When I began blogging, I expected to write mostly my own personal genealogy (hence the name “Tracing the Tree”) and politics. The idea for the blog grew out of my frustrations with the way the world is moving, and I felt like I needed an outlet to express that frustration. Instead, I have largely written about football. At first glance it is an odd thing for me to write about given that I cannot play at all, I have never seen a live match, and the sport plays practically no role in my life.
On further reflection, writing about football is not the non-sequitor it seems. I have always loved history. My favorite subject in school was history, and I read a lot of books about history. Whenever I become interested in something new, I always try to read about the subject matter’s history. History is the key to understanding the world; without context, one cannot grasp the tremendous implications of the here and now. What else is genealogy but learning one’s own personal history? What else is politics but history in the making?
Thus we come to football. Football is the most popular sport in the world, and the world speaks through the beautiful game. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote the following in his almost poetic book Football in Sun and Shadows:
An astonishing void: official history ignores football. Contemporary history texts fail to mention it, even in passing, in countries where it has been and continues to be a primordial symbol of collective identity. I play therefore I am: a style of play is a way of being that reveals the unique profile of each community and affirms its right to be different.
(p. 209, trans. Mark Fried)
The book is, as is Galeano’s wont, romantic–perhaps overly so. The book is also a love letter to the game and a lament at the way capitalism and industry have destroyed it. (Galeano is also a Marxist, although regardless of your political affiliation, if you love the game, you will love this book.) Football in Sun and Shadow is not an attempt to correct the historians, but it is a recognition that something vital has been overlooked. Because football is the only truly global sport (sorry cricket, tennis, and Olympics) it is a vehicle for the worldwide communication. Tim Vickery have often said that football is a universal language and each nation’s style of play is its own accent. Or as Galeano said, “Tell me how you play, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
In 2004, the journalist Franklin Foer wrote a called How Soccer Explains the World, his attempt to explain the way football interacts with various facets of the modern world. The book is misnamed; football explains nothing. Foer should have called his book How Soccer Reflects The World, a much more accurate sentiment both in his thesis and in reality. Football does not predict national or worldwide trends, but it most certainly mirrors them. The rise of the superclubs could only come about from globalization, and the massive debt crises that some of these clubs have found themselves in over the past two years is fallout from the global recession.
Football microcosms every worldwide phenomenon and has since the beginning: nationalism, totalitarianism, Fascism, elitism, British empire and arrogance, the rise (and fall) of Communism, poverty (and the origin of the player, the fan, the hooligan, and the crime lord), drugs, militarism, gang warfare, Spain as the sick man of Europe, the struggle over Northern Ireland, the political left versus the political right, the rebuilding of Western Europe post-World War II, corporatism, colonialism, racism and integration, homophobia, the Balkan War, the inability of Africa to grow, poor national infrastructure in the underdeveloped world, kleptocracies, oligarchs and oil-garchs, feminism, even American exceptionalism. This is just scratching the surface.
No other sport, indeed no other subject has the breadth and scope of football. The history of football is the history of the modern world.