Friday, June 26, 2009

Reading Rainbow Kick: Soccer Against The Enemy

UF is attempting to take you on a reading rainbow kick this summer. Requests have been made previously to provide book reviews for the various books about soccer out there, but we have been negligent in responding to those requests. No longer. UF hopes provide all of the readers with some additions to their summer reading lists.

Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against the Enemy is an outstanding book about soccer around the globe. Not just the well-known and well-paid, but the obscure and lesser earning soccer players around. More than that, Kuper provides great detail about the footballing world off the pitch. Against the Enemy is a fascinating read well worth any soccer fan’s time this summer.

Simon Kuper wrote Against the Enemy over fifteen years ago, while just in his early 20s, yet his writing evidenced a maturity and understanding beyond his years. Kuper traveled in a world far different, politically, socially and technologically, than the world today. Yet, his insights and stories then remain insightful and salient today, despite the differences in the times the issues are still similar.

Against the Enemy details, chapter-by-chapter, Kuper’s journeys to points around the globe examining the intersection of soccer and politics. Whereas Franklin Foer’s book, How Soccer Explains The World, attempted to show how soccer explained politics in various regions of the world, Kuper has a more practical examination of how soccer is affected by politics and used, as it were, against the "enemy." The former is a much more difficult theoretical jump because soccer, of course, cannot explain all politics and at times the facts will not fit in a neat box. Kuper’s work is deductive rather than Foer’s inductive work.

Although 15 years old, Kuper’s chapter on South Africa is particularly relevant today because of the historical and political perspective it places on World Cup 2010. When Against the Enemy was written South Africa was just emerging from apartheid. For the black population soccer was very important during apartheid and the World Cup was the holy grail for black South Africans and next year, while Aaron Mokoena likely will not raise the Jules Rimet Trophy next year, the country will finally bring the World Cup to South Africa. Kuper’s writing captures the import wonderfully with historical perspective and anecdotes. Truly a must read before next year.

In 2006, Kuper wrote an additional chapter delving into “terrorism” and soccer. The chapter lacks the detail, personalness, and original information of Kuper’s original writings. It provides only the droll stories about Osama bin Laden being a fan of Arsenal. Nothing new or noteworthy. However, the original work stands the test of time and is well worth your time.

11 comments:

Hadley said...

I hope I'm not stepping on any toes here, but I would also recommend:

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss;

Among the Thugs by Bill Buford;

Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano;

Futebol by Alex Bellos;

Brilliant Orange by Alex Winner;

and, of course,

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Mike Georger said...

Never heard of it but it sounds interesting, and I'm a huge fan of the ball with the flags on it, that takes me back. I enjoyed Foer's book but it was the first one I read on the subject, even though some of his stuff seemed like a bit of a reach.

Interesting choice to go with About A Boy instead of High Fidelity on the jacket though, seems the target audience would have been bigger fans of the latter book.

Branden said...

I'll add to Hadley's list:

Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson

The Fix by Declan Hill

Mike Georger said...

Brian Reade: 43 Years With The Same Bird

I'm slowly working my way through it, blew through the first half up until Heysel and now I'm literally dreading reading the chapter, as he was there, and it's going to be brutal.

But as far as books with stories about the size of Shankly's dong goes, easily the best.

epiblast said...

For the Liverpool supporter in your life I'd recommend: Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football by Grant Fared
It's a interesting and intelligent look at apartheid South Africa and a young boy's love of and moral battle with a racist Liverpool side during the 1970's, until one John Barnes changed all that. Other essays include politics in footy and past world cups with political implications.

G. L. Naut said...

I'd add Phil Ball's history of Spanish soccer, Morbo. He's one of the best writers on the subject, imo. How Soccernet ever got him to do a column is beyond me...

The Fan's Attic said...

No toe stepping. I don't know a lot of those books so, the more the merrier.

Ibracadabra said...

hadley: miracle of castel di sangro is one of the best books I've ever read - soccer or non soccer related. I highly recommend it too.

Fake Sigi said...

Hadley's books are the Barnes and Noble selection of soccer books. All good, but reading them will barely get you up to speed in the world of soccer literature.

Fever Pitch remains my all time favorite on that list, and I own it in multiple languages. Castel di Sangro is a naive book, and somewhat painful to read given it's uninformed American perspective.

Among the Thugs is fun. I must say that Brilliant Orange has not aged well for me. I loved it when I first read it, but when I came back to it last year, I wasn't nearly as impressed.

Right now I'm reading A History of Italian Soccer by john foot. For something a little different, "Puskas on Puskas" is an interesting look into the life of a great player.

ΓΌ75 said...

Yeah, I've read Miracle of Castel di Sangro a few times. Maybe I'll re-read it here soon and do one of these.

Hadley said...

Fair enough, Sigi. I've read a lot of books by "experts" of the game, and they've left a lot to be desired. I was just listing off the top of my head in case people are looking for things to read this summer. Has anyone read Tor!? I know absolutely nothing about German football (not do I care to).