Three Books I'd Love to Write
A few years ago, national histories of football were the most promising area of football literature. Deriving some inspiration from Simon Kuper’s cosmopolitanist manifesto Football Against the Enemy, in the past decade, this literature has given such great books as Brilliant Orange, Tor!, Morbo, and Futebol: the Brazilian Way of Life. But then, two years ago that brilliant bastard David Goldblatt came out of nowhere and produced a definitive single volume global history of the game (The Ball is Round) that more or less rendered the entire field irrelevant. National histories on a couple of major footballing countries are still to be written; Argentina and Mexico are still without decent English-language histories, there’s probably room for one on France, and the definitive African history has yet to be written. But for the most part, books in this vein will inevitably either re-hash old ground or tell the stories of increasingly irrelevant nations (Charlie Connelly’s book Stamping Grounds, the story of Liechtenstein’s 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, is ground zero for this line of books).
But this need not mean the end of books looking at football culture: it just means we need a different lens through which to examine football. Herewith, a number of books which I think are just dying to be written.
1) Football and Dictatorships. Football is often described as a democratic game because of its simplicity. But in many places for many years, football has been played under non-democratic conditions. Generally, totalitarian dictatorships such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia preferred non-team sports; only fascist Italy gave the game a major pride of place: but even here, the glory brought to the nation by the 1934 and 1938 World Cups was offset by the increase in regional tensions brought about by the development of the club game. In Latin America, football has been accused of both weakening dictatorships (the 1982 Democracy movement at Corinthians) and of sustaining it (Argentina’s 1978 World cup victory). Even football stadia have a paradoxical relationship with dictatorships: large programs of stadium construction are often hallmarks of dictatorship as they can serve propaganda purposes, but they are also one of the few places where people can gather and talk freely in a dictatorship and often serve as nuclei for the creation of democratic opposition (the relationship between Barcelona FC and the Catalan nationalist movement is particularly tight as a result of this phenomenon). The people’s game has both resisted tyranny and been co-opted by it; this book would tell the tale of both.
2) The Latin Game. Fourteen of Eighteen world cups have been won by Latin countries. Though they did not invent the game, they have gradually come to be its masters; both on the field and in the corridors of football power. They more or less invented the concept of international tournaments both at the international and club levels. Reputed to be romantic peoples, latin countries are nonetheless often accused of cynicism and gamesmanship on the field. While English-speakers may think of football as their game because of its roots in the English public school system, the fact is that to all intents and purposes, modern football is a Latin game. This book would trace the history of the game across the Latin world and show that its superiority in many ways comes from Latin countries’ greater willingness to innovate in terms of tactics, personnel, politics and business.
3) Fans. Many trees have been destroyed talking about the development of game around the world (viz, for example, Jonathan Wilson’s latest oeuvre); but little has actually been written on how people watch the game around the world. And yet, the most striking national differences in football occur not on the field but in the stands. Singing as a form of support exists everywhere, but the styles can be very different – regimented in Italy and Japan; more spontaneous in England. Criminality among hardcore supporters is common, too, but ultras, barra bravas and hooligans have as many differences as they do similarities. Fans in some parts of the world support their teams no matter what; in other parts of the world, fans are known to physically assault their teams if results don’t go their way. In many countries, there is no particular stigma attached to supporting more than one team, and indeed where there is a “big two” or “big three” (e.g Olympiakos and Panathinaikos in Greece) everyone in the country is expected to support one or the other; in England, where there are no effectively an incredible five divisions of professional football, such behaviour is derided as “glory-hunting”. Football may be the people’s game, but the people relate to the game very differently in different parts of the world; this book would seek to explain the roots of these differences.
If there are any book publishers out there waiting with fat advances – or anyone who wants to add their own ideas, just hit the comment button.