Posts Tagged ‘ Culture of Soccer ’

MatchDay Memory–Summer 2013 Part Three: Reading

Last summer I read a lot of soccer books, but this summer I read a lot for a class rather than pure enjoyment.  To be clear the class I took, ISS 328 Culture of Soccer, was quite enjoyable.  The online course through Michigan State University took students through the history of the game, from historic games involving a ball of any kind right up to today and the increased commercialization the game faces at club and international level.  Most of the class interactions and all of my contributions can be found at my Culture of Soccer page, and I welcome any feedback or thoughts.

As a result of my learning about the South Africa World Cup, I checked out Mandela: The Authorized Biography by Anthony Sampson.  I vaguely remember the South African leader being released from prison and the book was a fascinating account of perseverance, forgiveness, vision and strength.

The only footy book I was able to read was the Biography of Manchester United. (Complete review here) Although the book was quite biased, I found great insight into the club from near financial ruin to its emergence as of Europe’s great club powers.

As for another club I follow, FC Barcelona, there was the sad news about the resignation of Tito Vilanova due to illness.  Gerardo Martino was summoned from Argentina to attempt to keep the Blaugrana machine rolling.  I spent some time trying to learn all I could about new FCB coach:  Olly Dawes on possible tactics; Lee Roden on key facts about new coach; Graham Hunter discussed Messi’s impact on the signing; and Joe Jessup on the manager’s playing and managerial history.

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Culture of Soccer Final Essay (Emotional Impact on Soccer Culture)

Our second essay question and my response:

Drawing on relevant course readings, write an essay that critically evaluates at least four different ways in which individual and collective emotions shaped, and continue to shape, the culture of soccer around the world.

The game of football impacts different people in a multitude of ways.  For some it is a living, others a way out.  For some the game is joy, others despair.  To still others the game is merely a diversion while for some it is an obsession.  The game has power and the assigned readings explored many facets of how a simple game can affect individuals, groups and even countries.

As the European Championships and World Cups are awarded to areas of the world where soccer has not reached the level passion and infrastructure in others, there is the opportunity for special moments of awareness, healing and hope.  FIFA assigned the World Cup to the United States in 1994, a region of the world considered the backwater of the footballing landscape.  After record setting attendances, the legacy of the tournament was the formation of a professional league, an improving National Team and a growing interest in the game around the world.  The World Cup is going to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, which are regions for further spread of the soccer gospel.

The book Africa’s World Cup focused on the events surrounding South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup.  Examining events on the ground and abroad from a variety of perspectives, the selections gave real insight into how the month long event impacted the locals, the visitors and the participating teams.  Focusing on Roberts and Bass’ chapter, the atmosphere at Durban was a microcosm for events in the country.

Despite a complex series of factors operating in and around the event, the authors said that “the success of the World Cup in Durban was largely the result of Durbanites choosing to engage in public spaces with diverse people at unusual times of the day” (Alegi Bolsmann 50).  Local fans, unfortunately priced out of attending games at the new and renovated stadia, were drawn to fan zones, which “brought locals and fans in new and unusual ways” (Alegi Bolsmann 42).  Although these areas were FIFA controlled, “the public viewing areas in greater Durban had a different texture that seemed slightly more organic than the highly corporate and exclusive stadium experience” (Alegi Bolsmann 44).  The long term outcome remains to be seen, but there is hope that the “urban identity of the city is made and remade through a diversity of individual and collective experiences” (Alegi Bolsmann 48).  Providing fans a central area to assemble provided a sense of hope in healing the country and the continent.

Simon Adetona Akindes’ chapter examined macro patterns in the game that we have studied for the class through a personal prism.  In other readings and assignments, we learned about the political aspect of the game, such as the Italian hosts of 1934 (Goldblatt Section II), the West German victory of 1954 (Goldblatt Secttion I), and the Argentinean junta who ran the 1978 World Cup (Duke Crolley 113).  For the 2010 World Cup, Africans had to confront the apartheid past and look ahead to a better future, so Akindes travelled to South Africa hoping to participate in a “new dawn” (Alegi Bolsmann 120).

There is also a societal element to the beautiful game.  The results of matches impact countries and large fan bases, but in the end each individual experiences the game.  From fan zones to millions of people watching on TV, support in large groups helps fuel the game and atmosphere.  For Akindes, the tournament offered a chance to deepen the bond with his son, to not only pass on the game of football, but to provide “an opportunity for my son to experience a different part of Africa, a richly diverse continent of nearly one billion people living in more than fifty nations and speaking more than two thousand languages” (Alegi Bolsmann 121).

Finally, the nature of the supporter and how that supporter expresses his love for this game was addressed.  Throughout the class we discovered ultras, barras bravas and supporters groups from around the world, gatherings of people with passionate, and sometimes violent, support of their team.  The term situational support was used by Akindes as he described why he would root for one country over another.  He felt this ever-changing support was not only natural but revelatory—“Situational support reveals various aspects of one’s individual identity and sense of collective belonging but not their messy totality” (Alegi Bolsmann 125).

But why do we follow the game?  Bromberger addresses this in his article, which was one of my favorite of the entire class.  Starting with the question—What is the point of taking an interest in the apparently futile game of football?—he proceeds to examine fans’ engagement with the game on sociological, sporting and religious terms.  I encounter this last aspect from time to time attending soccer matches.  For instance, Le Rouge, the supporters of DCFC, illustrate what Bromberger identifies as “the sequential framework of the match” (Bromberger 308).  For each home match, the most ardent supporters follow a fixed pattern—meet at Harry’s Bar for a drink and chat, march to the game complete with flags, songs and banners, cheer the team on and then meet at a designated bar afterwards to break down the match.

These rituals are examples of “the ways which loyalty, support and identification are built up” (Bromberger 303).  The more an individual supporter goes, the more that supporter is inclined to go.  The more individuals that assemble, the greater the size of the group.  The greater the group, the more attention is garnered.  This increased attention impacts the players, the opponents, and other fans—for, against or neutral.  In a short time, this supporters group has created an atmosphere and culture that is unique and recognizable.  Individual fans, hungry to support futbol, have organized a larger group that allows a fervent, vocal and identifiable culture.  Media outlets are noticing and their influence on Metro Detroit soccer culture and American soccer culture at large continues to grow.

Another question that can be asked is, What makes the perfect match?  Depends on the point of view—coach, fans, players.  Depends on what you want out of a game—goals, emotional variance, the game as art.  There is no one answer, which is another way fans, both collectively and individually experience the game.  Bromberger records that “the Brazilian style of play sets a high value on the art of the feint” which is an insight into Brazilian society (Bromberger 303).  He also states that the industrial world stressed “team work, solidarity, division of labour and collective planning” (Bromberger 296).  In commentary on Italian calcio, teams sometimes have a mentality of entering into a match with one point which they do not want to lose.  But what about those fans that want to enjoy the “beau jeu” described by Harpham (Alegi Bolsmann 89)?

Nick Hornby makes brief forays into the nature of supporter several times in Fever Pitch.  Focusing on matchday ritual and game elements (Hornby 51), he articulates his sense of the ideal game.  Later in the book he defines his criteria for a memorable match.  Again an individual’s perception of what is needed from a game, both sporting and emotionally, can be expressed in as many ways as there are fans of the game.

Taking Hornby’s conditions for a memorable match, namely “goals, a noisy crowd, opposition missing a penalty, member of opposition team receives a red card, and some of kind of disgraceful incident” (Hornby 235-237), and linking them to the 2010 World Cup, examine the Ghana v Uruguay quarterfinal David Patrick Lane states, “Suarez epitomized selflessness, surrendering himself for the team” (Alegi Bolsmann 143). The ensuing penalty gave Ghana a chance to advance, with Africa, on home soil, literally 12 yards away from their first semi-finalist, but the chance went begging.  However, a continent divided by economics, ethnicities and races became united, even for a brief moment.  The power of sport.

Despite the advancing corporate control of the game and the stunning athleticism of footballers, fans make this game what it is. Several of the authors touched on this throughout the readings.  In terms of the World Cup, Mark Perryman stressed that his group “declared at every opportunity that the World Cup is not owned by FIFA but belongs to the people” (Alegi Bolsmann 160-161).  At club level, Goldblatt stated that “what breathes life into the sparse institutional shell of a team is the collective emotional investment of its fans and supporters.  The people who have decided that, for whatever reason, the historical legacy of a club and its contemporary narratives of winning and losing really mean something” (Goldblatt Section I).  Supporters continue to influence the game in unique and unexpected ways, and one must never lose sight of their impact at a personal, local, continental and global level.

Culture of Soccer Week 7 (Men’s and Women’s Soccer in the USA) Final Essay

For week 7 of the class, our assignments focused on the development of both the men’s and women’s game in the United States.  The game moved from ethnic gatherings to the mainstream in the 20th century and culminated with the hosting of the World Cup and establishment of another domestic league. The women have been at the forefront of women’s soccer, espeically at the international level but have found maintaining a viable league a much harder propsition.  We did not have to comment on the assignment for the class blog.  Instead, one of our final essay questions addressed these topics.

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Week 7 Readings:

Matthew Struttner, Charles Parrish, John Nauright, “Making Soccer ‘Major League’ in the USA and Beyond: Major League Soccer’s First Decade

Gary Hopkins, “The ‘Business’ of Youth Soccer,” in Star-Spangled Soccer (2010), pp. 218-232

Gwendolyn Oxenham, “Brincadeira: The Fearless Joy of futbol feminino in Brazil,” XI Quarterly1, 2 (2012): 36-49

Sam Borden, “A U.S. Soccer Star’s Declaration of Independence,” New York Times, April 10, 2013

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Here is the Final Question and my answer for this material:

Using course materials, write an essay that discusses three key factors fueling this recent growth in popularity and then identifies the two main challenges to long-term development of soccer in this country.

The Beautiful Game in the United States has come a long way in the last 25 years.  With the qualification for the 1990 World Cup, the hosting of the 1994 World Cup and the establishment of a domestic league, the game seems primed to be a permanent part of the American sporting landscape for the foreseeable future.  Several factors have contributed to the rise of the game, yet soccer in America faces many challenges in the future.

The NASL folded in 1984 and, while this created another vacuum in the professional game, youth and college soccer grew exponentially and moved the game to closer to the mainstream (Alegi video 7).  According to Gary Hopkins, “Participation has leveled off at an impressive 16-17 million players per year” (Hopkins 218), which makes it one of the top three youth participation sports (Hopkins 229).  The growth and development of youth soccer has created a pipeline of players for the college, semi-pro and professional level, and these young players are part of the fan base for the MLS and National Team support.

Speaking of the MLS, the league kicked off their 18th season in March of 2013 and the word being bandied about was stability.  Learning lessons from the failure of the NASL—over expansion,  poor media coverage, lack of television coverage and a lack of soccer specific stadiums (Alegi video 7)—the league adopted a single entity structure and divided the financial contribution of the owner-investors (Struttner, Parrish, Nauright 3-4).  But not everything has been perfect for the league.  Contraction of teams and a lack of a broad television presence were early concerns.  Expansion efforts since the early 2000’s have been well executed and have expanded the geographic and media scope of the league, with the Pacific Northwest and Canada bringing different elements of the game.  In terms of television “local and regional media outlets increasingly carried matches” and rights were sold to NBC for the 2012 campaign (Struttner, Parrish, Nauright 12).

Other key assets of the league have been a passionate supporter culture and soccer specific stadia.  In grounds around the country, supporters are organizing and showing up to games with a fervor not seen in this country before. Tifos, chants, and flags dominate supporter sections, creating palpable advantages for home teams and establishing an atmosphere that is something to behold.  This has been aided by smaller, compact stadia built over the years.  Starting with the Columbus Crew at the turn of the century, 14 of the 19 MLS teams have a soccer only home (Alegi video 7), and these structures have led to the league overcoming some of the shortcomings of American football stadiums (Struttner, Parrish, Nauright 5).

Finally, soccer is growing in this country because fans have more access to the game.  The US is developing a soccer pyramid that, while not integrated, brings the game to more people.  Smaller semi-pro teams give fans outside major media markets a taste of live futbol.  Visit Cass Tech for a Detroit City Football Club game to experience a true match day, complete with a march to the game, fervent supporters and even hokey halftime contests.  Not only can fans engage the game in person, but, due to rapid developments in internet technology and financial investments in television contracts, matches can be seen from all over the world all weekend long.  Gone are the days of mere highlight packages and brief match reports.  Starting at 7:30am on a Saturday morning, games from South America, especially Brazil and Argentina, and Western Europe are on throughout the day on a variety of TV and internet platforms.  With the advancements of broadcast technology, these matches can be viewed in HD from a plethora of devices.  Want a break from the EPL?  Check out an Eredivisie game on WatchESPN or a La Liga game on beIN Sport or a Brazilian match on GolTV.

Unfortunately this copious amount of access to other leagues is one of the challenges that the game in the United States has to overcome as well.  US soccer must figure out a way to turn the millions of youth participants into long term fans.  In the chapter about the first decade of the MLS, mention was made of teams making a conscious effort to engage young fans (Struttner, Parrish, Nauright 8), and these efforts will need to continue as the American soccer fan can have so much contact with other leagues.  Two points to consider.  If little Johnny gets up for the early morning EPL kick off and then watches the 9:30am Bundesliga offering before heading off to his local soccer game, will he sit back down in front of the TV for the MLS Game of the Week later that night?  Or will his parents let him?  There is also the quality factor.  US soccer fans can watch high level soccer from all over the world.  Some will not settle for mediocre MLS games and that drives down attendance and TV numbers.

Moving the US soccer participant into the US soccer fan leads to the sponsorship issue.  Sponsors must be convinced that their advertising dollars will be worth the investment.  Attendance numbers for the MLS have been very healthy on average but the TV viewership numbers have been anemic at best.  Several networks have shelled out money but there is still much room for growth in this area.  Bigger TV contracts mean higher salary caps, this leads to higher player wages, which means the game is more attractive to the US athlete.

Another major challenge to the US game is attitude.  Whereas the rest of world predominantly draws their talent from poor kids looking for a way out (Hopkins 226), the US talent base is middle class suburban children looking for a college scholarship (Hopkins 226).  This difference is key.  For most Americans soccer is just something to fill the time between another sport (Hopkins 219), and even for the serious player, Hopkins makes the case that they are “over-coached and over-organized” (Hopkins 229).  This is in contrast to the pick-up culture around the world, where kids play and play and play, developing their games.  Gwendolyn Oxenham examines this in her contribution to XI Quarterly, telling of training sessions that last hours in all manner of conditions.  She also brought attention to the brincadeiras, moments of “half-game, half performance” where players “played for joy” (Oxenham 42), and exhibited “a style of life that was part joy, part energy, part fearlessness” (Oxenham 48).

While American soccer lags behind South America and Europe in terms of club and international success, great strides have been made in the last 25 years.  High rates of youth participation generate future players and fans; a developing domestic league is following the path of strong and steady growth; this growth has been illustrated in soccer specific stadia and emerging supporter culture; and due to more domestic teams at all levels, television exposure and internet technology, fans can access an ample amount of games from around the world.  However, there are still hurdles to be overcome, namely turning young fans into supporters of the American game and re-shaping the attitude of the American player from functional component to joyful artist.  The resources in this country—population, finances, and technology—are boundless.  Now for the next step.

Culture of Soccer Week 6 (The World Cup: Africa on the World Stage) Comment

Each week we are to respond to another student’s post.   Hollow79 examined how the World Cup led to further improvements in South Africa before moving on to player development on the continent.  Africa continues to produce quality players but in today’s football economy, these players move to Europe and Hollow79 brought attention to the  lack of grassroots support for the game in Africa.

Here was my response to the post:

Your comments about talented players “Africanizing” European football caught my eye.  The video lectures mentioned African superstars that dotted European football during the twentieth century (Larbi Ben Barek, Lucas da Fonseca, Salif Keita) but towards the late 90’s, an explosion occurred which saw Africans not only play for top level clubs and succeed but populate teams in every country and every level.  George Weah is the most obvious example of success at a high level, along with Kanu, Samuel Eto’o, Essien and many others, yet look at Africans at lesser known teams—Manucho at Real Valladolid, Odemwingie at WBA, Steve Zakuani in Seattle.

Later in your post you make reference that fans at home criticize players for leaving.  I have no complaints with players searching for greater competitive challenges as well as a better paycheck.  The best players of North and South America do the same as there is a funnel towards the top leagues in Europe and the top club competition in the Champions League.  But I do agree with your suggestion about focusing on grassroots efforts for the game.  The gap between elite and the recreational/amateur cannot grow too wide because it effects participation, the domestic leagues and the quality and depth of the national teams.

Culture of Soccer Week 6 (The World Cup: Africa on the World Stage)

For week 6 of the class, our assignments foucsed on the African aspects of World Cup 2010–economic, sporting and political.  The podcast assigned was particuarly interested in terms of the financial and footballing impact of the game in South Africa.

Week 6 Readings:

Alegi and Bolsmann, Africa’s World Cup , pp. 21-30, 42-51, 99-108, 132-147, 159- 167, 189-199, 219-234

AUDIO: Africa Past and Present Podcast, Episode 43, July 2010, “Reflections on Africa’s First World Cup”

Here is my full post for the class blog:

Soccer has a long history in Africa, and the 20th century saw the game move from a local event to a global presence.  Africans who had been colonized used the game as a way to break free of their oppressors and create their own countries and identities (video lecture).   As the game progressed on the continent, players started to leave their native countries for fame and fortune in Europe.  By the beginning of the 21st century, South Africa had been awarded the 2010 World Cup, which despite heavy influence from FIFA and other issues was a month glimpse into a new, unified, and economically viable South Africa (podcast).

Many of the chapters discussed how the hosts, visitors and participating countries interacted with each other and with the tournament.  Uruguay based themselves in Kimberly and this location allowed them to build a team spirit which saw La Celeste make the semifinals (Alegi Bolsmann 132-147).  English fans who attended the tournament found a much different event than the one presented in the media and that matches can be much bigger than the 90 minutes (Alegi Bolsmann 159-167).  For the hosts themselves, Roberts and Bass surveyed Durban before and during the World Cup to examine what impact the competition had on the city (Alegi Bolsmann 42-51).

Craig Waite’s chapter on the development of the game in Ghana was particularly interesting.  The country was a leading light in terms of Africanism and using the game to promote political and sporting interests.  The efforts of Nkrumah and Djan (Alegi Bolsmann 101-106) laid the foundations for future success, particularly at the 2010 World Cup.  What the chapter did not mention was the authoritarian aspect of Nkrumah’s government.  The video lecture for this week briefly mentioned this component, which is an area for further investigation as Waite painted a relatively positive image of Nkrumah’ s reign and its efforts to integrate Ghana into Africa and the rest of the world

Another feature of the chapter that interested me was the role and nationality of the national team coach.  As the team moved from amateur to professional, a full time coach was needed, and Ghana opted for a European, English to be specific, in George Ainsley (Alegi Bolsmann 104).  From there the country continued hiring foreign coaches before sending Ghanaians out to learn the game and return with European methods and techniques (Alegi Bolsmann 105).  Reading about this progression, thoughts turned to the recent US coaches.  Bob Gansler took a group of college and amateur players to Italy in 1990. I was always assumed Gansler was American, but he was born in Hungary and came to the US when he was 10. In high school, he joined the Bavarian Soccer Club, which assisted his transition to US culture (information from Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel interview).  He made five appearances for the Men’s National Tem in the 60’s and progressed through the coaching ranks at the high school and college level before taking the Under 20’s in 1987. He became the National team coach in 1989.

Gansler was replaced by Bora Milutinovic in order to produce a worthy host team for 1994. Bora was from Yugoslavia and played in Europe (Yugoslavia and France) before moving to Mexico.  After a several jobs at club and international level, he was hired as the US coach after leading Costa Rica to the 1990 Second Round and led the team until 1995.

From there the US returned to homegrown talent in Sampson, Arena and Bradley before finally getting the man the USSF had been craving—Jurgen Klinsmann.  Time will tell if the former German international can lead this country to success.

Africa has much to provide the world’s game—players, culture, new locations—and has made steps to join other regions at the table.  It will be fascinating to see what the continent can offer over the next hundred years.

Culture of Soccer Week 5 (The World Cup: Sport, Politics, and Business) Comment

Each week we are to respond to another student’s post. Harmonk9 was suprised to see how the game was being commericalized by sponsors politicized by world leaders.

Here was my response to the post:

“The whims of big business” are unsettling, but they make the beautiful game go around these days. Huge infusions of cash, massive marketing campaigns and increasing globalization have transformed a leisurely game into a worldwide event for both club and country.

Your post mentioned Havelange and the Dassler brothers. The book Sneaker Wars is an excellent account of how the brothers, Adi in particular, expanded their shoe business from a regional business to a company of worldwide sporting impact. Seizing on opportunities, they made athletes their spokesman and in essence instituted Joao Havelange as FIFA President, which benefited both the Brazilian and the German shoe company.

At the club level, most teams are moving towards branding sometimes to the exclusion of results. I follow Manchester United and the club continues to increase their revenue streams through ancillary products—wine, sportswear, souvenirs to name a few—which present the brand of Manchester United. Not Manchester United Football Club as the redesign of their crest several years ago exemplified, removing the words Football and Club. Currently the club has been successful on and off the field but I worry that if the trophy procession dries up will they do what’s necessary to improve results rather than the bottom line.

The more you learn about the game, the more you will find “that football, politics, and business are disturbingly intertwined.”

Culture of Soccer Week 5 (The World Cup: Sport, Politics, and Business)

For week 5 of the class, our assignments examined how the game progressed from a game to a sport to a global event, with tournaments being used as poltical platforms and marketing events for corporate sponsors.  We also read on the ground reports from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Week 5 Readings:

David Goldblatt, “The FIFA World Cup and its Impact on Global History and Culture,” keynote address, FIFA World Cup conference, Zurich, April 25, 2013

Alegi and Bolsmann, Africa’s World Cup , pp. 1-17, 61-69, 87-95, 119-131, 148-158, 168-175, 210-218

Here is my full post for the class blog:

The readings this week fused the topics of the opening four weeks—the development of the game, the many expressions of fan culture, and the globalization of the sport—using the most recent World Cup as a platform.  The game is no longer a leisure activity or a local club of friends and co-workers but, as our authors show us, has become a worldwide corporate event filled with fans and sponsors and natives of the host countries.  The game is also a source of optimism for everyone involved.

Goldblatt’s draft dives into the progression of the game at the international level while keeping the supporter element close to the surface of the discussion.  Each tournament has its own story and he provides a brief overview from the early twentieth century Olympics to the 2010 World Cup (Goldblatt section II).  Along the way, international competitions became something more than just a sporting event—attempts at national rebranding, political platforms for the ruling governments and evangelistic festivals for the game.  At the same time, fan support is a key component of any tournament, as Goldblatt states at the end of section I, “. . . there is no spectacle without us; without a public that is prepared to invest emotional energy in the playing of a game there is no glamour and no glory.”  From there he makes the case in section III that tournaments always have “smaller, intersecting stories” to tell, and these moments are what give texture, context and ultimately legacy to the competitions.

The selections from the book expand on this theme in interesting, authentic and personal ways. Most of these were on the ground accounts of the tournament, how the venues looked, how the hosts and visitors interacted at the competition, and how South Africa can build a legacy going forward.  Tales of the literal and metaphorical use of the vuvuzela (Doyle 67-68), the FIFAland experience (Hernandez 168-173) and Americans abroad (Guest 148-151) enriched my sense of the tournament beyond the United States losing in the second round and Spain lifting the trophy.

Focusing on Laurent Dubois’ essay, many of the elements found in Fever Pitch resurfaced—the analysis of a fan, the game day interaction, the match itself.   Throughout the selection, he asks why do we follow this game?  Surely not the result, but as Dubois and the rest of the writers shared, the game provides glimpses into communities both together and opposed, moments of glory and disappointment and the match day—the crowds, roars and the interactions experienced before, during and after the game.  These flashes give the fan a taste and this taste continues to draw the fan in match after match.

And the next match is just around the corner.  Brazil are making final preparations to their stadiums and infrastructure, yet the previous hosts are still sorting out their legacy.  South Africa continues to strive to be a growing power, the World Cup giving them a brief boost to build on the momentous events of early 1990’s but there is still much work to be done. Yet a tournament of this magnitude can provide that hope:

I was really worried about 20 years of democracy.  I’m not so worried any more.  I’d always thought that nationhood and non-racialism were evaporating dreams, and in fact I see they can still be made tangible and real. Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press newspaper in Johannesburg (Guest 155)