- The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game by Michael Agovino
For a present-day cricket fan who has unlimited access to his favorite sport in Switzerland through web contents and free streaming, it is at once difficult to imagine and illuminating to read an American’s experience as a soccer fan at a time when most of the latter’s countrymen admittedly considered the sport “a punch line, [made fun of as] foreign, less than masculine, possibly communist” (xiv). Not only did Michael Agovino manage to adhere to his passion, but he helped form a community of soccer fans through his writings. Imaginatively divided into three sections, namely, “The Dark Ages,” “The Renaissance,” and “The Enlightenment,” this memoir narrates the story of his journey, which started with watching the 1982 World Cup on Spanish International Network, grew as he began playing, and culminated in his career as a soccer writer. It is presumptuous to compare an individual’s coming of age as a soccer fan with the controversial periodization of the Western civilization’s progress toward modernity. However, Agovino redeems himself with a gripping narrative of the games he watched at the stadium or on television (and films, too), offering insights into the growth of soccer’s popularity in America.
Agovino missed watching Pele’s Cosmos in the heyday of the North American Soccer League, which would have been a valuable addition to the book. Small fan groups, consisting mainly of immigrants, were always present, but the lack of adequate coverage given to soccer kept the sport at the margins. Fans attended the occasional exhibition matches in which famous stars often took part. Otherwise, they had to satisfy themselves by reading books [End Page 236] and magazines and watching VHS tapes. The book is an interesting exposition of how one made sense of a sport that was not part of the national sporting culture. America may have become possibly the best English-speaking soccer nation, having made it to the round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup. Its team’s match against Portugal was the most-watched soccer event in American history. Yet surveys have pointed out that the tournament was popular mainly among the educated upper middle class, something that Agovino had noticed while attending pub events way back during the 1996 Euro Cup, while only 3 percent of white non-Hispanic Americans admitted their affection for soccer (see Daniel Fox, “Is Soccer Destined to Become America’s National Pastime?” at the Huffington Post, February 6, 2014). Journalists have blamed this lack of interest on the people’s preoccupation with aggressive, result-oriented play, which soccer often fails to deliver when compared to rugby football and basketball, as Michael Mandelbaum has shown in his 2004 book The Meaning of Sports. Such formulations are contentious and overdetermined by short-term newspaper poll results. The media play a crucial role in popularizing a sport by publishing interesting and thought-provoking reports regularly. The American press evidently was not helpful; Agovino noted and corrected numerous factual blunders published in a major newspaper. He was certainly part of an exceptional group, which overcame the inadequate knowledge-transmission system through tenacious passion. His conversation with Tom, a Fulham supporter from England who was shaken by his new American acquaintance’s knowledge of soccer, illustrates further this exceptional stature. However, Agovino’s brand of fandom was notably intellectual, manifest in the pleasure he derived from reading an essay in Tate Magazine in which Louis Althusser and Jacques Derrida were reported to have been soccer fans.
Soccer fandom picked up in intensity somewhat during the 1994 World Cup. Fans in America ceased to be as starved of knowledge as they had been in past years because the media started taking more interest in soccer. Having graduated from New York University, Agovino took up journalism and also started to watch matches involving the biggest club and national teams at different venues across Europe. His narrative, however, becomes more personal at...