Germany 4, Israel 2 in buildup to Word Cup (not a typo)

Keret, a very successful author and also a soccer fan, was incredibly busy, so he asked me if I would like to do something about it. Ralf told me more: the Writers’ League is an initiative conceived by the Italian novelist Alessandro Baricco (author of Silk), the former publisher Paolo Verri and Hungary’s Péter Zilahy. In Sept 05, Italy organized the first Writers’ League tournament in San Casciano dei Bagni, with Germany, Hungary, Italy and Sweden competing against one another. There is no official body organizing the tournaments, just enthusiastic writers who manage to acquire some sponsorship and public funding and invite other teams to play. Most players are in their 30s or 40s, and the general requirement for belonging to a team is to be a published writer or poet. The biggest tournament so far took place in Sweden in 2007 with six national teams, and the hosts won it (leading to claims by other teams that they cheated: using non-Swedes and professional ex-players who only published ghosted biographies …). This summer Hungary won a European championship in Switzerland.

One of the mysteries of the game is the existence of a U.S. team. Persistent rumors claim that such a team is being formed and that Dave Eggers and Aleksandar Hemon are among the players, but the person I’ve been in contact with seems to have gone underground recently. The last thing he wrote before disappearing was “we’re all still keen, we’re just … very dispersed.”

Which is one problem we in small Israel don’t suffer from. I gave it a shot: I sent a few e-mails and made a few phone calls and got a mixed bag of reactions. Some were very enthusiastic but too busy or injured. Some roared with laughter. Some came to one practice but left. Some didn’t reply, and one writer said he had serious matters to attend to. They all asked if I could invite professional ex-players who only published ghosted biographies.

The DFB co-sponsored a reading the evening of the match.

Many people asked us along the way what soccer has got to do with literature. The connection seemed bizarre to them, but for us the connection is natural—the creativity and the passion, the excitement and the pain, the rage and the fame: soccer is life, literature is about life. Albert Camus once said that he learned everything he knows about life on a soccer pitch; Peter Handke wrote Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick), which also became a Wim Wenders movie; England’s Nick Hornby, Scotland’s Irvine Welsh, the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano—all have written fiction about the game, and you can mention in this context the importance of baseball in the works of Americans Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and others. And besides the literary representation, there were plenty of other attractions—the chance to play, to exert your muscles, to ease tensions, to freshen the brain cells, to fulfill dreams, to get out of your shell and meet people like you, to learn about a different literature and present your own, to use the resonance of the most popular game on earth to somewhat lighten up your ascetic vocation … what exactly is so difficult to understand here?

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