Frank McCourt recalls some hallowed turf | Readings for 29 November 2006


Na Piarsaigh versus Ballinacurra Gardens in a Gaelic football match in Limerick. In “gah,” players advance the ball by carrying, kicking, hand-passing, or “soloing,” repetitively kicking the ball into their hands. (GROGG!! | Flickrâ„¢)

Limerick, Ireland | Sunday’s Observer Sport Monthly offers an essay by Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Angela’s Ashes, who remembers sporting divisions growing up and playing football despite its place as a “foreign sport.” Rugby also fit into this category. “If you played for a football or rugby club you could never play Gaelic football or hurling,” McCourt writes.

Sports were regarded as the province of Protestants or Catholics. Croquet, tennis and fox hunting were seen as Protestant pursuits; rowing was Catholic. Rugby was a crossover game. But “it was football that drove the mothers to distraction”:

They told us we were destroying our shoes with the tin cans we kicked for hours in the back lanes and we were to stop it. Winter would be on us and with the way our shoes were collapsing we might as well run around in our bare feet. If they caught us kicking the cans, we would be dragged home and forced to stare at the wall while our pals played on distant streets. My friend Billy Campbell had an idea. We’d go to a butcher, get a sheep’s bladder and pack it with grass and paper. If we played, barefoot, in the back meadow of the People’s Park, the bladder would last for hours, shoes would last longer and the mothers would be happy. (Observer Sport Monthly, 26 Nov 06)

Somalia | 25 football fans arrested watching Chelsea–Manchester United
According to an account from Muse Mohamed Osman of the Somali Sports Press Association, masked gunmen believed to be enforcing edicts of the Islamic Courts Union fired above the heads of 150 watching football in a cinema in Buulo Burde on Nov 26. Says eyewitness Adul Waahid Ahmed, “Everyone ran toward the front of the cinema and only 25 of the more than 150 fans were arrested and had their heads shaved. Praise be to Allah no one was hurt.” Islamic sheikhs who control the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the southern part of the country pledge to continue a ban on viewing sport (see Nov 20).

Sheikh Hussein Barre Raage of the Buulo Burde district said that

Somali youth are obliged to go to the holy war instead of watching what he called “the bad games which descended from the old Christian cultures.” The Sheik decreed that instead of watching television, sports fans must register at specially established holy war registration centers. (aipsmedia.com, 27 Nov 06)

Also in Somalia, religious leaders urged the national team to “defeat the Catholic Ethiopia, ‘the enemy of Islam,’ ” before the ongoing Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup. Sheikhs realized the two teams are not paired in the group stages, but kept the contingency alive in case the two teams meet in the knockout phase. (Play the Game, 27 Nov 06)

Swan

Israel | How racism is holding back Arab footballers
Renowned Arab footballer Abbass Swan, established at Maccabi Haifa after flirtations with Beitar Jerusalem, reflects on his acceptance in Haifa and the ambition to become Beitar’s first Arab player. Beitar owner Arcadi Gaydamak approached Swan, writes James Montague, but Swan says, obliquely, that Gaydamak “got into trouble in Jerusalem. In the end, he apologised and said he couldn’t sign me.”

Swan recalls winning the national cup with Bnei Sakhnin in 2004:

I was so proud for the Arabs in Israel, proud that we were narrowing the gaps between communities through football. Now there are many symbols attached to me and many see me as an Arab symbol, nothing more. When the war [with Hizbollah] broke out, everybody asked me what I thought. The truth is, a drop of blood from a Jewish or Arab child is the same. The missiles don’t distinguish between Jews and Arabs. (Observer, 26 Nov 06)

Asian Games | Iran gets green light
FIFA has provisionally lifted a suspension on international football in Iran to cover the start of the Asian Games in Qatar. Iran football chief Dariush Mostafavi said FIFA’s requests, including the reinstating of previously sacked federation official Mohammed Dadkan, would be met by Dec 5. (aljazeera.net, 27 Nov 06)

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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