.

After completing my bachelor’s studies, I became more familiar with philosophy. Not to reinforce the stereotype that delving into philosophy leads to losing one’s religion, but it just so happened that I did lose my faith after a while.

Of course, I could also argue that philosophy became my new ‘religion,’ as I began to delve deeper into the works of figures I admire and treat their writings as somewhat prophetic. But let’s delve into that discussion another time.

In 2023, I completed my Master’s degree in Religious Studies, where my research focused on the perception of terrorism in the cyber realm. I have a personal fascination with religions, and my academic journey allowed me to delve deeply into the history and cultural aspects of various faiths.

This interest is particularly poignant now as I reside in Poland, a country with a Catholic majority. I thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in the rich tapestry of their culture, admiring the majestic churches, and exploring the nuances of their religious traditions.

See my article about Islam and Buddhism here:

And about our relations with God here:

Losing religion, losing football

During my transition from being a muslim to atheism, while reading a bunch of philosophy, psychoanalysis-related books, I also experienced the existential crisis where things that used to bring me joy, such as football, seem to not appealing anymore.

I started my interests in Real Madrid in 2011/2012 where I watched the matches from the other side of the world, I found joy in waking up at 3 to watch my favorite team, having to wear their jerseys outside, meeting fellow madridistas, I felt like I belong to a greater community with similar interests

During this transition, I found myself no longer drawn to watching matches. Instead, I lived day to day, simply going through the motions, waiting for some sort of resolution that never seemed to arrive, not even to this day. In the absence of the sense of purpose and connection that my faith once provided, I felt empty. I gave up my jerseys. Losing interest in sports, which had once brought me so much euphoria and connection, only compounded this feeling of emptiness.

We all know one thing: losing religion will not bring you back, no matter how hard you try. The idea that there is a higher divine entity that takes care of you and plans things for you no longer makes sense to me.

I found serenity within the teachings of Buddhism, though I will not call myself a Buddhist.

Most days, it is difficult to remain calm and peaceful in this final stage of capitalism. I need to always think and move forward.

However, I managed to rediscover my joy in sports and my love for Real Madrid after a while, as nothing ever truly debunked the connection I had to the club. It was simply the bond of a teenager loving a team, which somehow grew with me as I aged. All it took was forcing myself to watch a couple of games again to feel the same euphoria and connection.

How does it resemble religion?

Think about the club. If you’re following the in-depth story of the club, you will know even the first president of the club, how many trophies, the development of their names, the logos, big players, small players of the club, the achievements, and all those small details you would only care about if you truly believe in the idea of the club. The culture of the club has been shaped throughout its history, with many fans being ‘generational fans’.

Now, think of the match, the ceremony. Those ‘chants’ resemble ‘hymns’. There is a special feeling when you are listening to them within the crowds, with the same collective identity and love towards the clubs. Just like religion, each one of them probably has different stories on how they fell in love with the club. I think that’s beautiful. A lot of people believe in religions from birth family, and some others found themselves aligning with the belief somewhere along the way.

The well-structured ceremony, with their ‘uniform’, people cry, people believe in the team that is performing.

The stadium. Holy stadium.

A lot of fans come from around the world to see the stadium, including me, who would never believe that I finally came to Santiago Bernabeu, regardless of not coming from an upbringing that would easily go abroad. I made and crafted my own path to be able to go there, and nothing would top that feeling when I finally made it.

The players. I do not need to explain how it resembles on this part. Food for thought.

The fans. We also have fanatics in both worlds.

Football is also political.

Football is also transactional.

Football also has a lot of traditions and ceremonial details. Special days.

Years after my transition period, I can find joy and faith in things I love again, including football and my passion for academia. These are the things I feel belong to me, they fit who I am, they calm me, bring me happiness, and definitely make my life worth living. They are something ‘beyond me’, ‘bigger than me’, that certainly bring more good than harm.



Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.

Interdisciplinary researcher based in Warsaw. I write political science, tech, security, psychoanalysis and philosophy.