Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Is Soccer an Adequate Metaphor for the World?

Yes, I'm a freak. But you already knew that. What you may not have known is the depth of my freakishness.

I am a soccer fan.

Scared? See - I told you so.

I'm not exactly sure when and how it started. It certainly wasn't when I was a kid. As a child, I played soccer (this was before the youth soccer craze that swept the country, but there were still quite a few players) and enjoyed it as a game, though I never seriously got into it - and certainly not as a spectator sport. I was a bit too young during the glory years of the old NASL and about the only pro soccer you could watch when I was a child was the old MISL indoor league, which was only barely soccer. Besides...I got kinda turned off when my coach wanted me to play defenseman instead of one of the attacking positions - I was convinced I was much better than that. No, my fascination with soccer seems to have begun around the time of the 1990 World Cup (in Italy, the first the USA qualified for in some time) and then built very slowly until by the time I was out of college, I was pretty hooked. It isn't anywhere near to my love of baseball and hockey, but it is a passion. I have teams I root for (Arsenal in England, Berlin in Germany, SK Rapid in Vienna, DC United here in the States) and against (Manchester United, Spurs, Bayern Munich, the Mexican National Team). Its fun. Very watchable on television, though...like hockey...much better live. And something to stir passions and nationalism in me.

That having been said, I came across a pair of interesting reviews of a new book on soccer and globalization. Both the Boston Herald and Newsday have reviews of Franklin Foer's book on global soccer and how it can be seen as a metaphor or example of the way globalization is working (or not, as the case may be). I'm interested in reading this - I've already added it to my Amazon.com wish list. I'd disagree with the Herald reviewer's statement that Nick Hornby "kicked off the genre" of soccer as sociology, in that Fever Pitch is a very personal book. Hornby isn't trying to explain the world - he's trying to explain himself and his own obsession with the game...how it became unhealthy and counterproductive over time. That said, Eric Weinberger picks something out of the text (in his Herald review) that was quite an eye-opener for myself as well:

Actually, Foer's most important point, buried near the end, concerns American soccer-hating types who fear that soccer is something like those UN black helicopters, an underhanded means of getting the United States to sign on to the one-world agenda. These American "exceptionalists," Foer writes, think the United States "should be above submitting to international laws and bodies." To them "soccer isn't exactly pernicious, but it's a symbol of the US junking its tradition." Who would have thought that soccer could so cleanly explain even those who refuse to play it?

I've always wondered about that, to be honest. Now, Newsday's review is less lauditory than Weinberger's in the Herald, but, I think Creswell is overlooking some things that may simply be difficult to understand outside of the countries where the problems exist. Didn't make me want to read it less, though.


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