How Soccer Explains The World:

One of the Comments to my Champions League post earlier today reminds me of a book I recently read, "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization" by Franklin Foer. Relevant to the Comment from this morning, one chapter in Foer's book relates the politics of Barcelona and Real Madrid, relating to Franco, conservatism, and Catalan independence. Barcelona, he claims, symbolizes middle class, metropolitan values, whereas Real Madrid represents conservatism (and was highly associated with Franco). Foer is also a Barca fan, so maybe that's why I liked the book so much...

His chapter on Italian soccer was quite interesting as well. First, he discusses the rivalry between the two Milan clubs, Inter and AC Milan and the issues of politics rolled up in that rivalry. He has this quite amusing description of the efforts of Inter fans (Communists and other anti-Berlusconi people) to try to invest Inter with all kinds of political symbolism.

Foer also discusses at great length the longstanding rumors in Italian soccer that Juventus has for a long time corrupted the referee selection process in Italy--exactly the allegations that have exploded in Italian soccer over the past few weeks. For those interested in that issue, Foer provides a nice background to the current scandal.

Foer's larger theme is using soccer as a exemplar and case study of human tribalism and human "groupishness" and the way in which these soccer rivalries and affiliations come into contact with the modern world of globalization. It is a very colorful and entertaining book and while I can't independently vouch for the portrayals he lays out in the book I think it is quite a clever and entertaining way of not only talking about soccer but raising some interesting questions about the the tensions created by globalization.

Jussi (mail) (www):
great book!

in terms of politics in italian soccer, however, much has changed over the last few years. back in the good old days of calcio, hardly a curva ultra used to be fascist, with some being leftist, many being unpolitical.

today, we've got stalinist livorno and a plentitude of fascist curvi, with lazio being only the most notorious one.

o tempora, o mores.
5.17.2006 2:56pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Celtic and Rangers, anyone?
5.17.2006 3:05pm
Zywicki (mail):
As you can probably guess, there's a whole chapter on Celtic and Rangers. Definitely one of the most interesting chapters in the book.
5.17.2006 3:22pm
Roger Meiners (mail):
Soccer will not globalize the world. Humans have opposable thumbs, which makes more interesting spectator sports such as baseball, football, and basketball possible. Eventually the rest of the world will catch up.
5.17.2006 3:40pm
Similar points could undoubtedly be made about football, particularly the vast gulf between fans of the Raiders and 49ers in San Francisco (or the Rams and Raiders, when both were in L.A.). I understand that the differences between the Jets and Giants in NYC are less a matter of socioeconomics and more a matter of geography, with the Jets being perceived as more of a New Jersey team than the Giants.
5.17.2006 3:56pm
Sorry, I should have written American football. To all non-Americans out there, I apologize. The language of this post does seem very American, however, since the rest of the world calls soccer "football."
5.17.2006 3:57pm
chel$ki fan:
I wholeheartedly agree w/ Todd that Foer's book is entertaining/enjoyable/entertaining, though i have major criticisms w/ Foer's sweeping generalizations about both globalization (G) AND soccer, and ultimately his conclusions about which affected the other more. IMHO, Foer relied too much on coincidence rather than direct causation, and the connections of the two are not as clear as he suggests.

Most of the chapters are insiteful and well-written, and enjoyable for a casual observer of either G or soccer, or for someone well acquainted w/ either. I just failed to see how the soccer subjects effectively demonstrated the major G trends. While that may be quibling on my part, i felt Foer used the G theme as an excuse to write about phenomenally interesting soccer stories, and that ultimately his experiences do not fit into his pre-conceived notions. i am jealous of course - who wouldn't want to get an opportunity to attend a private practice of AC Milan and meet the players, interview Arkan's widow and fellow criminals/soccer fans in Serbia, and hang out in wildly-intense bars in Glasgow.

Nevertheless, as someone who has spent time intermittently living/travelling/studying in Europe over the last 17 years, and as a soccer player in college, i have often remarked over the years that the intra-national and intra-european soccer competitions had a direct inpact on the development and integration of the EU, though often times negatively. Could write more but the match is has started!!
5.17.2006 3:58pm
Freddy Hill (mail):
If Barça wins, they will have a grand total of... let me count them... two! yesss! two! Champion league championships! Whoopie. At the rate of a championship every 12 years, sometime in the 2190s they'll catch up Real Madrid's 9 championships... but by then Real will have a few dozen, or course.

Ok, I'm still rooting for Barça, even if it hurts.
5.17.2006 4:05pm
Anonymous Jim:
Soccer also explains the world because a vast majority of Americans doesn't want to participate in either.
5.17.2006 4:14pm
U.Va. 1L (mail):
Prof. Zywicki, have you read Brilliant Orange? It's a history of modern Dutch soccer, with plenty of comparisons drawn between the product on the field and Dutch history and culture in general. Great book.
5.17.2006 4:15pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
OK, so any World Cup predictions? I must say that I like Germany for the finals, at least. They have barely serviceable strikers (Klose, Podolski, Asamaoah - not exactly riveting), a slow defense, an aging Kahn, and an inconsistent Lehmann to choose from in goal, and only one real star - Ballack. Still, home is home. Even Korea made it to the semis on home turf, and they were pretty terrible.
5.17.2006 5:01pm
U.Va. 1L (mail):
And Barca wins. Heck of a game.
5.17.2006 5:46pm
poster child (mail):
World Cup predictions:

Champs: Brazil (their midfield is unreal)

Runners Up: Italy

3rd: England (Rooney makes an inspirational comeback for the quarters; Theo Wolcott surprises everyone with a Owen-esque debut)

4th: France
5.17.2006 6:43pm
jallgor (mail):
I once frequented an Irish bar in LA where the 3 regular bar tenders were all from Glasgow but 2 were Catholic Celtic fans and 1 was a protestant Ranger fan and they wer great friends except on game day. An Irish bar in LA, tended by Scots who would probably have been attacking each other with bricks if they still lived in Scotland. How's that for globalization?

As for the commenter who noted the Jets are more of a NEw jersey team he has it backwards. The Jets and the Giants fans tend to fall along the same lines as Yankee and Met fans. Mets/Jets fans tend to come from Queens and Long Island. Giants/Yankees fans are from New Jersey and Westchester Cty. Remember that back in the day, the Jets played at Shea and the Giants played at Yankee Stadium. Only when GIANTS Stadium was built in NJ did they both begin playing there. Note it's not called Jets' stadium, they were just tag-alongs. The only people I knew from NJ who were mets/jets fans usually had some connection to Queens or Long Island (like their Dad grew up in Queens and had season tickets when they were growing up, etc.)

This phenemenon, however, is both geographical and socioeconomic. Mets/Jets fans are generally seen as more blue collar and also more diehard and supportive of their teams in good times and bad. Obviously some people will diagree with my analysis here but having grown up in the NY metro area all my life this is what I have observed.
5.17.2006 7:08pm
Zeitnot (www):
Foer's views on Spanish politics are right, but 30 years outdated. 1978 Spanish Constitution gave the regional governments powers well beyond any state in a federal country enjoys elsewhere in the world and Catalan politicians have been using this powers to fuel separatist feelings.

As a consecuence Catalonia is no longer the most dynamic Spanish area (Madrid taking up that place). Its goverment is more and more interventionist and the region is affected with the disease that put a halt to the progress of the European civilization in the 20th century: nationalism.

This is, of course, a personal view. BTW, congrats to Barça. No hope my hometown team (Deportivo de La Coruña) will win the Champions League anytime soon, so any Spanish team does for me.
5.17.2006 8:10pm
"If you look at soccer and the way that it's played, whether it's in the men's game or the women's game, it's fascinating. We're moving a ball up and down with our feet."
5.18.2006 12:16am
Andres Minguez:
The claims about alleged links between Real Madrid and conservatism are a preporterous joke made by someone inescapably trapped in Hispanic stereotypes, and so are the ones concerning Barcelona FC, middle class, indepence and metropolitan values. I'd like to know the facts and demographic studies those claims are based on.

For example, i'd like to know what the connection is supposed to be between catalan indepence and opposition to conservatism and right wing ideology. Simply consider the solid fact that the largest nationalist catalan party is a self-proclaimed right-wing-christian-democratic-party. So, please, I beg you all to stop talking about what you so grotesquely ignore.
5.18.2006 10:43am
Andres -- Is it really that crazy, given Aznar's ties to Real Madrid and its long-time association with the Franco regime ?(not that I mean -- in any way -- to connect Aznar with Franco). This is a Spanish civil war connection (the northeastern regions -- basque and catalan alike -- were Republican, after all) and the connection between centralization and "conservatism" (or really Franco-ism) and between left-wing politics and decentralized nationalism continued through the Franco-era. Even now, the current socialist government is more in favor of decentralization than the previous PP government. Real is the football-ing embodiment of centralization and Barca is its opposite.
5.18.2006 4:16pm
Justin (mail):
Self-rediculing, ironically extremist quote of the day:

"Communists and other anti-Berlusconi people"

5.18.2006 7:51pm
soccer (mail) (www):
Check out this introduction article on soccer:
4.Scoring and winning

Learn a bit about Zinédine Zidane and his last World Cup,
5.18.2006 10:54pm
The front man of the Socialist Party at the Spanish House of Representatives (The most important house here) has also powerful ties with Real Madrid.

I would say that Real has links with Madrid (also with the leftist) and Barcelona has them with Barcelona. Barcelona and Catalonia stand no more for middle class and metropolitan values, but for totalitarian ideas that try to insert nationalism into all spheres of people's life, reaching such bizarre edges as using taxpayers' money for making ads urging to have sex in Catalan.

The region whose surrender to Franco's side caused the end of the Spanish Civil War was Madrid (March 1939), not Catalonia(January 1939). After Franco's death,Madrid is a region where the Socialist Party has won until recent times.

Barcelona is the embodiment of using football for political purposes.Just what Franco did with Real.
5.19.2006 9:34pm