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Israeli writers’ trophy leads to ‘emptiness of the day after’
Posted By John Turnbull On 19 December 2008 @ 23:06 In Israel,Language,Podcast | 2 Comments
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.”
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.
Gavron jokes that now the side can envision its own writers’ team library—stocked with books from exchanges with other footballing men of letters. The library might adjoin a trophy room that glitters like Real Madrid’s. In reality, though, the cup likely will end up with the team’s sponsor, a popular Israeli café chain.
The most immediate benefits from entry into this loose amalgam of writers’ teams, previously confined to Europe, are gaining a rallying point for young Israeli writers and offering a new means for exposure to literature. The Writers’ League concept started in Italy with Osvaldo Soriano Football Club , named for the late Argentine writer. (One of Soriano’s football stories, “The Longest Penalty Ever,” became a feature film in 2005, El penalti más largo del mundo .)
Italy organized a World Cup of Writers in 2006, also contested by England , the Netherlands, Hungary and Sweden . Murmurings among some “pissed-off” members of this fraternity are that Sweden has bolstered its club with pedigreed players of dubious literary credentials. “Even their poets looked robust,” English writer Craig Taylor said of Swedes at the 2006 event (“Literary Kicks ,” CBC, 3 Oct 06). Other members in the collective include Spain, Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland and Norway.
Gavron and other organizers might have been tempted but limited team selection to writers with poetry collections, novels (graphic and text-based) or nonfiction works to their names. For those living with fingertips glued to a QWERTY keyboard, or Hebrew equivalent, football offers a chance to learn how to become part of a group. “You know writers are usually on their own behind the computer screen, not much social life,” Gavron says, “so it was a great opportunity to find some kind of social life and to get together with people who are like you.”
The theme for the literary event at Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theatre on Dec 16, appropriate for a tournament celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary as a modern state and featuring England and Germany, was perception of the other. Israeli football commentator Avi Meller guided the discussion.
According to Gavron, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier  has been pushing such sporting exchanges, which have formed part of Israel and Germany’s “special relationship ” since the 1960s. The football associations of Israel and Germany have helped sponsor the writers’ events.
Der Spiegel on the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2005 characterized periodic nitpicking and bickering as “more like Homer and Marge than two sovereign states” (Henryk M. Broder, “Normality in the Shadow of History ,” 24 Mar 05). But for every diplomatically mandated visit to the Yad Vashem memorial signs of normality in the relationship abound: Volkswagen and Mercedes automobiles in the Holy Land along with German tourists on beach promenades in Tel Aviv. Germany, after the United States, is Israel’s most important trade partner.
Gavron said that writers beneath a blue Tel Aviv sky this week took another small step to healing stereotypes and stigmas affecting the three nations. They could all consider themselves people of the book.
Can I still play football three times a week? You look at me with your monk’s face, full of an infinite pity, yes, but without understanding, loosened from the realities of this life like a boat that has slipped its rig and floats in the bay. Because you know the truth as I know it. The aesthetic, political, journalistic, academic opportunities afforded a writer in these United States of America—all of them are sadly incompatible with playing a game of football, three times a week.
During the three days of the Writers’ League tournament we created a world in which there was nothing other than the game: no commitments, no disturbances, no world. We cursed, broke legs (that is, the English broke the Germans’ legs and vice versa), swore to victory and glory; a German player even cursed a referee and got the red card. Suddenly we discovered a window onto the world of childhood where all complexity is eliminated: There is us and there is them, there is winning and there is losing.
Coach: Asi Singal
Manager: Shlomi Avital, Aroma Espresso Bars 
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URLs in this post:
 Israel Football Association: http://football.org.il/Pages/default.aspx
 Dec 9: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/2008/12/literature-germany-4-israel-2-in-buildup-to-word-cup-not-a-typo/
 Download »: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/ggpod18.mp3
 video: http://e.walla.co.il/?w=/6/1398172
 Image: http://www.suhrkamp.de/titel/titel.cfm?bestellnr=45969
 Osvaldo Soriano Football Club: http://www.railibro.rai.it/recensioni.asp?id=82
 El penalti más largo del mundo: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0430454/
 England: http://writersteam.co.uk/
 Sweden: http://www.forfattarlandslaget.se/
 Literary Kicks: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/writerscup.html
 Frank-Walter Steinmeier: http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/AAmt/Leitung/BM-Lebenslauf.html
 special relationship: http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/Infoservice/Presse/Interview/Archiv/2005/050518-DtlUndIsrael.html
 Normality in the Shadow of History: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,348048,00.html
 Ralf Bönt: http://www.boent.eu
 On the Road: American Writers and Their Hair: http://www.eyeshot.net/zadie1.html
 Word Association Football: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1048377.html
 Three Things for a Lonely Island: http://books.google.com/books?id=VrCXbKAjjCAC&dq=yoav+avni&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=K8dDRjIrI5&sig=EI5zWQa3AycDuCMfCEGIbQWr2co&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result
 Sapir Prize: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir_Prize
 Assaf Gavron:: http://www.assafgavron.com/english/
 Dovi Keich:: http://dovikeich.com/
 Udi Sharabani:: http://www.notes.co.il/sharabani/
 poetry: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=C2HDZlW5Dr8
 Uri Sheradsky:: http://www.wsc.co.uk/content/view/406/29/
 Begin, 1913–1992: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/985819.html
 Ha-Hamishia Hakamerit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108794/
 Puzzle: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0307813/
 Hamovilim: http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%94%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%91%D7%99%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%9D
 Aroma Espresso Bars: http://www.aroma.co.il/Default.aspx?alias=www.aroma.co.il/en
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