- Three Ways of Writing Soccer
There were nearly nine hundred books about soccer published in the English language in 2010—more than about gridiron football and more than about basketball and baseball combined. Many of these books on soccer were histories—of clubs, of countries, of tactics. Some were instruction manuals—for playing, for coaching, for fans new to the game. Some used the game as a tool to understand particular aspects of broader society—racism or violence, for example. Certainly, many of these books were published with an eye on the synergistic marketing opportunity that the 2010 World Cup presented. But beyond this enormous event, soccer has been an increasingly popular topic for English-language publishers—second only to American football in recent years. This phenomenon likely speaks to the increasing relevance of the sport in the United States. It also suggests the game’s utility as a topic of scholarly inquiry. Soccer is, after all, so deeply implicated in the popular, economic, and political cultures of so many people the world over. [End Page 157]
The books reviewed in this essay, each published in 2010, represent distinctly different approaches to writing about the game and sport more generally. Donn Risolo’s Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore, and Amazing Feats represents the most popular kind of sports book—that of the enthusiast—written by a fan for fans. The other two works reflect, at least at first glance, two different strains of sports scholarship. Peter Alegi’s Laduma! Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa, from its Origins to 2010 is a narrative and chronological history, seemingly of an older tradition of reconstructionist history. Football Comes Home: Symbolic Identities in European Football by Christos Kassimeris seems an expression of the “cultural turn,” relying heavily on semiotic theory as a way of examining soccer and its connections to local identities. But closer investigation reveals that neither is quite what it seems, the former being more dynamic and nuanced than a simple and chronological history, while the latter suffers from a static descriptivism at odds with its theoretical aims.
Risolos’ Soccer Stories is precisely what it promises to be—a collection of soccer anecdotes and trivia. The author, a soccer writer who was the chief researcher for ESPN and ABC’s coverage of the 1994 World Cup, tellingly begins with the claim, “I like soccer.” This is certainly an understatement, given the nearly four hundred pages that follow of “the interesting, amusing, odd, and amazing tales that help flesh out soccer and give the game its color” (p. xii). Indeed, the collection has an evangelical feel—Risolo is clearly trying to convert the uninitiated, propel the marginally literate to another plane of fandom, and perhaps provide the active fan with some additional sustenance. Chapters are distinguished by broad topics. For example, the obstacles and successes of the Iraqi national team in recent years are accounted for in the chapter, “Soccer War, and Peace.” In the chapter, “Misbehavior,” readers learn of an incident when a Chilean player, who had been storing a handgun in his shorts, unloaded three rounds on a goal-scoring rival who was celebrating a bit too much. Each individual chapter is more or less a grab bag of information, without a real sense of internal logic. But there is no shortage of interesting tidbits. Risolo explains why English club Derby County played in a stadium called the “Baseball Ground,” for instance. He tells us why there is a McDonald’s with a black-and-white sign in Istanbul: could a corporate sponsor of black-and-white Besiktas sport the red-and-gold of hated rival Galatasaray? The author delivers...