How Soccer Explains The World

by Philip MacDonald | Last updated

For Christmas a few years ago I was given the book titled How Soccer Explains The World – an unlikely theory of globalization by Franklin Foer.  I remember enjoying reading it very much and recently decided to pick it up again and re-educate myself.  The author, Franklin Foer, is a contributing editor at New York magazine and senior editor at The New Republic.  His writings have also appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.  He took a year off to travel the world and interview some of the biggest club representatives, firm bosses, players and hooligans in the world.  His research details how soccer is affecting and and in many ways creating globalization. 

I am only in the first third of the book and realize that this book is more of a detailed history and politics lesson than soccer.  However, it is important to understand that there is a great deal of history which fuels the hatred and passion the players and fans of clubs have for one another.  Soccer in North America is so young compared to Europe that our clubs here are just starting out.

How Soccer Explains the World makes sense of our troubled times.  The book starts out discussing the hatred between Serbian and Croatian people and how their troubled history still runs fresh in the minds of many.  Foer travel then take him to learn about the history between Scottish Premier league clubs Celtic FC and Rangers FC.  The rout of their hatred goes far beyond the soccer field but deeper into religion, territorial ownership and wars.  Soccer becomes merely an excuse and an escape for many to show their hatred towards one another.  It becomes an escape for the fans.

Foer interviews firm leaders (firm is the name given to hooligan and riot groups that support their local soccer club).  Through his interviews we learn that the members of these groups are surprisingly everyday people with families and jobs but over the weekend show their true passion.

I started to ask myself if the behavior of soccer fans was a “European thing” or “North American thing.”  I have attended many professional baseball, hockey and basketball games in North America and what has become abundantly clear is the way the crowd reacts here towards the game or should I say towards sports other than soccer.  I have also attended several professional European soccer games in England, Austria and Holland.  My experiences watching these games do not represent the crowd as a whole but in soccer the fans cheer their team on, sing songs all game and enjoy themselves the entire game long.  The soccer fans cheer non-stop and have traditional songs for their team which all can join in on many of which are sung while standing.  Soccer fans cheer on all parts of the game rather than just goals, hits or rare moments of brilliance which is what fuels the North American crowds in hockey, baseball and basketball.

I should mention that European fans in general across other sports stand, cheer and sing all game long no matter the sport.  North American soccer fans are starting to catch on and apply it to their local games.

Also, hockey, baseball and basketball will play twice if not three times more games than games in a soccer season.  With this being the base, each game means that much more in soccer.  There is only one game a week on the weekend which fans will pour into the stadium for and winning those three points is extremely important.  In the NBA there are teams that have lost forty games and are in the playoffs or in the hunt for last playoff spots.  In soccer every game is extremely important.  One loss could mean the difference between winning the league or finishing second.  It could also mean the difference between promotion or relegation (a system not yet adopted by any professional North American sports).

The city of Toronto has a new MLS team, Toronto FC.  The team sells out all games with a stadium of 20,000.  The club will be adding more stands for the fans because there is such a high demand while the tickets are a reasonable price.  It did not take long for the fans here in Toronto to pick-up their enthusiasm for the game and create a European fan base atmosphere.

I have enjoyed every professional sporting event that I attended, although it is clear that there is deeper passion fueled in soccer fans.  It is not a European fan versus North American fan but soccer fan in general.

Franklin Foer’s book does an excellent job in educating the reader on the history of the game and how cultural change is greatly affected by the game itself.  He does not get into the argument as to which sport is better than another but rather how soccer is worldwide and how globalization is shaping soccer.

I am looking forward to reading more of his book and blogging about it.

What are some of your European soccer game experiences?

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