In 1937 appearance, Joyce joined Hungarians ‘in the middle’

Out of the blue, footballers sometimes wander through Nabokov’s prose. In commentary on John Shade‘s third canto in Pale Fire, Nabokov writes about two expatriate Russians who visit the mythical kingdom of Zembla as contract workers:

It was delightful to watch the two splendid Sovietchiks running about in the yard and kicking a chalk-dusty, thumping-tight soccer ball (looking so large and bald in such surroundings). Andronnikov could tap-play it on his toe up and down a dozen times before punting it rocket straight into the melancholy, surprised, bleached, harmless heavens; and Niagarin could imitate to perfection the mannerisms of a certain stupendous Dynamo goalkeeper.

Children playing football in Karl-Marx-Hof, Vienna, 1932, taking advantage of the space available in the Vorstädte. In describing a Viennese football boom in the early 20th century, author David Goldblatt writes of “innumerable kickabouts and neighbourhood contests” in these unclaimed industrial tracts. (IMAGNO | ÖNB | Lothar Rübelt)

While such musings are digressive—more like an aside than a sustainable trope—major competitions such as Euro 2008 regularly inspire creativity on the part of hosts eager to demonstrate legitimacy as a culture concerned with more than mere sport. Austria, nervous about its performance on the pitch, mounted a literary festival and related football tournament. Péter Zilahy captained the Hungarian writers’ team to victory and, in an article for the Observer, noted how the country’s cultural achievements might answer an ingrained fascination with failure: “Although we’re not always brilliant at football, like the English we are superb at coming up with excuses, seeking victories in the rhetorical sense.”

At Vienna’s Technisches Museum, “herz:rasen—die Fußballausstellung” (“racing:heart—The Football Exhibit”) presents artistic and historical responses to the sport, with Austrian accent. For example, an interactive station lets visitors see if they can overturn Austria’s shock 0–1 loss to Faroe Islands in Euro 1992 qualifying. The Vienna Independent Shorts cinema program in May offered 11 films of Swiss and Austrian origin, including documentary and drama.

A community theater in Dornach, Switzerland, presents a specially commissioned musical, TraumBall 4/2/4 (DreamBall 4-2-4), featuring the unlikely union of legendary Jewish Hungarian manager Béla Guttmann with Sophia Loren. They guide a young lad in search of his football heroes (see video), including Puskás and Eusébio, whom Guttmann mentored during his European Cup–winning years at Benfica. Czech author Eduard Bass‘s 1922 novel Klapzuba’s Eleven has been adapted for the stage by the husband-wife team of Jean-Luc Bideau and Marcela Salivarova-Bideau. The show runs Jun 17–28 at Theater Saint-Gervais in Geneva (see AFP video).

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