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Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power Paperback – April 7, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Kuper, a reporter for the Financial Times, delves deeply into the ways that soccer has become intertwined with the politics, philosophies and worldview of most of the planet's population. Originally published in the U.K. in 1994; this updated version includes chapters that refer to more recent events such as 9/11 and the U S. foray into Iraq. Sketching relations between Holland and Germany or Croatia and Serbia, Kuper describes a transglobal culture of fans, managers, players and political leaders engaged not only on the pitch but in the arenas of money, power and influence. Toward the end of this often slang-laden book, Kuper makes some useful observations: "the main allure of soccer to terrorists is the game's global reach." Indeed, Kuper quotes Osama bin Laden's biographer Yossef Bodansky stating that the deadly 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were the direct result of a foiled plan to disrupt the World Cup competition earlier that year. Arresting stuff, but as a whole the appeal will be limited by the microscopic focus on the particulars of a sport whose professional teams haven't yet found mass appeal in the U.S. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1992, Kuper set out to travel the world, looking for case studies to support the thesis in this book's subtitle. He found a former East German who'd been hounded by the Stasi for his love of a West German team, a Slovakian president who made a nationalist statement with troops and truncheons in a soccer stadium, a Ukrainian club that exported nuclear missile parts, and much more. First published in England as Football against the Enemy (1994), this version has been updated (with a new preface, a postscript, and a chapter called "Global Game, Global Jihad") and Americanized (the word soccer substituted for football and occasional American references added). It's an exceedingly interesting book and a good shelf mate for Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World (2004). But while Kuper ably blends travelogue, political research, and social investigation, the material's lack of timeliness limits its effectiveness. And while the examples don't always justify the bold thesis, it's a worthy approach: "Enough has been written about soccer hooligans," he writes. "Other fans are much more dangerous." Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The style a national soccer team brings to the game is also widely thought to be an expression of national character. As Kuper writes, "Soccer is never just soccer. In debating soccer, the Brazilians also debate the kind of country Brazil should be." Presumably, much the same holds true for South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, and most of the other countries whose soccer scene Kuper profiled -- despite the fact that playing styles may change from year to year and manager to manager and that any given country at any particular time may employ a "Brazilian" style while the Brazilians themselves have adopted an entirely different approach.
A handful of dictators surface in the pages of Soccer Against the Enemy, and Kuper treats us to the colorful tales told about their meddling ways. Perhaps one or two of them actually stayed in power for a year or two longer as a result, but their citizens' passion for soccer may just as easily have been a factor in their undoing. It's an exaggeration to claim, as the book's subtitle does so brazenly, that the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power.
Soccer Against the Enemy was originally written in 1992-93, when Kuper traveled the world to investigate the relationship between soccer and politics. Starting out as a 22-year-old fresh out of Oxford, he backpacked his way from one continent to the next, often traveling on buses and second-class trains, staying in cheap hotels and hostels, wearing worn and often torn clothing, and yet somehow managing to secure interviews with many of the soccer world's biggest-name managers, owners, and players.
Kuper successfully illustrates the interrelationship between big-time competitive soccer and the politics of many of the countries where it's taken most seriously. He recognizes, though, that the impact of the sport is limited. "The game is a good way of studying what is going on in repressed societies, but it rarely changes these societies." (So much for that misleading subtitle!)
Kuper clearly wrote the book for readers who were familiar with the leading soccer figures of the day, since Soccer Against the Enemy repeatedly refers, often using nicknames only, to players and managers whose names have long since been forgotten. The Americanized Kindle Edition I read routinely substituted the word "soccer" for the English "football" and included an extra chapter written in 2005 and an afterword along the lines of "Where are they now?" Little else was changed since the early 1990s.
(From Mal Warwick's Blog on Books)
Author Simon Kuper clearly loves the sport and knows it well. He has done a great deal of research on the sport and perhaps more importantly, its fans. His book provides an excellent account of the last 30 or so years of the sport, how it has grown in popularity around the world and how it crosses the boundaries of nationality, politics, race and class. I was especially interested to learn about the influence of the Dutch on the style of play and how their rivalry against Germany in 1988 and 1992 fueled old resentments, and in some cases hatreds, from the Second World War, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands.
The one disappointment I had with this book is that it was reissued in 2010 with a brief update from the author, but the vast majority of the content is from the 1990s, which is when the author did his original research and first published the book using the name "football" in the title rather than the US term "soccer." That in and of itself is fine, except I was expecting to learn more about the game and the influence it has today, rather than a decade ago. In the author's update he explains that globalization has changed the loyalties of fans to the extent that many now support clubs in nations not their own and in fact nations that they have never visited nor have any connection to. I would certainly have liked to understand that shift and its causes, as well as more about the world of soccer as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. This is not the fault of the author so much as the publisher and the way the book is described in its promotional copy here on amazon.
So, bottom line from a new soccer fan: This is a very well-written, superior book about the recent history of the sport but if you are looking for something that puts soccer in the context of the world as it is today, you will probably have to look elsewhere. I think I will read either Soccernomics or How Soccer Explains the World to get a more contemporary view.
That being said, the stories are very entertaining. Some more than others.
I wonder what Simon Kuper would say looking back on it (20 years later) now that he is a respected soccer journalist. I would not be surprised if he agrees with part of my sentiment as I do think it feels a little bit like a younger writer finding his voice.
That is all I have to say, if you are interested in Soccer (Football), definitely pick it up. I would recommend How Soccer Explains the World much more though.
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