Genesis of ‘The Global Game’

Bruce Arena's quote below well captures the spirit of The Global Game, launched in January 2003. Although based in the southeastern United States—in Decatur, Georgia, the so-called Berkeley of the East—we try to privilege non-American stories. Our interest primarily is in the role of football in daily life around the world, the more remote from us the better.

We are motivated first by love of football, second by a passion for stories rarely told. For example, we present an interview with Beatriz Vélez of the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia, whose experience with the global game has been less benign than ours. She tells of cleaning up after her brother, who trod into the family home "with his clothes and football cleats full of mud." Within such vignettes lies a grassroots football culture, perhaps more subtle than that treated by Franklin Foer in his recent book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. We enjoyed Foer's book, although we might take issue with the grandiose title. By learning from people such as Vélez, we prefer to let the world explain soccer to us.


Sense of place: The Global Game's wireless network perhaps extends to the Atlanta city limits.

Understanding the world is of special importance for Americans, increasingly isolated by wealth and an obdurate foreign policy. We agree with Alane Salierno Mason, founder of the online magazine Words Without Borders:

I really thought after Sept. 11 we would feel more of a need to know about the rest of the world, to realize how urgent it was to know what people were thinking and feeling and writing about America and themselves. It's very easy to throw out phrases like "the Axis of Evil," the enemy, and we really don't know who these people are.

Football is the world's game, not ours, so we must ask them about it and read about the game in their publications, in their languages. This is one reason we prefer the word "football" to "soccer." In issue 1 we write:

I have heard that Americans should not call the game "football." It is said that this would be pretentious. Well, I make a distinction between "soccer" and "football." The sport I played as a youth was undoubtedly soccer. The sport I watch now, the game practiced by such artisans as Thierry Henry, Marinette Pichon, Tiffeny Milbrett, Aly Wagner, and Zinedine Zidane, is football. I'm not that interested in soccer, but football concerns me very much.


Dembakwi Yomba of Sierra Leone and Clarkston, Georgia, demonstrates "the bike."

Please allow a slight revision. The suggestion is that football must be played at a high level, and that is untrue. The word "football" simply pays homage to a global spirit, which can be embodied by the six-year-old girl kicking a ball by herself in a field; in fact, we prefer stories, poetry or photography about the latter to the "big soccer" that receives the most prominence. (Although we like Arsenal and Real Madrid, too.)

"Big soccer" is a game for men, and, when possible, we try to privilege the women's side. Women's football does not suffer for media attention and sponsorship because it is less important, but because conscious decisions have been made, in many societies over time, to provide men an advantage in almost all areas of human life. In football, grassroots groups and mainstream organizations fight this trend. In issue 7, we noted that frescoes from China's Later Han dynasty (25–220 C.E.) depict stylized female figures playing the ball game tsu chu. Women, therefore, have always played the game but must continually strive for their validity as players. When asked why such achievements are important for women, Vélez immediately places the answer in broad context: "[I]t would make society more equitable, less sexist, more democratic . . ."

Vélez's answer provides our response and our solace when others ask, or when we query ourselves, why we spend so much time writing and reading about a game.

Contacts

On the airjohn@theglobalgame.com
John Turnbull, editor and publisher: He has never played football professionally but does possess some journalism credentials, having worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and spent a lot of time reading the New York Times. A 1989 graduate of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Write to him with story ideas, complaints, tips on resources and offers to maintain the website and to refurbish our crumbling driveway for free.

keri@theglobalgame.com
Keri Tope, illustrator: An ardent admirer of Robert Pires and proficient at knitting Arsenal scarves and carving Pierluigi Collina jack-o'-lanterns. Write to her regarding photography projects or with information about the uses of football imagery in housewares and interior design.

susanhellison@yahoo.com
Susan Ellison, contributor: A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission worker in Bolivia who incorporated football into her mission activities. She writes about her experiences with the Luz y Verdad women's football team, affiliated with Luz y Verdad Presbyterian Church in La Paz. She has worked with anti-hunger programs in Bolivia since 2001.

akraab@ucdavis.edu
Alon Raab, contributor: Covered the July 2005 women's friendly between USA and Ukraine and interviewed producers of Futbol Palestina 2006, an in-process documentary on the Palestinian national team. A native of Jerusalem who teaches at the University of California at Davis. He is the author of Under the Sign of the Bicycle (Portland, Oreg.: Gilgul Press, 2003), a brilliantly conceived paean to Raab's favorite mode of transportation.

JReedCameron@aol.com
John Reed, contributor: Author of "Subbuteo Days" in issue 10, volunteer with Soccer in the Streets, Peterborough United supporter and expert on curries (see "The Great British Curry Craze," Khabar [Atlanta]). His support for Peterborough—The Posh—extends to having a specially commissioned set of Posh Subbuteo figurines produced for a charity auction.

thsatterlee@tayloru.edu
Thom Satterlee, contributor: He has reported on the FIFA Women's World Cup from Columbus, Ohio (issue 8), and is the author of "The Soccer Field in Canton, Georgia" (issue 5). He has published numerous other poems about football—Pelé is a specialty—and, like many of us, is a recent convert to satellite TV, enjoying the fruits of Gol TV and Fox Soccer Channel. Read our interview here.

Zoie, security officer and midfielder: A natural herder, she keeps things organized on match days. Sleeps through most fixtures on television, preferring to participate herself in games on natural surfaces. No e-mail contact available.