Daily Archives: April 24, 2019

Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics (Second Edition) by Gabriel Kuhn(PM Press, £15.99)

THERE is a widely accepted idea that football emerged from working-class culture, went through a golden age as ‘the people’s game’ and then sold its soul to Sky, Adidas and Coca Cola. Soccer vs, the State, Gabriel Kuhn’s lively and painstaking examination of the sport’s hidden history and competing cultures, reveals a more complex narrative.

The book is full of surprises. In the early nineteenth century football was played by future ‘captains of industry’ and ‘administrators of empire’. This changed in the 1880s, when ‘professionalisation’ attracted young men seeking an escape from factory work. With professional players came working-class crowds keen to watch their mates.

Another revelation concerns female players. We are currently witnessing a revival, not a genesis. Women participated in medieval village matches and were excluded only when public schools appropriated the game. There was renewed interest in women’s football in World War I, and in 1920 Dick, Kerr’s Ladies (from Preston) beat St Helen’s Ladies before a record crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park. The response of the FA was to introduce a ban, not lifted until 1971, and to encourage international prohibition of women players.

Kuhn highlights the tension football provokes between workers and bosses on every continent, using archived pamphlets, manifestos, interviews and news clippings. A complex picture emerges of a Jekyll and Hyde sport. There is evidence it’s a counter-revolutionary activity fostering greed, corruption, sectarianism and nationalism; but there are also examples of teamwork on the pitch promoting working class solidarity.  For example, the late Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins said the Greek and Croatian soccer teams of Adelaide were the first groups to recognise him as a person.

The book provides fascinating snippets of information on activism, racism, anti-fascism, corporate influences on accessibility, bigotry and internationalism.

The author’s impressive archive and interview-based research, and his rich and varied presentation of information, is slightly compromised by the book’s structural flaws. The thematic similarity of some chapters leads to repetition of ideas and makes it hard for readers to refer back to specific information and stories. But Kuhn offers a cornucopia of anecdotes, facts, life histories and extracts to create a fragmented but fascinating picture of a sport facing profound risks and possibilities. The new edition covers the development of feminist clubs, the contribution of ‘ultra’ fans to the fall of Mubarak in Egypt and the impact of the FIFA corruption scandal.

The book is an invaluable resource at a time in which football risks destruction by the greed of club owners and their corporate ‘partners’. At the same time it celebrates the game’s potential for building social cohesion and alternative forms of community.  It is a timely and entertaining read.

Andy Hedgecock

This review first appeared in the Morning Star

Copies of Soccer vs  the State are available, post free UK, from bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted, by Robert Hillman (Faber, £8.99)

I’ve mentioned before that there is a category of books, mass-market novels, about falling in love with an accidental bookseller. By accidental, it’s because the shop owner usually inherits a shop, or a bookbarge, and falls for an interesting customer. This sub-genre moves on with The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted, but back in time to Australia in 1967 where sheep-farmer Tom, never a reader, falls for Hannah, an older woman who sets us a bookshop in his small town. But in this case the bookshop is not a major character.
Tom is the sort of sheep farmer who drives his “ute” “forward and back over the acorns while the ducks watched on in approval”  so they can “eat the flesh out of the acorns fallen from the trees planted by the Lutherands fifty years past” – Hannah is a Hungarian-Jewish survivor of Auschwtitz and a death march, a well-read, well-dressed intellectual who seduces him.
Neither has been lucky in love in the past. Tom’s wife ran away, returning pregnant by another man, before running away again to join a Christian commune which is not very Christian to say the least. Tom looks after the child and grows to love him, but his wife and her creepy Pastor are given custody. Hannah has been married twice before. Her first husband and her only son were murdered in Auschwitz, her second, mad, husband is killed in Hungary during the 1956 uprising. She came to Australia to start again, unable to talk about her grief, but determined never to have and therefore never to love a child again for fear of losing them.
But Peter, the child that Tom had grown to love, is determined to leave the prison camp that is the commune and return to the only person who has ever looked after him properly.
Everyone is broken-hearted, including, in a minor way, the young bookshop assistant who has a pash for Tom.
The shop itself struggles, but later becomes successful when it moves into a Lutheran barn at Tom’s, becoming a destination, not least for tourist buses as it is between major vistor sites. And Tom, Hannah and Peter have to work things out.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is essentially a love story. The flashbacks to Hannah’s earlier life are particularly well done and there is nothing maudlin about the book.
But the bookshop itself adds not a lot to the story.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is published in July 2019
Copies can be ordered, post free UK, from bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk
Ross Bradshaw