Thursday, June 08, 2006

World Cup Stuff (BookBlog #10)

Highly recomended: "The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup" - a collection of essays based (ratehr loosely) on the soccer teams of the 32 participants. The amount of actual soccer content varies greatly, but a good, quick read. My favorite pieces being Nick Hornby's feelings as more of an Arsenal supporter (wanker) than an England fan, as well Tim Parks's surprisingly moving eulogy for his Italian father-in-law.

But in particular, I wanted to highlight two passages. The first could well have been written by a cranky Floridian as to why soccer is for commies (and in fact, see here et seq for just that). From Dave Eggers's entry from the United States:
The abandonment of soccer is attributable, in part, to the fact that people of influence in America long believed that soccer was the chosen sport of Communists. When I was thirteen - this was 1983, long before glasnost, let alone the fall of the wall - I had a gym teacher, whom for now we'll call Moron McCheeby, who made a very compelling link between soccer and the architects of the Iron Curtain. I remember once asking him why there were no days of soccer in his gym units. Hi8s face darkened. He took me aside. He explained with quivering, barely mastered rage, the he preferred decent, honest American sports where you used your hands. Sports where one's hands were not used, he said, were commies sports played by Russians, Poles, Germans and other commies. To use one's hands in sports was American, to use one's feet was the purview of the followers of Marx and Lenin. I believe McCheeby went on to lecture widely on the subject.
So why then is soccer popular, and why do I love it so? Well, because it's hard. From John Lanchester's essay on Brazil (who else?):
That's what you learn, as soon as you start to play and watch football: that football is difficult and beautiful, and that the two are related. Players kick the ball to one another, pass into empty space which is suddenly filled by a player who wasn't there two seconds ago and who is running at full pelt and who without looking or breaking strike knocks the ball back to a third player who he surely can't have seen who then, also at full pelt and without breaking strike, crosses the ball at sixty miles an hour to land on the head of a fourth player who has run seventy meters to get there and who, again, all in stride, jumps and heads the ball with, once you realize how hard this is, unbelievable power and accuracy toward a corner of the goal just exactly where the goalkeeper, executing some complex physics without conscious though and through muscle-memory, has expected it to be, so that all this grace and speed and muscle and athleticism and attention to detail and power and precision passion comes to nothing, will never appear on a score-sheet or match report and will likely be forgotten a day later by everybody who saw it or took part in it. This is the beauty and also the strange fragility, the evanescence of football.
And exhale.

As an aside, why is the most 'literary' sports about either baseball of 'football'? My theory is downtime. In baseball, for the majority of the game nothing is happening. Literally. In a soccer match, there are often long stretches where nothing happens, figuratively. There's also an element of unreason and the supernatural about both games. In baseball, it manifests as superstition and numerology (as well as the extreme misuse of statistics as evaluative tools). In soccer, without all those numbers we here about 'magic' and 'inspiration' - top players getting such nicknames as La Brujita ("the little witch" aka former Argentine international Juan Sebastian Veron) or O Phenomeno (Ronaldo, simply "the phenomenon.")

If you can't tell, I'm massively fired up for the World Cup, so allow me to direct your attention first here for some YooTubish greatness featuring Ronaldihno and the boys from Brazil, here for TNR's intellectualist approach the proceedings, and here for Bill's month of all World Cup, all the time.

Oh, and predicitions -

Advancing to knockout rounds
Costa Rica
Czech Republic (simply too good for us, assuming Nedved plays)
Italy (We lose 1-0 in a game that looks pretty much just like the QF loss to Germany in 0-2, but with our opponents gesticulating a bout more expansively and flopping a bit more liberally. I hate the Italian national team...)

Round 2
England over Germany (Roooonaldo returns)
Argentina over Mexico
Czech over Oz
France over Spain
Sweden over Costa Rica
Portugal over Netherlands
Brazil over Italy
Korea over Ukraine

Round 3
England over Argentina (slaying old ghosts, one at a time...)
Czechs over France
Portugal over Sweden
Brazil over Korea


England over Czech
Brazil over Portugal in the game of the tourney

Engerland...on penalties no less.

I'm clearly delusional.


Jake said...

But where does the phrase "at full pelt" come from?

Also, this was coincidental but I wrote something in the comments at Achenblog today on the very baseball/soccer comparison: scroll to 10:18am.

Icepick said...

So why then is soccer popular, and why do I love it so? Well, because it's hard.

So, you're a chess player, then!

bill said...

Interesting. has Egger's essay up. While the soccer=communism was interesting, overall the whole essay was so sloppy it completely put me off looking at the rest of the book.

bill said...

I could accept USA losing to Italy if, after an Italian player does a Louganis, the US player just flat out punches him in the face. Blood, broken nose, spitting out teeth...

Seriously, someone needs to literally beat the crap out of them.