Quote Origin: In a Football Match, Everything Is Complicated by the Presence of the Opposite Team

Jean-Paul Sartre? Alan Sheridan-Smith? Apocryphal?

Picture of a football (soccer ball) from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: The presence of an adversary makes planning more complex because the achievement of goals requires the anticipation of counter-measures. A famous philosopher once said something like the following:

In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.

The term “football” corresponds to “soccer” in North America. The above statement has been attributed to French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1960 Jean-Paul Sartre published “Critique de la Raison Dialectique” (“Critique of Dialectical Reason”) which included the following text within a footnote. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

En fait, dans un match de football, tout se complique du fait de la présence de l’équipe adverse. Il y a réciprocité positive entre les coéquipiers dans une rigoureuse liaison avec une réciprocité négative et antagonistique. Mais cette complexité ne change rien à notre problème.

Sartre’s work was translated into English by Alan Sheridan-Smith and published in 1976. The passage above was rendered as follows:2

In fact, in a football match, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team. The positive reciprocity between members of a team is closely connected with a negative and antagonistic reciprocity. But this complication does not alter our problem in any way.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

A thematically germane statement was crafted by Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder in 1871. Here is the original German form together with an English translation:3

Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus.

No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces.

A separate QI article about the statement immediately above is available here.

Another thematically pertinent remark was spoken by the notable pugilist Mike Tyson in 1987 as reported by the Associated Press news service:4

Tyrell Biggs says he has a plan to beat heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. But the man they call “Iron Mike” is not impressed.

“Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time,” Tyson said.

A separate QI article about the statement immediately above is available here.

In 2007 journalist Tim Guest published a book about “Second Life”, a computer platform and role-playing game. Guest employed the quotation while crediting Sartre:5

In Second Life you could build what you like, be what you like, say what you like, as long as you didn’t offend others. And that’s where the problems really start. ‘In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the other team,’ Sartre wrote. We had developed our perfect worlds, and what attracted us was that other people lived there too. But the problem was, other people lived there too.

In 2013 “The Biteback Dictionary Of Humorous Sporting Quotations” compiled by Fred Metcalf included this entry:6

In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.
Jean-Paul Sartre, French writer

In conclusion, Jean-Paul Sartre deserves credit for the statement he wrote in French in 1960. An English translation appeared by 1976. The English phrasing has been simplified over time. In addition, the term “football” in French corresponds to “soccer” in North American English, yet the translation often retains the word “football”.

Image Notes: Picture of a football (soccer ball) from Wesley Tingey at Unsplash. The image has been cropped and resized.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Antony Altbeker and David Spurrett whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Spurrett mentioned that the publisher Penguin had posted a webpage of literary quotations which pointed to “Critique of Dialectical Reason” as the source of this Sartre quotation.

  1. 1960 Copyright, Critique de la raison dialectique by Jean-Paul Sartre, Tome 1: Théorie des ensembles pratiques, Footnote I, Quote Page 482, Published by Éditions Gallimard, Paris, France. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  2. 1976 Copyright (1982 Paperback), Critique of Dialectical Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre, Volume 1: Theory of Practical Ensembles, Translator: Alan Sheridan-Smith, Editor: Jonathan Rée, Book 2: From Groups to History, Chapter 3: The Organisation, Section 2: Reciprocity and Active Passivity, Footnote 35, Quote Page 473, Published by Verso/NLB, London, England. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  3. 1900, Moltkes Militärische Werke: II. Die Thätigkeit als Chef des Generalstabes der Armee im Frieden. (Moltke’s Military Works: II. Activity as Chief of the Army General Staff in Peacetime) Zweiter Theil (Second Part), Aufsatz vom Jahre 1871 Ueber Strategie (Article from 1871 on strategy), Start Page 287, Quote Page 291, Publisher: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, Berlin, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
  4. 1987 August 19, Oroville Mercury-Register, Biggs has plans for Tyson (Associated Press), Quote Page 1B, Column 2, Oroville, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  5. 2007, Second Lives by Tim Guest, Chapter 12: Us: Together in Electric Dreams, Quote Page 211, Hutchinson: Random House, London. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  6. 2013, The Biteback Dictionary Of Humorous Sporting Quotations, Compiled by Fred Metcalf, Topic: Football, Quote Page 175, Biteback Publishing, London, England. (Verified with scans) ↩︎