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The season for atonement

Link to Bundesdance 2005
Chancellor-in-waiting Angela Merkel heads the field in Bundesdance 2005, presented by Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Note a tiny Jens Lehmann in blue, in front of the Allianz Arena.
Berlin, 15 October 2005 | Angela Merkel will lead a "grand coalition" of Christian and Social Democrats as chancellor. She will become the first woman and the first from the former East Germany to head the government. Analysts read the hardly overwhelming result as a triumph over the backward-looking achtundsechziger ("68ers"), those of ex-chancellor's Gerhard Schröder's ilk who began a slow rise in the late 1960s and started on a cultural course of engagement with the Nazi past (see Frederick Studemann, "Germany Swings to a Pragmatic Generation," Financial Times). As always, these political changes can be read against the developments in football, in which the angst of a referee match-fixing scandal moving to trial and dubious international results less than eight months before the World Cup form the backdrop to publication last month of Fußball unterm Hakenkreuz (Football under the swastika). Commissioned in 2001 by the German football federation (DFB), the book brings to completion the three-year study by University of Mainz lecturer Nils Havemann, the first to gain full access to DFB archives. Havemann describes the football association as having played "a contributing role to the stability of the Nazi rulers." Thus, DFB members "deserve a share of the guilt for the suppression, persecution, war and annihilation" of Jews and other "undesirables" (Erik Kirschbaum, "Book Probes Nazi Past of German Federation," Reuters, 14 September).

On the cover of Havemann's book, German players give the stiff-armed salute before a 1941 match against Sweden in Stockholm.

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.

In an incredible happenstance before the G-8 summit last year in Sea Island, Georgia, Schröder stumbles upon a group of kids with some footballs on an airport tarmac. A perfect opportunity to juggle. (Haraz Ghanbari | AP)

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.

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 book by Adam Robinson includes details on bin Laden's football-viewing habits. It is said he made four visits to Highbury in 1994.
In a horrible coincidence, the date was that of the terror attacks on the London Underground. The book's premise is an attack on Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium during a pivotal match with Chelsea. A nameless narrator, a woman from Bethnal Green, loses her husband and son and begins her letter-writing campaign. Cleave renders the prose in what more than one reviewer describes as "faux-naïf." From the narrator's opening missive:

They say you believe that if your people kill anyone innocent then you're doing them a favour because they will go to be with Allah. I wouldn't know about that. My husband didn't believe in Allah he believed in his kid and Arsenal football club. I always liked the football but my husband and my boy were mad for it. My husband used to take the boy to all the home games. The fun used to start the night before. Before we put the boy to bed my husband would run around the flat with the boy on his shoulders. They would sing 1 NIL TO THE ARSENAL till the upstairs neighbours banged on the ceiling. They were Chelsea fans upstairs.

The narrator continues:

You live in the mountains with your Kalashnikov Osama sending god's fiery vengeance down on the heads of the prophet's enemies so you might think football isn't that important. Well it is. . . . You think you've seen jihad Osama but I'm telling you you haven't seen anything till you've seen what happens if they let Arsenal and Chelsea fans mix going into a game.

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 Kabul
He loves the Arsenal
Oh oh oh oh!

Friendly approach to the game

Three recent issues of 11Freunde, Hard gras and Le cahiers du football.
Berlin, 1 August 2005 | German football magazine 11Freunde "reads more like a love letter than a typical sports magazine," writes Andreas Tzortzis of the International Herald Tribune ("From Soccer Field to Newsstand: View from the Bar Stool"). Following on its English predecessor in the football-culture genre, When Saturday Comes, 11Freunde launched in 2000 as the creation of Arminia Bielefeld supporters Philipp Köster and Reinaldo Coddou. Along with Holland's Hard gras and Le cahiers du football in France, it forms a quasi-literary quartet of "meta-communicative" challengers to mainstream glossies FourFourTwo (U.K.), Kicker (Germany), Voetbal International (Netherlands) and France Football. The "meta" prefix comes from Franz Stuke, a professor of communications at Ruhr-University Bochum. Stuke classifies 11Freunde and like publications as a unique form of journalism, in that they are a sphere removed from direct reporting on events. Such journals—and The Global Game likely falls into this category—report not on the participants in sporting events, but on the observers. "It's this form of meta-communication, to communicate what you've experienced," says Stuke. "It's like theatergoers who after they've seen the play, want to see what the critic has to say. The die-hard soccer fan doesn't read that; he talks about it at the game and afterwards—but doesn't need to read it in a paper." With the 2006 World Cup finals less than one year away, the trend in Germany appears to be expanding with the first issue of Rund, produced by Kicker publishers Olympia Verlag. One challenge in publishing against the grain is unforeseen popularity. Now that 11Freunde has been acquired by a large publisher, Intro Verlag, and its circulation has grown to 75,000, the pressure of meeting readers' perceived needs increases. "We have a certain relevance now," says Köster, "which is not always great."

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),

J. L. Carr's work is "written in the style of an official history . . . by the club secretary."
horse racing (1), bicycling (1), rugby (1) and baseball (1) rounding out the rest. Number 1, unsurprisingly, is Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, which continues to find life as a bastardized Hollywood production in which the Boston Red Sox stand in for Arsenal (see 23 April for more on Hornby's latest work). Just two woman authors make the top 50: Laura Hillenbrand and Seabiscuit at no. 4 and Joan Ryan with Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, concerning the politics of gymnastics and figure skating (no. 40). The most intriguing football entry, to us, is How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup (1975), by James Lloyd Carr, which is ranked 16th. Carr, school headmaster, map publisher and former amateur footballer, began a career as novelist in his 50s and wrote eight books, including the well-known Month in the Country. D. J. Taylor describes Sinderby as "a dazzling version of the time-honoured fantasy in which a village side goes on an unfettered rampage of giant-killing. Here the stimulus is a displaced Hungarian academic who, having made a scientific study of the game, devises 'seven postulations' for success."

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

Hornby's new book will be released in May. The Guardian calls it "a suicide romp."
against Hornby's expanding oeuvre—including High Fidelity, About a Boy, How to Be Good and now A Long Way Down—we now, according to Hattenstone, can read the 1992 account of Hornby's Arsenal love affair as one man's struggle "with depression, under-achieving and not belonging." Hornby says that Fever Pitch was born from encounters with his psychotherapist. In the awkward silences beginning each session, Hornby would fill the void with football results. But Hornby "began to think of Arsenal as a metaphor for his life: boring, boring Arsenal (as they had been for decades), the chippy underachievers, so hard to love because they played such unattractive football." Yet though Hornby's recent book project concerns suicide, life is looking up: Arsenal are playing well and Hornby has two new sons. He characterizes his mood as "a sort of strain of English miserablism, where you know everything is crap and everyone who pretends it isn't is kidding themselves. Yeah, this is the best it will ever get."

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.

LONDON, 5 MAY 2004
Only So Many Ways to Score, and 'I Have Seen Them All'
Disgruntled Observer columnist Will Buckley purges his ill feelings about football in memorable fashion ("Why I'm Not Singing Any More . . . ," The Guardian). Buckley's criticisms and bile would have more resonance,

Will Buckley promotes his book (above) and spills bile at the same time.
however, were he not plugging his just-published novel, The Man Who Hated Football (Fourth Estate). At least Buckley confesses to his awkward position as being of one mind with the novel's protagonist, Jimmy Stirling, a similarly disillusioned sportswriter—a situation that, Buckley writes, has resulted in the merging of truth and fiction.

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."

Hail the 'Schlubster Linesman'
Irishman Paul Muldoon's poem "Soccer Moms" appears in the New Yorker (issue dated 16 and 23 February, pp. 166–67; available in the magazine only). Poet Paul Muldoon. Click for his official website.
		  Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Moy Sand and Gravel: Poems, Muldoon invokes the Cuban Missile Crisis, Gene Chandler of "Duke of Earl" fame and two mothers, Mavis and Merle, who watch "their daughters, themselves now tweenie girls, / crowd round a coach for one last tête-à-tête." The 34-line poem of 11 stanzas contrasts seriousness with recreation, highlighting the worries and regrets that the mothers find themselves having inherited, while their daughters play on. A recurring image is that of failing light, when "a schlubster linesman will unfurl / an offside flag that signals some vague threat. . . ." Muldoon currently works as Howard G. B. Clark Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, where he has written sport-themed poems in the past. He penned a dedication, "All the Way," for the opening of a new Princeton gridiron-football stadium in 1998. . . . In other literary news, Parade magazine notes that Theodore S. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) in 1920 managed the soccer team for his high school in Springfield, Massachusetts (Earl Swift, "We Celebrate Dr. Seuss"). The magazine contains a picture of Geisel (middle name "Seuss") with 17 other boys and one football. . . . For unpoetic reactions to the on-pitch poetry of Arsenal's Thierry Henry, see the quotations from Frank Kermode and U.K. poet laureate Andrew Motion (Tim Adams, "Thierry's All Gold," The Observer [U.K.]).

  • Verona, Italy | 19 January 2004 . . . With the Parmalat crisis in view (see 26 December 2003 gleanings entry), Click for more information on Parks's book about Hellas Veronanovelist Tim Parks writes of the historic influence of Italian barons—dating to Florentine magnate Lorenzo de' Medici—over finance and, now, over calcio ("Now That's Italian!" Wall Street Journal, p. A12). Author of A Season with Verona: Travels around Italy in Search of Illusion, National Character and . . . Goals! Parks of course refers to Parmalat's Calisto Tanzi (Parma), Silvio Berlusconi (AC Milan), Vittorio Cecchi Gori (Fiorentina), Gianni Agnelli (Juventus) and Sergio Cragnotti (Lazio). Most intriguing, though, is the relationship between Tanzi and Gianbattista Pastorello, former sporting director at Parma and, in 1998, the buyer of Hellas Verona, the side that Parks pursued for his 450-page narrative. After Pastorello's move,

    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.

  • Washington | 12 January 2004 . . . The revamped Foreign Policy website posts, from the Click for Foer's articlemagazine's January/February issue, Franklin Foer's take on globalization as seen through the lens of football ("Soccer vs. McWorld"). A likely précis of Foer's upcoming book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization (HarperCollins, scheduled for July 2004 release), the essay suggests that, with football's rapid exploitation of global markets, plundering and corruption have been the result. As examples, Foer names the demise of professional Brazilian football and, interestingly, the continuing sectarianism on display among Celtic and Rangers supporters in the Scottish Premier League. Foer alludes to a hazy collusion between the clubs in keeping the Catholic-Protestant divide at the forefront: "[F]rom the start of their rivalry, Celtic and Rangers have been nicknamed the 'Old Firm,' because they're seen as colluding to profit from their mutual hatreds. Even in the global market, they attract more fans because their supporters crave ethnic identification—to join a fight on behalf of their tribe." Foer has written previously on football, for his employer, the New Republic, and for online magazine Slate ("Gloooooooooo—balism!" 12 February 2001). Foreign Policy, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, includes two sidebars with Foer's article: "Fair Trade Soccer," on the dominance of wealthy clubs and a review of literature.
  • London | 26 December 2003 . . . The legendary No Man's Land truce of December 1914 was a reality. So The cover of Weintraub's volume "Silent Night"writes Simon Kuper ("When Football Brought Peace to the Trenches," Financial Times), referencing recent books by Stanley Weintraub (Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce [Plume, 2002]) and Michael Jürgs (Der kleine Frieden im grossen Krieg [The small peace in the big war] [Bertelsmann, 2003]). According to diaries, German and Allied soldiers did initiate a pause in hostilities, during which football matches were staged, although, Kuper writes, "shellholes and the soldiers' huge boots made close control impossible." Four years ago the diary of one Lt. Kurt Zehmisch was found. Zehmisch writes:

    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.

  • Lugano, Switzerland | 16 November 2003 . . . A surreal air surrounds Simon Kuper's meeting with Albert Sing, the lone survivor among international footballers who once played for Nazi Germany ("War Games," The Observer [U.K.]). Sing speaks of his hardships as a soldier and the propaganda surrounding Germany matches of the period—Simon Kuper's "Ajax, the Dutch, the War" has been shortlisted for the William Hill award for the best U.K. sports book of 2003 "What really offended me is that before the match, when the anthems were played, we had to give the [Nazi] salute until our arms were practically falling off!" Sing says. Yet Kuper is aware of all that is not being said. "We were sitting happily around [Sing's] living-room table, quaffing coffee and listening to the birds sing in the garden, and were getting on well, but a tension was emerging in our conversation." Kuper continues:

    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