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The season for atonement
Andrei Markovits, professor of comparative politics and German studies at the University of Michigan and co-author of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, goes further. By dint of a prevailing conservatism that had banned English terms such as "corner kick" and "touchline," German football authorities, according to Markovits, integrated seamlessly with the Nazi program. "[I]n Nazism, the DFB found a good ally, a soulful affinity" (Jack Bell, "German Federation Admits to Nazi Past," New York Times, 20 September). Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, in his 2002 book, Tor! The Story of German Football, already had found evidence supporting such conclusions. In the chapter titled "Angst and Anschluss: Football under the Nazis," Hesse-Lichtenberger writes that as early as April 1933 football authorities pronounced in kicker that "members of the Jewish race, and persons who have turned out to be followers of the Marxist movement, are deemed unacceptable" (80). The Nazification of German football clubs thus preceded by several weeks the official government order to expel Jews from welfare organizations, youth groups and sporting clubs. German international Julius Hirsch, a longtime member of FV Karlsruhe, and thousands of other Jews were forced to leave their clubs. Hirsch ultimately was murdered at Auschwitz. Sepp Herberger, manager of the side that defeated Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final—what Markovits calls "the most important event in Germany becoming the Federal Republic" and depicted in Das Wunder von Bern—also had ties to the Nazi past, but his ultimate allegiance seems unclear in Hesse-Lichtenberger's account.
Moving forward rapidly to the present angst-ridden period—"Everyone is afraid" is how one Munich resident described the pre-election feeling (James Meek, "Berlin Blues," The Guardian, 15 September)—political realities suggest a period of Margaret Thatcher–style benefit-cutting. Unemployment in the unified republic stands at 11.5 percent (20 percent in eastern Germany). Population growth is 0 percent. Economic growth, similarly, is stagnant. In football, one team from the former East Germany, Hansa Rostock, remains in the Bundesliga's top flight. "Football has thus become a metaphor for the failure of the united Germany," writes the Times of London's Owen Slot ("East Germans Try to Arrest Decline by Bringing Back Player Production Line," 16 September). "[E]ast cannot match west economically and its football clubs cannot match up either." Football proved of no help to Schröder. (Covering all bases, Schröder is said to support three clubs: the working-class Borussia Dortmund, his hometown Hanover 96 and FC Cottbus from the east.) Plans to hold the election in September 2006, in the glow of a successful World Cup, went awry when events forced the polling forward by one year. Manager of the German national team, Jürgen Klinsmann, finds himself cast about, too, by uncertainties resulting from changes he has brought to the side: a different training regimen and his own decision to run much of team business from his home outside Los Angeles (see Rob Hughes, "The Big Interview: Jürgen Klinsmann," The Sunday Times [U.K.], 2 October). He has been summoned to an emergency meeting with the Bundesliga president the weekend of 22–23 October. He will be called to account.EPISTLES
al-Qaeda + Arsenal = Incendiary
London, 5 August 2005 | Violence and sport continue as a brew enchanting would-be terrorists and, now, an epistolary novelist. Chris Cleave's Incendiary, which takes the form of a bereaved widow's letters to Osama bin Laden, was published on 7 July.
The narrator continues:
Curiously, the narrator seems blissfully unaware that bin Laden—according to Adam Robinson's book Terror on the Pitch: How Bin Laden Targeted Beckham and the England Football Team (Mainstream, 2002)—is, or was, an Arsenal supporter, an attachment developed during his London residency in the early 1990s. Simon Kuper of the Financial Times calls Robinson's book "curiously ignored" ("Terrorists Take Aim for the Global Audience," 8 July), as it details the foiled al-Qaeda plot to kill England players and fans at the first-round England–Tunisia match in the 1998 World Cup finals. (Kuper also documents bin Laden's Arsenal ties in "The World's Game Is Not Just a Game," New York Times Magazine, 26 May 2002, 36–39.) The failure of the operation allegedly led to a subsequent al-Qaeda attack on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Kuper quotes U.S. government agent Louis Mizell as having tallied 171 terrorist attacks on sporting events since 1972. Arsenal now have officially banned bin Laden from the grounds ("Fanatical about Football," BBC Sport, 11 November 2001), and we doubt that the old chant is still in use:
He's hiding near KabulZINES
Friendly approach to the game
Dig deep in this list for the gems
London, 8 May 2005 | Fourteen of the Observer Sport Monthly's top-50 sports books relate to football, yet only one makes the top 10. Three of the top 10 concern boxing, with cricket (2),
Hornby embraces 'miserablism'
London, 23 April 2005 | A long Guardian profile of Nick Hornby applies an interesting new hermeneutic to Fever Pitch (Simon Hattenstone, "Laughing All the Way to the Cemetery"). Read
Update: Hornby reads a children's story on the 26 August 2005 edition of This American Life (the reading begins at about the 32-minute mark). The story, to be included in a collection benefiting 826NYC—a nonprofit teaching creative and expository writing—concerns a nation so small that it consists of a soccer pitch, school and some dwellings. The measure of patriotism is taken by one's willingness to compete for the national football team against San Marino, Andorra and the Vatican.
Will Buckley promotes his book (above) and spills bile at the same time.
Buckley apparently has been salting his wounds for some time. Last year he took part in an Arsenal-bashing e-mail exchange with author Julie Welch in which he formulated many of his gripes about the media's obsession with the game, about the game's "unbridled capitalism," and so on. Welch parried him nicely:
Poor Will, Have you had a significant birthday recently? Going off football—it's one of the harbingers of middle age, like wanting to read your pension plan. Football is for the young. You think you're consuming it, but really it consumes you. . . . And then, when you're middle-aged, it spits you out. The sound of the Kop choir gives you a headache. You look ridiculous in a replica shirt. . . . You think to yourself, what am I doing here? You'd rather be at the Chelsea Flower Show.
More significant, on the same day, were the links that the Guardian's Steven Wells suggested between TalkSport radio's anti-immigrant slant and domestic attacks in Britain on asylum seekers ("Why TalkSport Is an Obscenity"). Wells protests when "the UK's most popular commercial sports radio station . . . gives a platform to nationalist bigots, quasi-fascists and racists of every strain" and, in particular, the use of code language: "internationalism" for Jewish influence and "multicultural" to mean non-white. "[H]ow could the nazis," Wells writes, "not love a station that debates (seriously) whether the word 'paki' is more offensive than the word 'brit'?"
These critiques sound spot-on, certainly more substantial than Buckley's. But we'll reserve judgment until reading Buckley's novel, about which the Scotsman sounds lukewarm, calling it "an entertaining enough novel that settles for a safe, no-score draw."
Parma and Verona proceeded to swap a number of players. In May 2001 the Verona team went to Parma absolutely desperate for a win to save them from relegation into the less profitable Serie B. Out of 16 away games that season Verona had lost 14 and drawn two. Since I have been a season ticket holder at Verona for many years, I was on the bus with the fans going to the crucial game. They were amazingly confident. "2–1 to us," they said. "It's been fixed." Mr. Tanzi would never, they thought, allow his team to play against his own money. And 2–1 it was, Verona scoring in the dying minutes while Parma's excellent defense stood by.
A couple of Britons brought a ball from their trenches and a lively game began. How fantastically wonderful and yet strange. The British officers experienced it just the same—that thanks to football and Christmas, the feast of love, deadly enemies could briefly meet as friends.
Kuper notes that the last soldier known to have played No Man's Land football, Bertie Felstead, who played in a match at Christmas 1915, died in 2001 at an old-age home in Gloucestershire. He was 106.
In six hours of conversation . . . , Sing never once mentioned Germany's victims. He never denied that Germans had done terrible things, and he never offered a defence of Nazism ("It's nonsense, just as Communism is nonsense," he said), but the main victims of Hitler he was aware of were the German soldiers. | back to top