Israeli writers’ trophy leads to ‘emptiness of the day after’

Kissing the trophy, Tel Aviv, 16 Dec 08

Yali Sobol, left, and Lior Garty of Sofrim Golim, which could mean either “counting goals” or “writers in exile,” kiss the cup after a 4–2, come-from-behind victory over Germany on Dec 16. (Photo courtesy Israel Football Association)

Eduardo Galeano traces the impulse to write El fútbol a sol y sombra (Soccer in Sun and Shadow) and other works to perceptions of his own shortcomings as a young player: “Irredeemable klutz, disgrace of the playing fields, I had no choice but to ask of words what the ball so desired denied me.”

The statement makes one wonder whether writing and playing football are mutually exclusive talents. Must one resort to literary imagination when denied the opportunity to achieve glory in the arena?

Assaf Gavron, captain of the Israel team that had its introduction to the European Writers’ League in a friendly in Germany in May (see Dec 9), suggests that barriers between sport and literature are not so impermeable. Gavron occasionally has introduced footballers as characters in his novels and short stories and sees the game as a legitimate literary subject. For writers, the appeal of football is simple: “I think the main appeal is to accomplish the boyhood dream of many men really, not only writers,” says Gavron in a podcast interview Dec 18. “It is to be a football star.”

Interview with Gavron, from Tel Aviv, Dec 18. (24:26) Download »

When trophies do come, however—as one did for Israel on Dec 16 when it beat Germany 4–2, following a 3–2 win over English writers two days earlier (see video)—the post-match comments take on a different tone. It is hard to imagine David Beckham pondering “the loneliness of a player on the pitch” in homage to Peter Handke‘s metaphorical connection, in The Goalkeeper’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, between goal-tending and existential separation. The ephemeral nature of glory (sic transit gloria mundi) also does not come up often in the mixed zone. But Gavron, for one, draws a comparison between a football victory and finishing a novel.

I tell you what does feel similar is the emptiness of the day after. You win it, it’s exciting, you lift the cup and then the day after you’re back to your normal day life. You have to start climbing a new mountain from the bottom. It’s similar to the day you complete a novel, which is also something that you work for a long time, day after day, and aspire to and then, the moment it’s done, the next day you look around and say, “OK, what’s the big deal? What am I doing now?” And you’re back to your gray and normal life.

The Israeli entry in the Writers’ League, composed of poets, novelists, creators of comic books, editors and publishers ranging from Haifa in the north to Jerusalem (see roster below), fell behind by two goals against Germany. Similarly, in Berlin in May, Israel had allowed three in the first half—two on penalties. This time, Gavron said that home turf and a possible advantage resulting from Germany’s earlier match with England, a “World War II battle” after which two players were taken to hospital, meant that Israel could exploit a disciplined training schedule leading up to the tournament. The game-changers, though, were two players with elite experience—one on a youth team at Maccabi Haifa—who have become published authors.

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