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  • Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-century Chile by Brenda Elsey
  • Amanda Tollefson
Elsey, Brenda. Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-century Chile. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. Pp. vii+327. Photographs, maps, epilogue, notes, appendix, and bibliography. $30.00 pb.

In Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-century Chile, Brenda Elsey deftly argues that amateur football clubs in Chile from the late nineteenth century until Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in 1973 served as a space for working-class men to enter into politics, demonstrating how the narrative of democracy encouraged active political participation. By utilizing an impressive array of club documents, local publications, and sports magazines, as well as autobiographies of sportsmen and other primary sources, the author weaves a concise and compelling tale. While a thorough recounting of the myriad details and specific examples offered as evidence is beyond the scope of this review, Elsey successfully argues that political society can be analyzed through focusing on football associations.

In Chapter One, “Rayando la Cancha—Marking the Field: Chilean Football, 1893–1919,” Elsey traces the early years of football’s influence on claiming public space and learning political and social skills within the working class. The author demonstrates how football clubs served as vehicles for expressing opinions, keeping in mind that the clubs relied upon the exclusion of women and an identity of mestizo homogeneity. Chapter Two, “The Massive, Modern, and Marginalized in Football of the 1920s,” continues investigating of the role of football clubs in local politics. The economic crisis in this time period emphasized the importance of community associations, and Elsey shows how they provided a space in which the working class could engage with their neighborhood, firmly establishing football in the tapestry of Chilean life.

Chapter Three, “The White Elephant: The National Stadium, Populism, and the Popular Front, 1933–1942,” focuses on the construction of the National Stadium, which the author argues is a decisive “turning point in the relationship between popular culture, civic associations, and politics” (p. 12). The mobilization of club members opened new opportunities for leadership roles in civic associations. This chapter is especially proficient at adeptly placing itself in the literature and swiftly moves the narrative along while remaining grounded in theory. Chapter Four, “The ‘Latin Lions’ and the ‘Dogs of Constantinople’: Immigrant Clubs, Ethnicity, and Racial Hierarchies in Football, 1920–1953,” traces the importance of homogeneity in “explanations of Chile’s stability, democratic tradition, and political pluralism,” and the importance of race, gender, sexuality, and popular culture discourses are woven together with ease (p. 127). Elsey clearly demonstrates how the ideal of a racial homogeneity rests upon exclusion of many migrant communities, several of whom founded popular football clubs. In Chapter Five, “Because We Have Nothing . . .’ The Radicalization of Amateurs and the World Cup of 1962,” the author argues that amateur clubs played a strong role in the radicalization of working-class neighborhoods, as these clubs sought out social benefits through political channels. This chapter clearly delineates the growing connections between amateur footballers and political activism. Chapter Six, “The New Left, Popular Unity, and Football, 1963–1973,” [End Page 161] effectively places the emerging New Left and important youth popular culture in the context of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) government. Technological advancements and prolific advertising shifted and constructed popular identities, and the amateur football clubs played a critical role in determining how politics should influence daily culture. This chapter effectively transitions into the epilogue, which recounts the role of football clubs after Pinochet’s 1973 military coup.

The encouraged civic participation of the Allende era was abruptly ended by the military government, as “the dictatorship correctly identified civic associations such as football clubs as the nexus between leftist labor, politics, and culture” (p. 241). Elsey’s work truly offers a distinctive viewpoint on twentieth-century Chilean life. Its attention to detail in Chilean identity construction places it within the context of Argentine football scholars Pablo Alabarces and Roberto Di Giano, and her political analysis resonates with Harry E. Vanden’s Politics of Latin America (2001). The focus on long-term political influence provides an impressive backdrop...


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