The author certainly did his homework, and on a few occasions even seems to have put his life at risk while interviewing particularly vile soccer fans in Eastern Europe. During a six-month sabbatical from The New Republic, he spent quality time with cretins from Belgrade to Glasgow, traveled to Brazil to find out why no one wants to play there anymore, then spent even more quality time with cretins from London. He also devoted enormous amounts of energy to researching the history of a long-forgotten all-Jewish team from Vienna that briefly ruled the Austrian football cosmos during the 1920’s. (The team fell apart after a visit to America; most of the squad took one look at New York City and decided to ditch Mitteleuropa for good.) He even trekked to Ukraine to visit an itinerant Nigerian player who never quite managed to adapt to the mysterious brand of mechanical, mathematically oriented soccer practiced in that unfortunate nation. Finally, Foer returned home to the United States, a land where soccer is generally ridiculed, ignored or played badly.
The book starts off like a house on fire, with a harrowing account of the connection between Serbian football hooligans and the massacres that occurred in Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990’s. It then moves on to a treatment of the venomous, idiotic warfare between Roman Catholic and Protestant fans that has been raging in Glasgow for more than a century. Here, Foer makes his most interesting point, that modernization, economic rebirth and a general rise in sophistication have not reduced tribal rivalries in all highly advanced societies, that pointless internecine warfare is almost a hobby for some people. As he writes, ”The city has kept alive its soccer tribalism, despite the logic of history, because it provides the city with a kind of pornographic pleasure.”Or, as he explains it elsewhere, ”Nobody, it seems, hates like a neighbor.”
No word on whether Foer covers Everton and the threat of relegation, but we’ll check the index and report.
DEACON adds: Thanks, Trunk. My impression is that, except perhaps in a few places like Glasgow, soccer hooliganism is a spent force. In 1979, when I first saw matches in England, it struck me as a big problem. In 1999, the last time I saw matches there, I detected few traces of it. And, in contrast to past tournaments, I have seen almost no reports of serious trouble at the about-to-be completed Euro-finals in Portugal. I also wonder how much of the world soccer explains when, during a period in which tribalistic and nationalistic hooliganism seemed rampant, a new, united Europe was being forged. I guess I should read the book.