by Mike Corder, The Associated Press, June 25, 2018
KALININGRAD, Russia (AP) — In Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, philosophy and football are coming together as fans troop through a small museum dedicated to the World Cup host city and its most famous resident, Immanuel Kant.
Players themselves could learn a little from one of history's great thinkers, Serbia supporter Vojin Lukovic suggested.
"To take their time, to analyze things," he said. "Slow down a bit."
The German philosopher who died in 1804 lived most of his life in Kaliningrad when it was the German city of Koenigsberg. It became part of the Soviet Union after World War II and now serves as an important Russian naval base and is home to a university named for Kant.
The philosopher's simple tomb lies at the rear of an imposing red-brick cathedral that dominates a small island on the walking route between the downtown fan zone and the city's new stadium that is hosting four World Cup group stage matches .
Philosophy and football may sound like strange bedfellows, but Kant's prominence in Kaliningrad is not the first time the worlds of top sport and deep thought have intersected.
French existentialist Albert Camus, himself a talented goalkeeper in his youth, is responsible for perhaps the most famous philosophical comment on football by any intellectual: "All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football."
Some players, too, have risen to the level of if not quite philosophers then at least deep thinkers.
Books have been written in the Netherlands dedicated to Dutch star Johan Cruyff's musings on football and life, some of them as hard to follow as one of his mazy runs.
"Often, something has to happen before something can happen," Cruyff once said. Or most Dutch fans' favorite: "Every disadvantage has its advantage."
Former France and Manchester United midfielder Eric Cantona also was known as a thinker on and off the pitch, once cryptically announcing: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea," at a press conference in February 1995 after he was handed an eight-month ban for jumping into the stands and kicking a fan.
And in a famous sketch on the British comedy show "Monty Python's Flying Circus," two teams of philosophers, one German, the other ancient Greek, meet for a match. Kant features as a defender in the German team alongside the likes of Georg Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer.
Greece's team features thinkers including Plato, Socrates and an "in-form Aristotle" as sweeper. As referee Confucius blows the whistle to start the match all the philosophers ignore the ball and pace around the pitch deep in thought. Greece eventually wins 1-0, thanks to a Socrates header.
With time to kill before matches in Kaliningrad, most fans congregate in bars or restaurants or watch earlier matches on the fan zone's giant screen.
Those wishing to soak up a little local history instead of local beer climb the 16th-century spiral stairway behind a heavy wooden door and enter the small museum. A visit doesn't take long — there are two floors dedicated to a collection of Kant memorabilia including statues, paintings, books, even a carpet bearing his face, a visage also captured in a plaster cast of his death mask illuminated by light pouring through a stained glass window.
Many visitors seem to spend more time looking at a scale model of the former Koenigsberg than gazing at copies of Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" or other of his books in various languages. The information on most of the exhibits is in only Russian and German.
Switzerland fan Christian Rey said he studied a bit of Kant as a student, and although he admitted to having forgotten most of the finer points, he agreed with Lukovic that it could possibly guide football teams.
"It can help with thinking and analysis of the game," Rey said. "If Kant can help Switzerland, it's OK for me."
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