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.

The Blizzard: Issue Six

Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2012

This issue of The Blizzard had a focus on Portugal, a general overview of the decline of Portuguese soccer, some Benfica and Porto history, as well as some story about the decline of the smaller clubs in both cities. Especially the article about Boavista Porta and Belenenses Lissabon shows a general problem, which does not only exists in Portugal. For both clubs, which won the Portuguese championship at some point in time, several relegations did not only mean a live in obscurity but also financial obligations which are unbearable. When a club would have to pay more for the maintenance of the stadium than it can earn every months, then there is no hope for a better future anymore. It seems that the modern professional leagues with their requirements for the stadium quality do not allow it clubs to downscale in a reasonable way when the success fails to appear. In many cases the stadiums were not even paid by these clubs but by the public (see Soccernomics), because the clubs would not be able to pay the bill in first place. At the top of the food chain a new stadium might attract bigger crowds to the game, but even at the bottom of the first leagues that is not true anymore. That means to get up in the elite of every countries league system one has to invest in a stadium which cannot be paid just by a club’s savings and then if the venture fails the clubs are not able anymore to pay the maintenance cost, so that they go bankrupt, because the cost do not downscale as much as they would need to. Therefore the clubs at the entrance to professional soccer are always at the edge of extinction because they cannot grow and shrink organically. There were several attempts, at least in Germany, to improve the situation for these clubs, e.g., by changing the league system and making it more attractive on the third or fourth level of the pyramid but in the end that just shifts the problem one level down but it will not solve the problem in general.
Two other articles follow the same language and focus on Brasil. One describes the decline of the Brasilian national team which is attributed to the stronger focus on a fast athletic game. That happened partly because one preferred to copy the European style of soccer in the past and partly because physical endurance was higher valued during the military dictatorship and therefore players were more trained for physical strength and less for good passing and technical skills. But now, because ball possession and the Jogo bonito were frowned upon, even the Germans have a better passing and possession play, as they showed in the last years semi-final, and one has to see when the Brasilian team will make it back into the world class.
The second article is a report about the supporter or ultra scene of the North Brasilian teams. The teams hardly make it to the highest ranks of the league system but their supporters are devoted. Similar to the supporters described in This Love is not for Cowards the fan groups provide an important social function, they help each other and the group gives the live of their members meaning. Very often these type of ultra groups are frowned upon, because of the regular outbursts of violence against other supporters. But their violence is not born out of these groups it is around the members of these groups every day because of where and how they live, so it is part of their live already. Therefore not allowing these fans to gather in these fan groups would mean to drive them directly into the arms of criminal organizations or xenophobic para-military groups. Therefore, when they decide they prefer to support a soccer club, they should be encouraged and helped instead of frowned at, because they might be able to remove people from the endless circle of poverty and crime and therefore help society as a whole.
In this issue there also interviews with two interesting coaches. The one with Brendan Rogers, probably one of the most progressive coaches in England’s Premier League, is somehow disappointing. Although it talks about his backgrounds and where is influences come from and about his philosophy, it stays on the surface and does not go into depth, when it comes to the tactical plan he tries to teach his teams. It is talked about the technical ability of his players but not, what different jobs the players should have on the field or how they have to move. It would have been interesting to ask how he made a ball possession play work with the lean budget of Swansea and what is different with Liverpool and why he was not able yet to transfer his game successfully to them.
The Zdenek Zeman interview had more of these information and therefore provides a nice portrait about one of the interesting characters in the Serie A.
Finally, similar to the proposal for the UEFA Europe League in Issue Four, I can only hope the proposal for a new television schedule described in this issue, will be used in Europe or the whole world to promote the watching of local teams. Again The Blizzard provides some out-of-the-box solution for current problems in soccer which allow to combine commercialization with the best deal for the supporters.

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

Next book: Erbstein (March 7th)