Culture of Soccer Week 4 (Futbol/Futebol: The Politics of Fun in Latin America)

For week 4 of the class, our assignments examined elements from the game in South America, including the rise of the Brazilian National Team after failing in 1950; the fusion of politics and football in Argentina via the Barras Bravas; and wonderful stories of the Uruguyan teams in the 30’s and 50’s.

Week 4 Readings:

Hers is my full post for the class blog:

On the topic of South American futbol, there were three very different readings assigned this week.

Tony Mason’s chapter on Pele was unorganized but insightful.  From the outset, Maradona is mentioned with a snippet included from Le Monde (77).  Why? The title of section is The Reign of Pele.  Then in the author’s account of the 1954 World Cup he starts with the semi-final instead of the quarter final (82-83).  After taking readers all the way through the 1958 World Cup, Mason then retraces Pele’s origins (86-88), including his rise to Santos and his many achievements at the club.  The author ends the chapter with a cursory comparison with Maradona (94-95), which surely deserved its own chapter and much more depth.  Despite all that, Mason provides interesting tidbits that usually escape the World Cup summaries I have read to this point.  For instance, at home for the 1950 World Cup, there was a chance that Brazil would not even make it out of its opening group (78), potentially more devastating than losing the Final, but a victory over Yugoslavia put the hosts through.  Mason goes into great detail about the brutal calendar that Pele and Santos had to maintain during their peak, playing over 1200 games in 14 years (87-89), numbers that seem incomprehensible today.  Finally, there were anecdotes about Pele’s reception worldwide as his fame grew (92-93), serving as templates for today’s celebrity creating society covered by 24/7 cable news networks.

In contrast Duke and Crolley covered a lot of ground in a highly organized chapter on the development of futbol in Argentina.  The authors expanded on two main topics—the relationship between futbol and politics and the maturity of sport in the country.  In our week two readings, we learned that clubs in England were formed typically around workplaces, churches or pubs, and there was a sense of local pride. Similarly in Argentina, as the immigrants and natives took over the game from the English who brought it to the region, clubs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries centered around the barrios or neighborhoods and “played an important role in the social and political life of the barrio where they were based” (97).  Fan culture eventually rose around these clubs, and I was struck by the nature and power of the Barras Bravas.  For years I have heard Tim Vickery talk about these groups on the World Football Phone In, but reading these pages (107-114), I was stunned to discover the depth of their influence.  Whereas last week we read about acts of violence by English hooligans before, during and after matches, violence that seemed to rise from economic and class conditions, the Barras Bravas not only did this but went further, acting as political agents for presidents or officials (108), committing covert activities for the club (109), and impacting player performance of the club that the fans are supporter (111).

Finally, Galeano’s book is simply one of the best soccer books I have ever read.  The pages were not an assignment but rather a treat, as the Uruguayan’s prose entertained, informs and inspires.  Reading the passages it was impossible to take notes because I was drawn into the fantasy and wonder of the moments he describes such as the ringlets, summaries of the 1930 and 1950 World Cups, and the player Obdulio.  There is something almost mystical about his prose—religious, supernatural, unattainable—which puts it into stark contrast today of modern writing, full of stats and greatest ever moments and constant analysis.


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