Temples of the Earthbound Gods

Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires

Christopher Thomas Gaffney, 2008, University of Texas Press

Usually the stadiums which host a soccer game do not draw a lot of attention on themselves neither from the journalists nor the fans. Some of them like the Camp Nou or the Maracana are known by name, which is connected with the history and tradition of their home teams, but most of them have today a sponsor’s name which is changing regularly, therefore they do not become part of the lore and legends of the club which plays in them.
Gaffney writes in his book about the stadiums of two of the major cities in South America, from the number of people living in them but also the soccer culture and history of the continent. He describes the history of soccer in both cities and then describes what influence society had on the fan culture and vice versa.
It is interesting to read of the slight differences between Brasil and Argentina. In the first the soccer club and also the national team are important for belonging to a neighborhood or of being a nation. Therefore the status of the people joining the club doesn’t matter so much. Fluminense , e.g., is a club which originally was a club of the aristocrats and the club shows that even today with their mascots and songs, although now the majority of their fans comes from the lower class, because the neighborhood changed. Vasco da Gama is still referring to the Portuguese culture and immigrants in general, because it was founded by immigrants. The clubs are representatives of the area they come from and therefore they are also part of the political system and politicians use the clubs to get votes in their districts.
In Argentina however soccer is clearly the sport of the lower classes because the upper class goes to Polo and the middle class to Rugby games because soccer games are too dangerous to watch. How Gaffney describes, the stadium in Argentina is much more a place where men gather and meet and women are hardly seen. The game between the two clubs is not only seen as fight of two neighborhoods but about manhood and who is more masculine. Therefore violence between fans is far more common and also the players on the field act way more aggressively, as one can often see from the Argentinian national team. The reason for that, explains Gaffney, is that in the nineteenth century a lot more male immigrants than women came into the country, therefore men had a harder time finding and fighting for a women and therefore the stadium became an open space in the city, which allowed that fights in a ritualized form around the soccer games. The space in the city was far more segregated with distinct places for men and women and especially the stadium allowed men to freely express their emotions. Therefore the aggressive fighting became an elemental part of the soccer culture in Argentina.
Gaffneys books allows interesting insights in two South American soccer nations and covers areas, especially of the fan culture, which are not much explored in general but would provide valuable insights why soccer became such a dominant game with such fanatic fans, which is hardly matched by any other type of sport.

Biography: 0/3
History: 2/3
Background: 3/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: Dresden – Wiege des Fußballs (German)

This post should have come out beginning of February. I don’t know what happenend that it didn’t but here it is now.


Goal-Post Vol.2

Victorian Football

Paul Brown (editor), 2013, Superelastic Publishing

Quite a while ago we had the first volume of the Victorian football anthology Goal-Post in this blog. Today we take a look at the second volume. Last time a lot of articles were reports from “first games”, the first international game, the first under floodlight a.s.o. This time not so many game reports are found in the book. Instead we look more behind the scenes with articles about how a club secretary works, how the rules changed the game from a dribbling game to a passing game, a look at the hard work of the referees (not so much different from today) and how the rules of the games were formed. Even the first women’s soccer game happened in 1881 but it was as much a curiosity as the “elephantine football” which is described in another article. It would take another 100 years before women’s soccer was taken serious.
Again this book is a great source for old school soccer atmosphere and in many ways one can see, how the games has not changed over the years. The changes from dribbling to passing game seem to have happened in our time again, when the ball possession-play took over and the players who could decide a game alone due to their dribbling skills was over. Interestingly the best possession-play team of our time, Guardiola’s Barcelona, had a player like that with Messi. However, he was always just the cherry on the top, they variable in the game, when the perfect passing did not lead to gaps in the defense of the other team. He was the one who could open the defense because in one-on-one situations he we would win most of the time.( Interestingly Guardiola used more of this kind of dribblers at Bayern München. When the team was at its best they usually had two of them on their wings, like Ribery, Robben and Douglas Costa) and the game was much more focused on supporting them). Other topics which are still in the news today are the criticism of professionalism and whether the games is good or bad for young boys. It is interesting to see that professionalism was so quickly adopted in England when it took on the continent until the 20s or 30s that the fight against professionalism was finally over, as one can read in the biography of Matthias Sindelar in Austria.

For everyone who wants to see the first moving pictures of soccer to get at least a glimpse of what it looked like in the nineteenth century I can only recommend the DVD “British Pathé Presents The F.A. Cup Finals 1920-1969”, which describes the earliest cup finals verbally but then starts to show pictures of the first game footage available from the 1920s. I know it is 30-50 years later than the Victorian time but it is the closest one can get with real footage and the system they played was still the same.

Biography: 0/3
History: 3/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: Temples of the Earthbound Gods

The Blizzard: Issue Nine

Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2013

This issue of The Blizzard presents some quite interesting topics. First of all Iran as a soccer country is covered. Gwendolyn Oxenham describes the search for pickup soccer in Iran, especially as a woman, and shows nicely the situation in this country at the moment, the gap between government and the people, between the law and the reality on the street. For a foreigner it is nearly impossible to understand which laws have to be followed by the letter and which can be stretched, which written and unwritten rules exist and how to navigate in that atmosphere to allow a decent living and to have some fun from time to time. Unfortunately the second story about Iran was not that interesting, the author just tried to make an article out of the fact than one of the World Cup planners for the Iranian national team holds an US passport. You might ask: “So, what?” and that is exactly all to say about it.
Again there are also some pieces about the FIFA in this edition, an interview of the head of the ethics commission, which was newly installed at that time and about corruption in the Asian Football Confederation. Now, two years later, all the little hints and information that the FIFA system might be corrupt through and through sound so naive and small scale but that was the start how the whole scandal got rolling and it is good to recapture of the events which step by step finally led to the fall of Blatter and Platini.
A nice contrast make the articles about Manchester City and how the investments of it Sheiks will influence the cities development plans and about Leeds United and how the club and  its reputation is synonymous with the Northern blue-collar worker. They received attention in the sixties and even made it in the mainstream movies as rowdyish anti-heroes and then were fought and beaten down by the government in the eighties. In the same way clubs like Leeds United, never loved for their beautiful but for the fight they put on and their clear opposition to the London clubs in the south, rose and declined at the same times.
Finally there is also an interesting interview of Igor Rabiner with Lev Yashin’s widow which is interesting simply because footage and information from that time are rare and even more so, for soccer in the Soviet Union.

Biography: 2/3
History: 3/3
Background: 1/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3