A former star college soccer player travels the world to find and film pickup games for a documentary.
In addition to chronicling three years spent filming and editing a documentary, Pelada, about pickup soccer around the world, Oxenham also grapples with a question familiar to many former student athletes: “How can you move to a new world without betraying the first? How can you drop it if you love it?” The author, who played at Duke, found that life after the game was empty. With money provided by her alma mater for film equipment, as well as funds from investors, Oxenham, her boyfriend and a small crew traveled to Brazil, Bolivia, Trinidad and 22 other countries, discovering that there were many other people around the world who lived to play soccer. The author joined pickup games played after work, in alleys and dirt fields and by players beset by exhaustion, poverty, political repression or a combination of all three. When Oxenham focuses on the players, she is at her best. She and her crew took considerable risks to find games in Iran, Palestine and the slums of Buenos Aires, and readers are rewarded with telling scenes demonstrating how soccer can unite strangers even in the most fraught circumstances. However, the author’s focus is fragmented: Is the book about soccer as it is played by passionate amateurs, or is it about Oxenham, a privileged young woman who couldn’t give up the game and constantly wrestled with the idea of playing professionally? Though both topics are worth exploration, the author is unable to effectively blend them together.
A compelling travel and sports narrative occasionally marred by a lack of focus.