How Soccer Explains The World

How Soccer Explains The World is the best book on football that I have read.  Subtitled An Unlikely Theory Of Globalization, it is the author’s observations on how the beautiful game has ridden political, cultural and sectarian currents and, in turn, played a part in dragging any number of countries into the mainstream of the new order of worldwide interdependence.

 

The author of How Soccer Explains The World, Franklin Foer

 

Written in 2004, by Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic, as a handy way to finance his dream of visiting the most notable (in his mind) football shrines, the book examines the role Red Star Belgrade played in the Balkan conflicts of the ’90s, the Catholic/Protestant rivalry at the heart of the Old Firm, the role that Judaism has played in the game, hooliganism, the corrupt Cartolas of Brazil, the difficulties faced by African players in Eastern Europe, the influencing of referees in Serie A, the culture clash that fuels El Clasico, the hardships of female fans in Iran and, finally, his theory on why the game has not caught on in the US.  As an added bonus, there is a humourous socio-political handicapper for rating the chances of your favourite World Cup nation.

Foer, who was in his mid-twenties when he went on his extended holiday/fact finding mission, is American and the book is written primarily for a US audience.  While that heritage comes with the requisite lack of understanding for what it means to support a club, he is nonetheless a fervent fan of the game.  It’s that outsider’s view, with which I can easily empathise, that makes the book so fascinating.

To my mind, the book should appeal to a footy insider, as well, because while a member of the Kop might well understand just what it means to never walk alone, he (or she) may discover, in some passage or other, an enriching and enlightening nugget on how the game is viewed elsewhere.  After all, if it’s your club do or die, the words of the great Chinese general Sun Tzu apply:

If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.

Amazingly enough, football can teach everything you need to know about any culture, and since HSETW offers up an excellent cross section of said, it’s a must read.

Time and again, in the five years since I first cracked the appendix on a copy, I’ve found myself reminded of some passage when confronted with some current event or trend that finds its way into my consciousness.  If you’ve read a few of my posts on WFC, you’ll know what I mean.

The recent episode of hooliganism in Genoa, which pre-empted the Euro group qualifier between Italy and Serbia found me picking up my dogeared copy of HSETW, once again, to see if anything in the first chapter might provide a clue as to why a group of ultras would travel to another country to sabotage their own country’s chances.   That was just a fortnight after the whole Neymar/Dorival Junior fiasco, at Santos, had me reviewing chapter 5 for a refresher on the Top Hats.

I won’t go into every instance where I’ve found some distinct relevance to HSETW, but there have ben quite a few.  Whether I’ve agreed with Foer’s opinions of his subjects or disagreed, the reading of his work has ever since caused me to look for the underlying factors in any significant event on the football horizon and I think it will for you, as well.

‘How Soccer Explains The World’ is available in paperback (from Harper Perennial) in two editions for US $13.99 ($10.19 on Amazon) and $14.99 with the additional afterword  ’How To Win The World Cup.’

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As well it is available in e-book form for both Kindle (Amazon.com) and Nook (BN.com) for US $9.99.

Enjoy!


Comments
3 Responses to “How Soccer Explains The World”
  1. I’m a big fan of books that examine football in its social context so might have to check this one out. What is the author’s voew of why football hasn’t caught on in the US? It seems to me like it’s just not high-scoring enough – what game in America can end in a 0-0 (or even a draw for that matter)? While American sports are all about expolosive actions and highly specialised players, ours are about well-rounded athletes and a fluid, non-stop game.

  2. Steve Atkinson says:

    That’s maybe part of it, but I have had American friends over here and taken them to matches and it’s totally changed their opinions on the sport. They may have had passing knowledge from the Beckham press exploitation and from playing at school – but they hadn’t been to a game and soaked in the atmosphere, the vociferous crowd, the tangible tension, the feelings of local pride and passion.

    It’s understandable that such an atmosphere is hard to foster given the nomadic nature of American life. Cities are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles and migration between them is common place. You could show anyone a loud and open game with lots of goals and excitement (see the Tyne-Wear derby at the weekend) and draw people into the sport. Or show them the likes of Messi and Iniesta dribbling and passing their way round the best defences in the world. The problem lies in the recreation of that, you’re not going to get the best players in the world until the league is established and important in international terms. There’ll always be drab 0-0 draws, but those games are still a source of excitement to the fans who take it in here. Contrary to what you say, I think it is taking off in America, albeit over time. As a generation of youngsters hit college and can afford to attend games of their own accord and start taking their own kids to the games suddenly you’ll have a much larger audience. They are going about it the right way this time, get them hooked young and they’ll never let go.

  3. Geoff Edwards says:

    Just to add to Steve’s comment, I was at a Red Bulls game this year and (this is obviously a subjective observation), I did notice the strong youth presence in the crowd. There were a lot of high school and college kids, as well as younger kids with their parents, which can only be a good thing.

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