Religious, economic, political and ethnic divisions around the world are dramatically illuminated using the world's most popular sport as a lens and metaphor. A groundbreaking work. Soccer is much more than a game, or even a way of life. In fact, it's a perfect window into the crosscurrents of today's world, with all of its joys and sorrows. Soccer clubs don't represent geographic areas; they stand for social classes and political ideologies. And unlike baseball or tennis, soccer is freighted with the weight of ancient hatreds and history. It's a sport with real stakes one that is capable of ruining regimes and launching liberation movements.In this remarkably insightful, wideranging work of reportage, Franklin Foer takes us on a surprising tour through the world of soccer, shattering the myths of our new global age. Instead of destroying local cultures, as the left predicted, globalization has revived tribalism. Far from the triumph of capitalism that the right predicted, it has entrenched corruption. From Brazil to Bosnia, and Italy to Iran, this is an eyeopening chronicle of how a beautiful sport and its fanatical followers can highlight the fault lines of a society, whether it's terrorism, poverty, antiSemitism, or radical Islam issues that now have an impact on all of us. Filled with blazing intelligence, colourful characters, wry humour, and an equal passion for soccer and humanity, How Soccer Explains the World is an utterly original book that makes sense of our troubled times.
Franklin Foer is a staff writer at the New Republic and a frequent contributor to Slate. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, and Spin. He lives in Washington, DC
How Soccer Explains the World
An Unlikely Theory of Globalization
How Soccer Explains
the Gangster's Paradise
Red Star Belgrade is the most beloved, most successfulsoccer team in Serbia. Like nearly every club inEurope and Latin America, it has a following of unrulyfans capable of terrific violence. But at Red Star the violentfans occupy a place of honor, and more than that.They meet with club officials to streamline the organizationalflow chart of their gangs. Their leaders receivestipends. And as part of this package, they have accessto office space in the team's headquarters in the uppermiddle-class neighborhood of Topcider.
The gangs have influence, in large measure,because they've won it with intimidation. A few monthsbefore I arrived in Belgrade to learn about the club'scomplicity in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Red Starfan clubs had burst into the team's training session.With bats, bars, and other bludgeons, they beat three of their own players. After their havoc, they aren't typicallyshy about advertising their accomplishments. In thisinstance, the hooligans told reporters bluntly that theycould "no longer tolerate lack of commitment on thepitch." It took only one phone call to organize an interviewwith a handful of them in their first-floor meetingroom at the Red Star headquarters.
The Belgrade neighborhood around Red Star is cartoonishlyominous. An enormous gaggle of crowsresides on the stadium's roof. When goals are scoredand the crowd erupts, the birds flee -- across town, it'spossible to gauge the results of a game based on presenceor absence of an ornithological cloud above theskyline. On the other side of the street from the stadium,the family of Arkan, the most notorious warlordand gangster in Serb history, lives in a castle he constructed,a nouveau riche monstrosity with tiers of towersand turrets. When I loiter near the house for toolong, a large man in a leather jacket emerges andinquires about my business. Because of the atrocitiescommitted by Arkan's men, I describe myself as a losttourist, nervously ask him for directions, and walk awaybriskly. On the evening of my visit, the sky is gunmetal.
My translator had arranged for me to meet withDraza, a leader of a Red Star fan club that calls itself theUltra Bad Boys. He had persuaded him with theoverblown promise that an interview would bring gloryunto the club and world renown unto the achievementsof the Red Star fans. Six of Draza's loquacious colleaguesjoin him. At first glance, the Bad Boys lookentirely unworthy of the first part of their name and tooworthy of the second. Aside from the big red tattoos of their gang name on their calves, they seem like relativelyupstanding young men. Draza wears a fleecejacket and chinos. His head of overgrown yet obviouslymanicured hair has the aura of a freshman philosophystudent. As it turns out, he is a college student,swamped with preparations for exams. His comradesaren't any more menacing. One of them has a bowlhaircut, a pudgy face, and an oversized ski parka thathe never removes -- he looks like the kind of guy who'sbeen shoved into his fair share of lockers.
Perhaps to increase their credibility, the Bad Boyshave brought along a gray-haired man called Krle, whowears a ratty black San Antonio Spurs jacket. Krle'ssinewy frame gives the impression that he fills hisleisure time with pull-ups on a door frame in his flat.Many years of living a hooligan life have aged him prematurely.(When I ask his age and occupation, he changesthe subject.) Unlike the naïve enthusiasm exhibited bythe teens, who greet me warmly, Krle blares indifference.He tells my translator that he has only joined our interviewbecause Draza insisted. His one gesture of bonhomieis to continually pour me warm Serbian beerfrom a plastic bottle. After I taste the beer, it hardlyseems like such a friendly gesture. But because of hisangry gray eyes, I find myself drinking glass after glass.
Krle serves as senior advisor to the group, a mentorto the aspiring hooligans. Putting aside his intenseglare and unfriendly demeanor, I was actually glad forhis presence. My interest in Red Star centers on the1990s, his heyday as thug, when the fan clubs played apivotal role in the revival of Serbian nationalism -- theidea that the Serbs are eternal victims of history who must fight to preserve a shred of their dignity. With littleprodding, Draza speaks openly about the connections.Unfortunately, his monologue doesn't last long.Exerting his authority with volatile glances and brusqueinterruptions, Krle seizes control of the conversation.He answers questions curtly.
"Who do you hate most?"
A pause for a few seconds' worth of consideration."A Croatian, a cop: it doesn't make a difference. I'd killthem all."
"What's your preferred method for beating a guy?"
"Metal bars, a special kick that breaks a leg, when aguy's not noticing." He sharply stomps down a leg, anobviously well-practiced move.
Because the beer has kicked in, I try to get closer tothe reason for my visit. "I noticed that you call Arkan'commandant.' Could you tell me a little more abouthow he organized the fans?"
His look is one of deep offense and then unmitigatedfury. Even before the translation comes, hismeaning is clear. "I shouldn't be answering your questions.You're an American. And your country bombedus. You killed good Serb men."
As good a reason as any to redirect the conversationto another topic. In an aside to my translator, which hedidn't tell me about until after our interview, Krleannounces, "If I met this American asshole on thestreet, I'd beat the shit out of him." Krle then drops outof the conversation. At first, he stands impatiently onthe far side of the room ...How Soccer Explains the World
An Unlikely Theory of Globalization
. Copyright © by Franklin Foer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer
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