A novel look at how the world is everywhere becoming more alike, and everywhere more different, as people seek to define themselves through football.
“I suck at soccer,” young New Republic staffer Foer offers by way of an opening. And why not? He’s an American, and Americans see soccer—what the rest of the world calls “football”—differently. Where in Italy or Brazil or Kenya, say, it’s a working-class sport laden with working-class aspirations, in the US it’s inverted: “Here, aside from Latino immigrants, the professional classes follow the game most avidly and the working class couldn’t give a toss about it.” Yet everywhere the game is politicized as none other: In the US, “soccer moms” are alternately reviled and courted while reactionary politicos insist that soccer is fundamentally un-American (and probably socialist, too, as Jack Kemp once urged). In Scotland, Foer writes, the game affords a screen behind which to play out fantastic anti-Catholic hatreds. (Glasgow, Foer brightly adds, provides a fine rebuttal to the capitalist theory that “once a society becomes economically advanced, it becomes politically advanced—liberal, tolerant, democratic.”) In the heart of the former Yugoslavia, where the soccer hooligans are so tough that they regularly beat up their own teams, professional football has provided shibboleths by which to separate and massacre Croats, Bosnians, Slovenians, and other non-Serbian types. In Spain, football arenas still resound with echoes of the civil war of the 1930s. In the Middle East, the game provides a means of expressing anti-fundamentalist sentiment. And so on. One day soccer/football will be played everywhere, Foer hints, and fans in Benin and Burlington will cheer players in Belgrade and Botswana; but in each place, even as the sport remakes the planet, those big and little cultural differences will remain, perhaps some day to provoke future wars, revolutions, or renaissances.
Though the globalism thread sometimes disappears, the author is unfailingly interesting. Lively and provocative—even for those who just don’t get what FIFA is all about.