Canada | First among soccer nations

[A]s white campers played at being Indian, contemporary Native children were the target of aggressive campaigns aimed to rid them of their “Indian-ness.” Did campers have any idea, one wonders, that as [camp] directors donned Native headdresses, state laws attempted to bar Aboriginal peoples from appearing publicly in traditional dress? Were they ever aware that as they enthusiastically participated in Indian rituals, Native bands in western provinces were prohibited from holding their own sundance or potlatch ceremonies? (539)

While the definitive account of the First Nations relationship to soccer has yet to be written, historian and author Jose has identified two prominent footballers with aboriginal roots: David Greyeyes (1914–96) of the Cree Nation, who played and toured with the Saskatchewan All-Stars in matches against various English sides, and Terry Felix (Coast Salish), billed as the NASL’s first player of native heritage when he signed for Vancouver in the early 1980s. Felix also played for the Canadian Olympic and national teams.

Certainly there have long been regional teams competing in Vancouver and British Columbia, and we do not know if these included First Nations participants. Commercial photographer Stuart Thomson (see the image at the top of this article) chronicled soccer games in the 1920s, and Thomson’s images of barnstorming baseball teams continue to turn up—most recently, rare prints of the American Giants, a black team from Chicago that toured the West Coast 90 years ago (Tom Hawthorn, “A Storied Portrait of a Team Set Apart,” Globe and Mail, Oct 31).

Hawthorn writes that “Vancouver has a long history as a stop for travelling sports teams in search of an audience,” although Richard Howes, editor of BC Soccer Web, writes that the Beckham visit would not feature in a list of “farcical historical examples” such as the touring baseball Bloomer Girls, who also featured cross-dressers.

Beckham himself has been the subject of gender-bending analysis in Britain, but the most incisive approach may come from Globe and Mail television critic and Guardian Sport Blog contributor John Doyle. Often it takes an interpreter from the north, a witness to the excesses of the cultural colossus to the south, to provide a clear reading. For Doyle, “Beckham may be the worst possible face of soccer in the U.S.” (“Even David Beckham Can’t Sell Soccer in the States,” Nov 5).

Soccer acts as a cultural divide. On the one hand, interest in the game and support for its expansion signals a progressive attitude, a willingness to see the U.S. as part of the larger world, not an isolated place, smug in its status as a world power.

On the other hand, skepticism and even derision for soccer signals American traditionalism. It is a kind of signifier for Republican attitudes. That attitude amounts to hard-line beliefs that the United States is the strongest country in the world, and its sports—NFL football, major league baseball, NBA Basketball—are the best sports. They are manly games that require strength, skill and masculine fortitude.

Beckham, the metrosexual figure, the stylish man who embraces his own popularity with the gay community, is actually a divisive figure in American culture.

Again, Beckham continues to surprise. Plain-spoken and careful never to transgress, he nevertheless serves as a convenient figure for exegesis within the cultural settings through which he moves. “A great deal of meaning can be extrapolated from his stature,” Doyle continues.

Page 4 of 5 | Previous page | Next page