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How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

3.9 51
by Franklin Foer

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Soccer is much more than a game, or even a way of life. It's a perfect window into the crosscurrents of today's world, with all its joys and sorrows. In this remarkably insightful, wide-ranging work of reportage, Franklin Foer takes us on a surprising tour through the world of soccer, shining a spotlight on the clash of civilizations, the international economy, and


Soccer is much more than a game, or even a way of life. It's a perfect window into the crosscurrents of today's world, with all its joys and sorrows. In this remarkably insightful, wide-ranging work of reportage, Franklin Foer takes us on a surprising tour through the world of soccer, shining a spotlight on the clash of civilizations, the international economy, and just about everything in between. How Soccer Explains the World is an utterly original book that makes sense of our troubled times.

Editorial Reviews

Most journalists researching globalization spend their time at posh international conferences; the New Republic's Frank Foer does his legwork in working class bars and soccer stadiums. This hands-on journalist argues that soccer can be viewed as a lens into the new global age, exposing societal fault lines in nations from Brazil to Bosnia, from Ireland to Iran. Many of Foer's conclusions are counterintuitive: He claims, for example, that globalization has revived tribalism and entrenched corruption.
Publishers Weekly
Foer, a New Republic editor, scores a game-winning goal with this analysis of the interchange between soccer and the new global economy. The subtitle is a bit misleading, though: he doesn't really use soccer to develop a theory; instead, he focuses on how examining soccer in different countries allows us to understand how international forces affect politics and life around the globe. The book is full of colorful reporting, strong characters and insightful analysis: In one of the most compelling chapters, Foer shows how a soccer thug in Serbia helped to organize troops who committed atrocities in the Balkan War-by the end of the war, the thug's men, with the acquiescence of Serbian leaders, had killed at least 2,000 Croats and Bosnians. Then he bought his own soccer club and, before he was gunned down in 2000, intimidated other teams into losing. Most of the stories aren't as gruesome, but they're equally fascinating. The crude hatred, racism and anti-Semitism on display in many soccer stadiums is simply amazing, and Foer offers context for them, including how current economic conditions are affecting these manifestations. In Scotland, the management of some teams have kept religious hatreds alive in order to sell tickets and team merchandise. But Foer, a diehard soccer enthusiast, is no anti-globalist. In Iran, for example, he depicts how soccer works as a modernizing force: thousands of women forced police to allow them into a men's-only stadium to celebrate the national team's triumph in an international match. One doesn't have to be a soccer fan to truly appreciate this absorbing book. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The ironic title is certainly audacious, but this book does not disappoint even though it fails to deliver on the full potential of what it promises. Interestingly, the truth freelancer Foer most helpfully finds in soccer is not globalization but its older and sometimes murderously persistent converse, nationalism, as engrossing chapters on professional teams in Serbia, Italy, and Spain and the commercialization of English hooliganism show in complex detail. Foer's look at the religious and ethnic sectarianism behind rival Glasgow football clubs should be required reading for stateside Irvine Welsh devotees. Indeed, except for a history of an interwar Jewish team based in Vienna, which saps some of the book's narrative energy, each chapter is a small journalistic masterpiece. That each can stand on its own is partly a drawback, for the book lacks the sustained, treatise-like argument that such a title would need were it more manifestly earnest. Written for open-minded but soccer-indifferent American readers, this book is recommended for all public and academic libraries. Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A novel look at how the world is everywhere becoming more alike, and everywhere more different, as people seek to define themselves through football. "I suck at soccer," young New Republic staffer Foer offers by way of an opening. And why not? He's an American, and Americans see soccer-what the rest of the world calls "football"-differently. Where in Italy or Brazil or Kenya, say, it's a working-class sport laden with working-class aspirations, in the US it's inverted: "Here, aside from Latino immigrants, the professional classes follow the game most avidly and the working class couldn't give a toss about it." Yet everywhere the game is politicized as none other: In the US, "soccer moms" are alternately reviled and courted while reactionary politicos insist that soccer is fundamentally un-American (and probably socialist, too, as Jack Kemp once urged). In Scotland, Foer writes, the game affords a screen behind which to play out fantastic anti-Catholic hatreds. (Glasgow, Foer brightly adds, provides a fine rebuttal to the capitalist theory that "once a society becomes economically advanced, it becomes politically advanced-liberal, tolerant, democratic.") In the heart of the former Yugoslavia, where the soccer hooligans are so tough that they regularly beat up their own teams, professional football has provided shibboleths by which to separate and massacre Croats, Bosnians, Slovenians, and other non-Serbian types. In Spain, football arenas still resound with echoes of the civil war of the 1930s. In the Middle East, the game provides a means of expressing anti-fundamentalist sentiment. And so on. One day soccer/football will be played everywhere, Foer hints, and fans in Benin and Burlingtonwill cheer players in Belgrade and Botswana; but in each place, even as the sport remakes the planet, those big and little cultural differences will remain, perhaps some day to provoke future wars, revolutions, or renaissances. Though the globalism thread sometimes disappears, the author is unfailingly interesting. Lively and provocative-even for those who just don't get what FIFA is all about. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn/Sagalyn Literary Agency

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HarperCollins Publishers
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How Soccer Explains the World

An Unlikely Theory of Globalization
By Foer, Franklin

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 0066212340

Chapter One

How Soccer Explains
the Gangster's Paradise

Red Star Belgrade is the most beloved, most successful soccer team in Serbia. Like nearly every club in Europe and Latin America, it has a following of unruly fans capable of terrific violence. But at Red Star the violent fans occupy a place of honor, and more than that. They meet with club officials to streamline the organizational flow chart of their gangs. Their leaders receive stipends. And as part of this package, they have access to office space in the team's headquarters in the uppermiddle- class neighborhood of Topcider.

The gangs have influence, in large measure, because they've won it with intimidation. A few months before I arrived in Belgrade to learn about the club's complicity in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Red Star fan clubs had burst into the team's training session. With bats, bars, and other bludgeons, they beat three of their own players. After their havoc, they aren't typically shy about advertising their accomplishments. In this instance, the hooligans told reporters bluntly that they could "no longer tolerate lack of commitment on the pitch." It took only one phone call to organize an interview with a handful of them in their first-floor meeting room at the Red Star headquarters.

The Belgrade neighborhood around Red Star is cartoonishly ominous. An enormous gaggle of crows resides on the stadium's roof. When goals are scored and the crowd erupts, the birds flee -- across town, it's possible to gauge the results of a game based on presence or absence of an ornithological cloud above the skyline. On the other side of the street from the stadium, the family of Arkan, the most notorious warlord and gangster in Serb history, lives in a castle he constructed, a nouveau riche monstrosity with tiers of towers and turrets. When I loiter near the house for too long, a large man in a leather jacket emerges and inquires about my business. Because of the atrocities committed by Arkan's men, I describe myself as a lost tourist, nervously ask him for directions, and walk away briskly. On the evening of my visit, the sky is gunmetal.

My translator had arranged for me to meet with Draza, a leader of a Red Star fan club that calls itself the Ultra Bad Boys. He had persuaded him with the overblown promise that an interview would bring glory unto the club and world renown unto the achievements of the Red Star fans. Six of Draza's loquacious colleagues join him. At first glance, the Bad Boys look entirely unworthy of the first part of their name and too worthy of the second. Aside from the big red tattoos of their gang name on their calves, they seem like relatively upstanding young men. Draza wears a fleece jacket and chinos. His head of overgrown yet obviously manicured hair has the aura of a freshman philosophy student. As it turns out, he is a college student, swamped with preparations for exams. His comrades aren't any more menacing. One of them has a bowl haircut, a pudgy face, and an oversized ski parka that he never removes -- he looks like the kind of guy who's been shoved into his fair share of lockers.

Perhaps to increase their credibility, the Bad Boys have brought along a gray-haired man called Krle, who wears a ratty black San Antonio Spurs jacket. Krle's sinewy frame gives the impression that he fills his leisure time with pull-ups on a door frame in his flat. Many years of living a hooligan life have aged him prematurely. (When I ask his age and occupation, he changes the subject.) Unlike the naïve enthusiasm exhibited by the teens, who greet me warmly, Krle blares indifference. He tells my translator that he has only joined our interview because Draza insisted. His one gesture of bonhomie is to continually pour me warm Serbian beer from a plastic bottle. After I taste the beer, it hardly seems like such a friendly gesture. But because of his angry gray eyes, I find myself drinking glass after glass.

Krle serves as senior advisor to the group, a mentor to the aspiring hooligans. Putting aside his intense glare and unfriendly demeanor, I was actually glad for his presence. My interest in Red Star centers on the 1990s, his heyday as thug, when the fan clubs played a pivotal role in the revival of Serbian nationalism -- the idea that the Serbs are eternal victims of history who must fight to preserve a shred of their dignity. With little prodding, Draza speaks openly about the connections. Unfortunately, his monologue doesn't last long. Exerting his authority with volatile glances and brusque interruptions, Krle seizes control of the conversation. He answers questions curtly.

"Who do you hate most?"

A pause for a few seconds' worth of consideration. "A Croatian, a cop: it doesn't make a difference. I'd kill them all."

"What's your preferred method for beating a guy?"

"Metal bars, a special kick that breaks a leg, when a guy's not noticing." He sharply stomps down a leg, an obviously well-practiced move.

Because the beer has kicked in, I try to get closer to the reason for my visit. "I noticed that you call Arkan 'commandant.' Could you tell me a little more about how he organized the fans?"

His look is one of deep offense and then unmitigated fury. Even before the translation comes, his meaning is clear. "I shouldn't be answering your questions. You're an American. And your country bombed us. You killed good Serb men."

As good a reason as any to redirect the conversation to another topic. In an aside to my translator, which he didn't tell me about until after our interview, Krle announces, "If I met this American asshole on the street, I'd beat the shit out of him." Krle then drops out of the conversation. At first, he stands impatiently on the far side of the room ...


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Meet the Author

Franklin Foer is the editor of The New Republic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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How Soccer Explains the World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is not a story of globalization. This isn't "Tom Friedman on soccer". I was very disappointed that this book chose to focus on all the negative aspects of the game around the world and missed the opportunity to talk about so many other soccer stories. Way too much on hooliganism. The book started to hit a stride on the story of Brazil and Nigeria, but just never brought it together. I kept looking for a common theme or something to tie these stories together, to tell a story of globalization, but it just never came. If you're looking for a summary of all the negative sides of soccer (dirty owners, criminal fans, etc) you might enjoy this read. If you're looking for a book that explores sport & globalization, you will be sorely disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a awesome book about soccer and the ties to other issues in the world. Also how America is scared of soccer, this is why America doesn't accept that soccer is the greatest game in the world. It also covers racial issues and the battle of religion even in the game. I encourage anyone to read this book. I am not a big fan of reading and dislike it for the most part but I really enjoyed this book. Even if you aren't a soccer fan, this is still a good book for you because it addresses many other issues in the world and Foer has many very interesting stories about his own experiences. All readers should really enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author is not a good writer. This book was entertainig but not the least bit educational. His references as to how soccer changed the world make no sense and did in no way back them up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a beautiful description of how soccer affects the world. I would totally recommend this to any true soccer fan.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It contained history, exploration of present issues, some amazing stories. But to me, it seemed too specific and yet somehow impersonal? I came away feeling I had learned a lot, but that it was colder than other such (less insightful) accounts.
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Jambosrule More than 1 year ago
Let me start out by saying I am one of those conservitive "troglodytes" that Foer describes in work, so this review might be somewhat skewed, but being a real football supporter, I did enjoy the depth in which he described his stories. I did not see any connection in terms of globalization other then football is enjoyed in all parts of the world for generations. What I think the readers will enjoy is the way Foer goes into detail about the aspects of the game he covers. For example, I am aware that the Brazilian game is full of corruption, but the book describes the detail the ins and outs, both past and present. One could argue Foer's conclusions with his observations (given the state of Scottish Football, I would think that the hatred of the Old Firm would be holding them back, not sustaining them) but still the book is very interesting. So much so that this conservitive boor will be buying a Real Madrid jersey as soon as he can!
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