Author Archives: Laurent Dubois

About Laurent Dubois

I am the Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France and, most recently, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.

The “I Believe” Chant: A Brief History

During Friday afternoon’s student protests at Duke University, the crowd approaching the Allen Building (which was occupied that afternoon by nine students, who are still in the building as of today), broke into a very particular chant, as seen here in a video posted by the Duke Chronicle.


They repeated the chant on Saturday morning, during negotiations with administrators, and again later that day.

Sports chants and slogans often find their way into political life — and vice versa — but this is a particular interesting example of this, particularly given the genealogy of the chant, explained in a 2014 segment from ESPN.


At the same time, especially given the popularity of the chant among supporters of the U.S. Women’s team this past summer during the World Cup, and the recent court filing by women’s players charging wage discrimination, it makes sense that this quickly came to mind as part of a student movement and a way to infuse confidence and energy to their march.


The Forgotten Early History of Women’s Soccer

Gail Newsham’s book In a League of Their Own! offers a unique account of the early history of women’s soccer in England. There is surprisingly little work on the history of women’s soccer in general, and particularly on its early period. Newsham’s research was pioneering in that she was able to gather together documentation on a particular women’s team that had a remarkable arc in the early 1920s. She first presented this material on a website, and then in a first and now a second, expanded, edition of the book. As a result of her work, their story — and the larger story of how women’s football flourished for a time, before a 1921 ban by the Football Association, has helped reshape the way we think about the contemporary women’s game.

Jean Williams, a leading scholar of women’s football, offered this brief history of women’s soccer last year as part of a blog series about the 2015 Women’s World Cup at Sports Illustrated.

Newsham’s book mixes many biographical details of players and their families, and also offers a portrait of life in British society during and after World War I.

We’re reading this book this week in the Duke University class “Soccer Politics,” and asking students to connect the history presented in the work with some broader questions about women’s soccer:

  1. What were the reasons and justifications for the FA ban on women’s soccer in 1921?
  2. How does knowing the story about the early history of women’s soccer, and the FA ban, change the we might look at contemporary debates about women’s soccer?
  3. What are the similarities and differences in the situation of women’s soccer today and in the early 1920s?

In addition, we’re encouraging our students, in addition to their responses to some of these questions, to see if they can find other material on the web, in various languages, relating to the history of women’s soccer in other parts of the globe. Here are a few great resources to use to begin:

The History of Women’s Football Blog

The Upfront/Onside Series at Sports Illustrated

Additionally, this lecture given by Jean Williams at Duke University in the Spring of 2015 (at a symposium on “The Futures of Women’s Soccer”) provides a good overview of the history of women’s soccer.

We look forward to your thoughts and comments!

Football as Ritual

The French anthropologist Christian Bromberger has studied and written about football games as a kind of ritual that provides an “inexhaustible terrain of interpretation” for those who participate and watch. In his French-language book “Le match de football,” he studied how crowds experienced and interpreted games in the European football heartlands of Marseille, Milan, and Naples. He condensed the theoretical conclusions he came to through this research in his 1995 article “Football as World-View and as Ritual.”

One of the more remarkable works that captures the form and content of this ritual is the 2006 film Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait, by the film-makers and conceptual artists Douglas Gordon and Phillippe Parreno. On April 23, 2005, they installed seventeen cameras in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid to film a full game between Spanish Liga teams Real Madrid and Villarreal CF. But they focused the cameras not on the ball, but rather on one entrancing player, Zinedine Zidane, considered one of the greatest footballers in history. The full film is below.

Since it’s release, the film has garnered effusive praise from some quarters and sharp criticism from others. While it had a long run in theaters in France as well as being shown commercially in the U.K. and other European countries, in the U.S. it has only been shown in small art houses and film festivals.

The film’s directors, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, have a background on experimental contemporary art, including video installations, and the film is also clearly an experiment. (Whether it is a success of failure as such is the key question). Like many other experimental films, it presents its argument not so much through narrative or exposition but through form. It is, among other things, an attempt to represent sport in a way that is radically different from the kinds of portrayals were are used to, which either provide us a global picture of live game or else highlights that emphasize the climaxes of the game over the empty spaces in between. Of course, it is also a portrait of Zidane, and the reactions to the film also have much to do with the very different ways people see him as both a player and an icon.

Here are two interesting discussions of the film

Review in Stylus Magazine

Review at City of Sound

This week in the “Soccer Politics” class at Duke University, we are asking the students to post comments in response to this post that bring together their reading of the 1995 Bromberger article on “Football as World-View and as Ritual” with a viewing of Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait. Specifically, we are asking them to find specific moments in the film that speak to or illustrate specific points made in Bromberger’s article about how a football match works, and we can see within it. In doing so, we ask them to share specific quotes from Bromberger along with specific moments in the film (identified according to the time on the Youtube video above). (Students, please post your response in the comments section below by 5 p.m. on Wednesday January 20th).

We also welcome other comments about the article and film!

The Stade de France: A History in Fragments

(Originally posted at Africa is A Country on November 15th, 2015)

The French national team player Patrice Evra was dribbling up the pitch when the second bomb exploded. Two minutes earlier, the same thing had happened: a loud, resonating explosion heard by the 65,000 fans gathered to watch a friendly match between Germany and France. There was a wave of shouts – not quite a cheer, almost something like tens of thousands of people saying “whoa,” or “what”? – but no panic. People mostly seem to have thought it was a loud firework, perhaps a flare exploding in one of the tunnels. Football games are full of noise, after all, and sometimes explosions. So the game went on.

A stadium, these days, can be a curious bubble. Millions watch what happens there on television, but when you are inside you can easily be relatively cut off from the broader world. With tens of thousands of people in one place trying to tweet, text, instagram, you often can’t get cell service. So it was that those gathered in the stadium were among the few in Paris not to quickly find out what was going on. People rarely leave their seats during a football match – the pace is constant, you might miss one of the few goals – and the halls and entrances are mostly empty, a kind of buffer.

But around them, over the course of a little over a half hour, three suicide bombers set off bombs in and around the Stade de France. One was caught by security trying to enter the stadium, and set off his bomb as he backed away from the security check. Another detonated his bomb on a street that runs along one side of the stadium. It is named after Jules Rimet, a French World War I veteran who created the World Cup in the early twentieth century. A third bomber followed suit near a McDonald’s nearby. At least two people were killed in these attacks, and many more were injured.

When he heard the second explosion, Evra stopped for a minute, pondering the echoing sound. He looked up but – ever the footballer – had the presence of mind to pass the ball back to a teammate. A German player trotted after it, a little languidly. It was just a banal moment in the midst of a football match, but slightly off kilter, slowed down.

Evra was born in Senegal of a father from Guinea and mother from Cape Verde, but grew up in France. He is one of many players on the French national team of African background. What was he thinking when he heard that explosion? Did he wonder, for a moment, whether continuing to play was a kind of madness? Or did he, and the other players, make the same decision that many are now saying we should: that in the face of horror the only thing to do is to keep playing, moving, living?

Watching it now – knowing all that we do about what happened last night in Paris – we can perhaps count it as one of the most surreal things to ever take place in this storied stadium, a place built nearly two decades ago specifically to house history.


July, 12, 1998


The Stade de France was built for the 1998 World Cup in France. It is in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of the city famous for its ancient basilica and, more recently, as one of the banlieue regions often depicted primarily as sites of poverty, conflict with the police, and fertile ground for Islamist militancy.

When Smail Zidane, the father of the great French footballer Zinedine Zidane’s father had migrated to France in 1953 from Algeria, he worked for a time on a construction site in Saint-Denis. Without enough money to pay rent, he slept on the construction site. His son Zinedine grew up in Marseille, playing football in the plaza or the project where he lived. He didn’t like to head the ball, and when he was recruited to a football training academy at the age of thirteen had to be taught how to do it.

But in the final of the 1998 World Cup, Zidane used his head to score first one goal, then another, against the Brazilian team. His head won France its first ever World Cup, in the Stade de France. After he scored, he ran to the side of the pitch where his friends from his project in Marseille were in the stands. “We looked at each other,” he remembered later, with “a profound look, as vast as the football fields that we ran around on as kids.” Locked in an embrace for a long time with his friends, Zidane could smell “all those Marseille afternoons” as his friends shouted in his ear: “you’re the kid from the cité, our buddy who scored those two goals.” On the way back from the stadium – as deliriously happy French fans were flooding the streets for what would become several days of celebration, often chanting “Zidane President!” – he began thinking about “the murmurs that were rising up from the paths of the village where my father was born.”

Looking back on that evening a few weeks later, he described his goals as a testament to the possibility of Algeria and France reconciled: “it was the son of a Kabyle that offered up the victory, but it was France that became champion of the world. In one goal by one person, two cultures became one.”

The evening of the victory, after they had collected their trophy and shaken hands and had their picture taken, even after many of the fans had left, players from the French team remained on the pitch at the Stade de France, sitting, chatting, enjoying themselves almost like they were at a picnic on a Sunday afternoon.


November 13, 2015


Just before the half, France scored a goal against Germany, to the cheers of the crowd. The players still didn’t know what was going, nor did the fans, at least most of them, at least not enough to create a panic. But President François Hollande, who was in attendance at the match, was quietly escorted out of the stadium, heading to out to speak to the press, and then to visit the sites of the carnage around Paris.

During the half, the team coaches learned the news, but decided not to tell the players. The match officials asked them to go out and play the second half nonetheless, having decided the safest thing was to keep the crowd in the stadium, which seemed relatively secure compared to the streets outside. A sanctuary.

France scored again. So it is that, drowning amidst the news from Paris from last night, there can be this now insignificant headline: France defeats Germany in friendly match, 2-0.


October 6, 2001


It was a long-awaited and long-planned game at the Stade de France: a friendly international game between France and Algeria. It was layered, in fact over-burdened, with symbolism. Algeria had won its independence through a brutal war with France – one that had led to much violence in Paris too, including a brutal night of killings of Algerian demonstrators by French police, and terrorist bombings by various sides in the conflict. Algeria’s flag and anthem carry the history of its anti-colonial revolution. On the French team, meanwhile, the star was Zinedine Zidane, born of Algerian parents. Who would the many French fans of Algerian descent root for, the press wondered? Could football heal the wounds of history?

Seventy-nine minutes into the game, Algeria was losing 4-1 when Sofia Benlemmane, a dual Algerian-French citizen and women’s semi-professional football player, ran onto the pitch carrying an Algerian flag. Soon, others followed, and the pitch was overtaken by fans of the Algerian team, running, waving flags, laughing, chased here and there by security guards. The players were urged off the pitch, and the match was called off. But defender Lilian Thuram stayed. Born in Guadeloupe and raised in a project south of Paris, Thuram had famously scored two goals in the semi-final of the 1998 World Cup, becoming almost as famous as Zidane in the process. He had become increasingly politically active and vocal since then, speaking out against racism. His immediate reaction was to worry about how the pitch invasion would be used by the right in France. He grabbed one of those running with an Algerian flag and gave him a lecture. Don’t you realize, he told him, that they will use this against you? That it will seem to confirm everything they are saying about you: that you can’t truly be French?

A few days later French far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen announced his candidacy for president outside the stadium, evoking the pitch invasion as clear proof that immigration was a menace to French society, that the integration of North African migrants had failed, and that France needed a leader like him to set back on the right course. He made it into the second round of the election, the best showing ever for a far-right politician, though was ultimately defeated by Jacques Chirac.

Since then, it has become a bit of a tradition that games between France and North African teams – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria – involve some kind of controversy, usually the booing of the Marseillaise by fans rooting against France. There follows, inevitably, a round of laments about this. Sometimes players are taken to task, as they first were by Jean-Marie Le Pen during the 1996 European Cup, for not singing the Marseillaise before games. The Stade de France, in these moments, becomes the theatre for the problem of history unresolved, unending.


November 13, 2015


Only by the end of the second half did new spread among the crowd about what was happening. The killings at the Bataclan, on streets, on restaurants. Leaving the game, the players saw the news on television. One player, Antoine Griezmann, began trying to get news of his sister Maude, who he knew had gone to attend the concert that evening at the Bataclan club. He learned later that she had been able to escape.

But Lassana Diarra, who had played for most of the match, learned that his cousin Asta Diakité had been shot in one of the attacks on a restaurant. Diarra’s parents are from Mali, and he is a practicing Muslim. In a statement after the attacks, he explained that for him Diakité had been a “reference point, a source of support, a big sister,” and declared that in a “climate of terror” it was critical for “those who are representatives of our country and its diversity” to “speak up and stay united in the face of a horror that has neither color nor religion.” “Together,” he went on, “let us defend love, respect and peace.” In mourning, Diarra sought to channel some of the hopeful vision of France that has often been represented by the football team of which he is a part. Will he be heard?

Diarra probably learned about the death of his cousin while the team was still waiting at the Stade de France, where they spent many hours after the game. The Germans, told it would be unsafe to travel in busses, spent the night in the stadium.

The fans in the stadium, who by the end of the match had learned what was happening, had their own decisions to make. Should they leave the relative confinement, maybe even security, of the stadium in order to go out into a city that feels under siege? Already last year, during the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Parisians had been asked to stay home as the drama unfolded. Getting in and out of the stadium, through its tunnels, into the streets or onto the metro, is always a moment of potential danger. Authorities limited the exits and asked for calm.

Many of the entrances were closed off, and fans didn’t seem to know what to do. Many began walking, running, towards the pitch itself. But there was no general panic. Some of those who made it to the tunnels to the subway found solace and calm by singing the Marseillaise as they walked, slowly, pressed together, out towards the city and, further, home.

But others had a different reflex, which was to wait in a place that seemed safe: on the football pitch itself. Having left the stands they gathered there, waiting, checking phones, sharing news, talking, crying. That green rectangle of the Stade de France is the mythic site of the victory of 1998, of the pitch invasion of 2001. It is a patch of grass that millions of French have watched and fretted over year after year during games. But last night it served perhaps its greatest purpose: it became, for a time, a refuge.

Lassana Diarra’s Statement on the Paris Attacks

Lassana Diarra issued a statement about the Paris attacks today. Here is the original. Below is a translation of the statement.

“In the wake of the dramatic events that took place yesterday in Paris and Saint-Denis, it is with a heavy hard that I speak today.

As you have perhaps read, I was personally touched by the attacks. My cousin, Asta Diakite, was one of the victims of the shootings that took place yesterday, like thousands of innocent other French people. She was a reference point, a source of support, and a big sister to me.

In this climate of terror, it is important for all of us who represent our country and its diversity to speak out and stay united in the face of a horror that has neither color, nor religion.

Let us together defend love, respect and peace. I thank all of you for your comments and messages. Take care of yourselves and others, and may our victims rest in peace.”




Creating a Space for African-Americans in U.S. Soccer: Guest Post by DeVon Thompson

Guest post by DeVon Thompson

My name is DeVon, I am a soccer fan, a player and a hip-hop writer and blogger. I grew up in suburban America, a black girl who turned soccer at recess into a full-fledged childhood career with a local rec team. I was the quintessential suburban American soccer story, and then I played basketball and moved on track as a sprinter.

Through the years I’ve maintained some level of playing, whether in leagues or playing soccer with the kids at the day camp where I was a camp counselor – we played serious pick up, one counselor per team. The most important part is that from childhood I’ve always remained a fan, watching the World Cup, attending international games here in the states, watching the Premier League, La Liga and the French league (which I feel should be shown more in the US) and MLS. It is the fan in me that has led me to write this article. While I grew up in the well-managed and maintained leagues and fields of suburban America, I was mostly one of one when it came to soccer teams – by which I mean one of one black kids. Honestly that bothered me. I’d like to address the issue of the lack of black American participation in soccer either as fans or players.

There is an invisible wall in the U.S., and while many black Americans play soccer and go on to play at various levels, there are many more don’t! Soccer in the U.S. has become American in its way, and in the process has absorbed everything here including racial issues. Many black people still view soccer a “white sport.” While many Americans who dislike the game comment is “boring,” “slow,” or “uninteresting,” – and let’s be honest, just downright “foreign” – in the black community what can be heard is just that it’s a “white sport.”

Growing up as a middle-class black girl, I felt that I was participating in something that many blacks just didn’t. That was partly because living in the suburbs it afforded me the opportunity to participate in something uniquely suburban. My participation was encouraged and well-attended by various families, from my parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles – and yes orange slices were on hand for all to enjoy. I could have played soccer until I couldn’t play anymore and it would have been 100% supported by family. The thing was, on the field I was always just one of one, not to mention I was one of one in my entire immediate family. I eventually left organized soccer behind to play basketball year-round, pursuing the ultimate child hood dream of playing varsity, my decision was 100% supported. My soccer cleats were left in the garage to be thrown away years later.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that my enthusiasm for soccer flourished again, now as a fan. But once again I was one of one. Now a little older, I looked at the overall picture and thought: “Where are the black kids, where are the black people!?” I can have an in-depth conversation about soccer with many whites I encounter. It feels almost like a club. Although my family and friends will wax poetic about basketball, baseball and lose their minds when talking about football. But when I bring up soccer and I get comments like: “You always were into that, but I just can’t get with it.” Being a black American soccer player & fan feels almost like a hobby, like I should have a special license plate that says “Black American Soccer Fan.” My conversations with fellow black American soccer enthusiasts feel more like therapy sessions. While some say not to worry about it, I can’t help it: I don’t want to create my own sorority or fraternity of soccer fans. I want to have free flowing conversations. I want to say to someone: “I’ve got tickets to a game” and have them say “Sure, let’s go!” the way that would if it was basketball or football.

“What is going on? What is the problem?” I’ve wondered this for years. “Why? Why?’ It was an article in the Huffington post about race in Canada, interestingly, that helped me to understand what is going on. It argues that minorities in Canada need more “safe spaces without white people.” Which made me realize: when it comes to sports in the U.S. black Americans have created their own spaces! If you look at the ‘Big 3’ in the U.S. – football, basketball and baseball – there has always been a space for black people in each of them, for close to a hundred years. These spaces were created, sadly, due to segregation. But they became safe spaces, places for the black communities to gather and play and be spectators. The Negro leagues in baseball were the most organized, but such spaces existed in all of these sports. Within them, black Americans had their own corners to just be!

Soccer is different. White America has created its own space for the entire game. To me it feels somewhat like a twilight zone. The way the entire game has developed in the U.S. has made it largely a white space, a white place. I have to admit that nothing is absolute and that when it comes to soccer in the U.S. there are many layers and I’m here exploring one of them, however there have been a few times when I played in an adult rec league, once again one of one, I would get looks that say: “I have a million questions.” When people experience my knowledge of the game, even just the understanding of the basics, it’s always as if someone wants to say: “How do you know this?”

In this sense the U.S. is its own bubble when it comes to soccer, Here, though, it’s hard to see outside of that bubble. There are some serious attempts going on to change things. But I’d like to suggest that maybe the best way to confront this problem is through a slightly different sport: FUTSAL!

Yes! Futsal could be that space that black Americans and really all of the U.S. needs to take us to the next level. The first time I played it was just because I was really looking for a way to play soccer that wasn’t in the cold and didn’t require me to keep running the length of a football field. After one game I thought: “Why isn’t America playing this game!??” Again (you guessed it), I was one of one. And immediately I thought: “Why aren’t black kids playing this game!??” It is the perfect way to start for people who don’t know about the game.

Futsal is essentially played on basketball court. There are two 20 minutes halves, a total of five players on each team on the court. For me, it combined my two personal favorite sports: basketball and soccer. It can’t get any better! It is quite different from the curator space of U.S. soccer played on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. Futsal is free-flowing and much higher scoring: it is a perfect form of translation between the more popular U.S. sports and soccer. There are basketball courts everywhere in the U.S., if there isn’t a court there is a street or an alley. The rules are simple and you can play it in basketball shoes if you want – I’ve seen it done.

The game of Futsal could be a way to create spaces for black Americans in a sport where there isn’t any already. Futsal allows someone to re-create what they already know: it welcomes a basketball mindset, with a smaller soccer ball on a basketball court. The U.S. has to work what it has and create something we can grow from. It’s an honest truth in sports in the U.S.: if you want something taken to the next level it has to include black Americans. But there needs to be a better space for development.


Upfront/Onside: Dispatches from The 2015 Women’s World Cup

I had the opportunity to help set up and edit and also contribute to a blog called “Upfront/Onside” set up at Sports Illustrated to cover the Women’s World Cup this summer in Canada. The blog brought together authors who had earlier gathered at the “Futures of Women’s Soccer” conference here at Duke in April.

Here are links to my pieces:

On France’s Jessica Houara and the issue of the Hijab in Women’s Football (co-authored with Shireen Ahmed)

On the Turf Controversy

A First-Person Account of the France-Germany Quarter-Final

A First-Person Account of the USA-Germany Semi-Final (co-authored with Brenda Elsey)

Temples of the Earthbound Gods

Christopher Gaffney’s book Temples of the Earthbound Gods offers us a rich geographical, culture, and ethnographic look at the way lives in Brazil and Argentina intersect with and our transformed by the space of stadia. What do you see as the most interesting contributions of this work? What kinds of theoretical approaches does he use in trying to understand what happens in and around the stadium? In what ways does his interpretive framework or insights help you understand experiences you have had in sports events?

As you grapple with these questions, feel free to read the comments made in 2013 by students in the Soccer Politics Class in response to a similar post.


African Soccerscapes

Peter Alegi’s book African Soccerscapes offers a careful account of the place of football in colonial Africa and the important role in played in the process of decolonization. Alegi, a Professor at Michigan State University, also maintains a blog called Football is Coming Home, and recently wrote about the first African Nations Cup.

This post is an invitation for you to share your thoughts and responses to Alegi’s work. What do we learn from this book? What are the most interesting or arresting stories he tells? How does the work help us understand the place of Africa in contemporary global football?