Sunday, November 30, 2008

Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

I have a terrific book I bought before the last World Cup, called the Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. It is a collection of 32 essays, one for each country going to Germany 2008. Some of them are only about football, some barely touch on it at all.

The editor recommends some other sources of good writing on football, including Soccer in Sun and Shadow. It is translated from Spanish, and shares a certain dreamy quality I associate with South American writing translated into English. Eduardo Galeano was to be included in the Thinking Fan's Guide, but had to be dropped from the list when his country, Uruguay, were eliminated at the last hurdle by Australia.

Uruguayan football has a glorious history. They won the Olympic gold medal in 1924 and again in 1928, then hosted and won the first World Cup in 1930. In 1950 it was held next door in Brazil. The Brazilians were unbackable favourites, and cruised through the tournament winning effortlesly with beautiful, playful football. They met Uruguay in the final. Before the match the Brazilians were given gold watches with "For the World Champions" inscribed on them. Uruguay won.
After the final whistle, Brazilian commentators called the defeat "the worst tragedy in Brazil's history". Jules Rimet [FIFA President] wandered about the field like a lost soul, hugging the cup that bore his name. "I found myself alone with the cup in my arms and not knowing what to do. I finally found Uruguay's captain, Obdulio Varela, and I gave it to him practically without letting anyone else see. I held out my hand without saying a word".

In his pocket Rimet had a speech he had written to congratulate the victorious Brazilians.

Australia and Uruguay have a recent but fierce rivalry on the soccer field. Uruguay were the last of a long line of strange distant countries to knock Australia out at the last stage of World Cup qualifying, in Montevideo in 2001 - (previously Argentina, Scotland, Iran, Israel - just off the top of my head). Four years later, it was fate dictated it would be Australia who knocked Uruguay out.

One notable feature is the blurbs on the back. Have you ever seen two blurbs so different from one another on a book cover?

To show the foolishness of the first blurb, here is another excerpt.
In the middle of 1969, a large hall for weddings, baptisms and conventions opened in Spain's Guadarrama mountains. While the grand opening banquet was in full swing, the floor collapsed and the guests were buried in rubble. Fifty-two people died. The hall had been built with public funds, but without permits, licenses or an architect in charge.

The owner and builder of the ephemeral edifice, Jesus Gil y Gil, went to jail. He spent two years and three months behind bars – two weeks for each death – until he was pardoned by Generalissimo Franco. As soon as he set foot out of prison, Jesus was back to serve the progress of the fatherland once again in the construction industry.

Some time later, this businessman became the owner of a soccer team, Atlético of Madrid. Thanks to soccer, which turned him into a popular television personality, Jesus was able to launch a political career. In 1991 he was elected mayor of Marbella, winning more votes than anyone else in the country. [...]

Atlético of Madrid remains the base of his power and prestige, even though the team frequently loses. Coaches don't last more than a few weeks. Jesus Gil y Gil seeks advice from his horse Imperioso, a snow-white and very sentimental stallion.

"Imperioso, we lost."
"I know Gil."
"Whose fault is it?"
"I don't know Gil."
"Yes you do Imperioso. It's the coach's fault."
"So, fire him"

So American fans, I hope that quick snapshot of a very popular international sport cleared a few things up for you!

No comments: