IN my continuing series on soccer books that I am blogging to celebrate the countdown to South Africa 2010, I’m thrilled to present this compendium of the genre’s sincerely passionate advocates of "the beautiful game". I first heard about this book on World Soccer Daily — a podcast hosted by Steven Cohen and Kenny Hassan. They recommended it, and since I trust their judgement, there I go — type, type, typing — to impulsebuyer.com! I really liked the writing right away. This is how I want my students to write someday: passionately, thoughtfully, reflectively, analytically. It doesn’t matter what the topic is. Love your topic and your readers will love your topic!
There’s a lot of buildup to the actual heart of the book. First of all, the book is a compilation of professional writers writing about a particular country, ostensibly one they are intimate with for whatever reason. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m not a fan of prefaces and introductions. They tend to be a bit windy, word-wise. But I genuinely enjoyed Matt Weiland’s (not that Weiland; that’s Scott.) Preface for a few earthy reasons. Firstly, he starts with a quote by Martin Amis, one of my fav writers. I love when a writer I like quotes another writer I like because they too like that writer. I was so captivated by MW’s definition of "abroad" because I found myself living that definition when I came back from England the first time. It was so obnoxious! You would think I was the only person who had ever been there. So…yeah. Amis and the whole "abroad" thing.
Then, as he went on to describe his indoctrination into the cult of soccer, again, it was like reading about myself — where emotions were concerned. I didn’t have an uncle to take me to a soccer shop and get me a kit. I had to do that myself. After France 98, I bought a Michael Owen Liverpool home game jersey. After Arsenal’s undefeated season, I bought their blue away shirt. After Germany 06, I bought a Miroslav Klose national team jersey because he scored 5 goals — the highest scorer of the tournament.
Some of the funny bits were the anecdotes about writers they couldn’t get! Here’s an excerpt from the part about who got in and who didn’t:
We asked some of the writers, like (Eduardo) Galeano, to write about their own country. Others we assigned to countries based on an experience there, and some we sent to a country of their choosing. For a month, we made lists and contacted writers, and by the last stage of qualification, we had assigned each nation that looked likely to qualify. Then we sat back to watch and wait.
What an awesome job these guys made for themselves! When all was said and done, Roddy Doyle was too depressed over Ireland’s flame-out and didn’t want to write about football. Rattawut Lapcharoensap didn’t get in because Thailand didn’t get in to Germany. Nick Hornby wrote about England. OF COURSE!!! Dave Eggers wrote about the US. Cheeky! (Eggers and Hornby both used to write for McSweeneys, btw.)
Some of the authors from the book: (the ones I’m familiar with, anyhoo):
Sean Wilsey wrote a wonderfully witty and clued-up Introduction. Again — it’s a bit long as introductions go and should have been titled something else, but it’s a good read. He has a handle on the insider expressions such as Gli Azzurri (Italy; the sky blues), Les Bleus ("the blues"; the French national team), catenaccio (Italian for "make 1 goal then defend for the rest of the game yawnfest") and an adrenalized uppercase reproduction of GOOOOOOOO…well, you get the idea. I love Sean’s description of rambling, rickety Roger Milla, the star of Cameroon in Italia ’90.
You will probably go straight to the countries you like, but take some time to read about the Ghanas, the Trinidad/Tobagos, the Angolas — the obscure countries that won’t make it out of the group stages but who provide the most gripping, exciting, heartbreaking underdog action you will ever see. Remember Croatia in France ’98? South Korea in Korea/Japan 02? Cote d’Ivoire in Germany 06?
Whew! Wait — there’s more! This book is great for "anoraking" (an "anorak" is someone who is fixated on stats). An anorak’s almanac, if you will. Forgive me, Nick Hornby for that awkward almost-alliteration. Every article comes with demographics and FIFA stats. At the end of the book, there’s a section called "The World Cup in Numbers" which serves up juicy dets like "Most Goals in A World Cup", "Most Appearances", and "Penalty Shootouts". After that there’s a section called "The 32 Nations in Numbers" and Holee Abacus, Batman! does it ever dish dets on the price of living in each country: Median Age, Birth Rate, Annual GDP, Unemployment Rate, Exports, Tourism, Internet Users…Damn!
Such an amalgamation of information on the state of the nation is not just there for filler. When you read about the haves and have-nots of soccer countries, you start to understand what’s at stake for them if they succeed or if they don’t. Wars have started and stopped because of soccer. If your a 10 year-old boy in Sierra Leone or Somalia or the Congo, would you rather be a half-starved soldier or a soccer player with a salary and a pair of shoes? That is a real career choice in those countries. I love how the demographics come from the CIA World Factbook. Not an atlas. Not Encyclopedia Britannica. Not the internet. The Freaking CIA World Factbook! This book is soaking in a brine of testosterone. It even has a good blurb at the back — and you know how I am about blurbs.
FOX FOOTBALL FONE-IN [companion to World Soccer Daily podcast available on iTunes or live on Sirius Ch. 125(?)]
The British site for this book (The link to the American publishers site didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s out of date or sumfin or nuffin…)