Archive for the 'History' Category

Dec 07 2013

Profile Image of Maggie Lin

German Nationalism Courtesy of Football

Filed under Fans,Germany,History,Racism

The 20th century was a wicked roller coaster ride for Germany.

Two World Wars, each spawned by high levels of nationalism, both resulted in German defeat. In the course of less than fifty years, Germany’s territory, economy, and politics were reduced to rubble, rebuilt, and then subsequently destroyed multiple times. Post World War II, the Allied Powers split Germany into two countries to separate East from West during the Cold War, with the very visible divide in the form of the Berlin Wall. Only with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 did East and West Germany begin the process of reunification. So, where has that left German citizens?


Since the end of World War II, Germans have been wary of displaying national pride, which has been suggested by scholars to be a result of war shame and guilt [1]. Even today, nearly seventy years since the end of WWII and over twenty years since the reunification, Germans show relatively low national pride compared to other nations with similar economic and political stability [2]. However, when it comes to football, the display of national pride is a completely different story.

Much to everyone’s surprise, when Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, German flags flew everywhere during the World Cup. It even came to a surprise for Germans at the time, as the display of the flag became the No. 2 topic of conversation, right behind coverage of the actual World Cup games themselves [3]. Prior to 2006, fans who waved or wore flags in public were less commonplace [4]. In the 2010 World Cup, Germans who crowded into the stadium that held the semifinal between Germany and Spain covered themselves in the nation’s colors — black, gold, and red — and pridefully sang the Deutschland national anthem [5].,,16032809_303,00.jpg

However, this rise in patriotism due to football has not been met without opposition. Back in Germany during the 2010 World Cup, shopkeeper Ibrahim Bassal, who is a German immigrant himself, hung up a giant German flag outside his shop that had been stolen twice — likely by members of the radical left-wing — and someone even tried to light the flag on fire [6]. Since WWII, Germans have been particularly sensitive to the topic of displaying national pride, as it typically triggers thoughts of war, blind-allegiance, and shame.

Opponents of the increase in nationalism also cite a rise in xenophobia and racism as a main issue. After Germany defeated Denmark in a game during the 2012 UEFA European Championship, anonymous users on Twitter made racist comments about German player Mesut Özil, who is third generation Turkish-German, in hopes of sparking a hate campaign [7]. Since German Turks form the largest minority in Germany [8], it makes sense that these racist comments would be particularly alarming.


Even though many view sport as an equalizer without any place in politics, it is difficult to deny that football has a history of being manipulated as a form propaganda. Could the football-induced nationalism directly lead to increased xenophobia or violence targeting minorities? Or is that stretching it a bit far? Many Germans and critics will continue to be cautious as traumatizing flashbacks of Nazi Germany haunt their psyche.

Contrastingly, is it so terrible to have the ability to publicly show pride in one’s own nation without being scorned? Germany will continue to emerge from its difficult past, and these are just some of the issues that Germans along with the rest of the world will have to deal with eventually. This is a particularly fascinating case study, and as the 2014 World Cup rolls around, it will be interesting to see the pro- and anti-nationalism dynamics play out once again.

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Dec 06 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

Soccer Satire


Satire can be a fantastic way to stimulate discussion about real issues; often, it can be more revelatory than straight discourse.   Laughing at a joke compels understanding and examining why the joke was funny– and in satire, the humor is derived from revealing precisely how ridiculous certain serious subjects truly are.  Satirists are frequently an important part of cultural criticism, from Mark Twain to Bassem Youssef;  humor is an excellent way to make an unreceptive public care about what you want them to care about.  While frequently more ridiculous than incisive, the Onion is one such source; and when I stumbled upon this piece written about the 2010 World Cup, I discovered that many of the premises of the humor of the piece are still distinctly applicable to soccer in the US.,17553/

The running joke is that the single soccer fan in American has become insufferable over the World Cup, the humor (and truth) lying in the fact that, of course, while there is more than one, there are far fewer soccer fans in the US than practically anywhere else, despite a deeply entrenched culture of sports spectatorship and participation (particularly, and paradoxically, participation in soccer youth leagues.)  The lone fan, Brad Janovich, is “the only American citizen currently aware that the World Cup begins June 11″; the sources quoted in the article are “only peripherally aware of the World Cup,” and are confused and irritated when he strikes up “several extended but one-sided conversations concerning figures such as “Kaka” and “Ronaldinho,” generally mystifying and alienating everyone he has come into contact with.” I won’t  ruin the genuinely funny piece by quoting further, but you get the gist.  The humor of the piece is predicated on the isolation of the US in its apathy towards the global game, and that the grip soccer has on American audiences is tenuous at best.  These are realities that have seen some movement in the last 4 years, but not much; hopefully this World Cup will do a better job of capturing the American imagination (apart from Brad Janovich’s) better than the last one.

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Nov 11 2013

Profile Image of Caitlin Moyles

The Christmas Truce match in 1914

Filed under England,Germany,History,News

In catching up on some online reading about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I stumbled upon an article in The Guardian about Britain’s plans to commemorate World War I.  These plans include nothing other than…a reenactment of a football match that was played between British and German troops on a Belgian battlefield during the Christmas Truce of 1914. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914, only five months into the outbreak of the war in Europe, many British and German troops along the Western Front set down their weapons and came together between the trenches to celebrate the holidays and offer gestures of goodwill, according to The soldiers “exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs,” and “there was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.” Although the soldiers played on opposing sides, the friendly match showed good-spirited competition transcending enemy lines. The soldiers’ humanity was expressed through sport.

This snapshot of football in history exemplifies World Cup founder Jules Rimet’s vision for soccer as a way to resolve international conflict without the use of violence. When Rimet, assumed the role of president of the Fédération International de Football Association in 1920, he spoke of his hopes that soccer would redirect conflict in the modern world “towards peaceful contests in the stadium, where foundational violence is submitted to discipline and the rules of the game, loyal and wise, and where the benefits of victory are limited to the wild joy of winning” (Dubois, 28). The Christmas Truce soccer match was a merely a casual kickabout, but taken in the context of WWI, it supports Rimet’s belief in the power of soccer to bring seemingly disparate people together in peaceful competition.

Andrew Murrison, the minister in charge of overseeing the WWI commemorations, expressed this sentiment when he told The Guardian that although the football match had no relevance to the outcome of the war, it is something that people “latch on to” at a “deeply, intensely personal level.” Additionally, described the Christmas Truce festivities as “one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare,” adding that “it was never repeated.”  Soccer may just be a game, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Spontaneous matches like the Christmas Truce highlight some of the best parts of human nature—sportsmanship, discipline, teamwork, a competitive yet friendly spirit, and the human impulse to joyfully celebrate victory.

Works Cited

Dubois, Laurent. Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Print.

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Sep 25 2013

Profile Image of Michael Reintgen

Rodgers and Liverpool have the cyclic nature of football on their side.

Great sides come and go. Clubs rise to greatness and fall back into the pack like the monthly tides, with the exceptions able to be counted on one hand. Teams like Ajax come to mind, who in the mid-seventies rose to the forefront of Europe under the brilliance of Johan Cruyff only to fade from glory on the European stage for some twenty years after. For manager Brenden Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club, however, the time has never been riper to wrestle back control of the Premier League from their rivals at Manchester United.

Liverpool can lay claim to being England’s first truly great footballing club in many people’s eyes, gathering up eighteen English titles from 1900 to 1990, eight more than the next closest side. The might of the Merseysiders reached its peak in the last decade of that era, with the 1980’s team taking home a major haul of nineteen different titles in all competitions. The horizon never seemed brighter. That is, until, the storm that is Sir Alex Ferguson swept through England. The ambitious Scot took the helm of the Red Devils in 1986, and took only a marginal amount of time to get up and running with second place finishes in 1988 and 1992 before winning back-to-back titles in ’93 and ’94. The shifting balance of power was surely felt on the grounds at Liverpool, but to what extent could never have been known at the time. Ferguson’s 26-year career at the head of United would see a production of thirteen English Premier League titles, an unprecedented record of a title every other year. Adding these titles on to the seven United had before Fergie took the helm, Manchester United surpassed Liverpool to become the most successful club in the history of English football with twenty League titles. All the while, Liverpool was struggling and failing domestically. A new era had dawned, and United’s meteoric rise was in stark contrast to Liverpool’s now 23-year long absence from the top of the Premier league table.

Manchester United v Liverpool - Premier League-1532624

Coming back to the current state of affairs, though, and the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards the Liverpudlians for the moment. The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson has retired from his managerial role to take a more back-seat position on the Board of Directors at United, and Brenden Rogers’ vision for the new Liverpool is beginning to take shape. Since his appointment in the summer of 2012, Rodgers has impressed with his reshaping of the club’s playing philosophy to a more passing and possession based side. He also has a first-rate transfer market record so far, signing young and promising talents such as Daniel Sturridge and Coutinho to Liverpool.

With the first few rounds of the 2013-14 season already decided, Liverpool currently sit three points above United already having dispatched the Red Devils in their first encounter of the current campaign at home. Although it is very early on in the season, the iron-fisted grip of Manchester United seems to have loosened, and Liverpool are in prime position to assert their claim to the throne once more. Of course, this is all providing that the fickle gods of soccer allow it.


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Sep 14 2013

Profile Image of Matthew Schorr

L’Histoire et l’équipe hongroise

Comme étudiant d’histoire et athlète amateur, je m’intéresse aux moments où mes deux intérêts, l’histoire et le sport, se croisent les chemins. Un article dans le New York Times, “A World Cup Qualifier Is a Hostage to History,” a retenu mon attention parce qu’il analyserait le contexte historique du match éliminatoire entre l’Hongrie et la Roumanie, qui a eu lieu la semaine dernière. La première histoire que l’auteur, James Montague, considère est l’histoire de l’équipe nationale d’Hongrie. Pendant les années cinquante, l’équipe hongroise était une des meilleurs du monde. L’équipe a gagné la médaille d’or aux jeux olympiques en 1952 et a joué dans le championnat du Coupe du monde. Ella a gagné 31 matches, comprenant un match particulièrement impressionnant  contre l’équipe anglaise, avant être vaincue. Sa vedette, Ferenc Puskás, est un des joueurs les plus célèbres au cours de l’histoire.

Ferenc Puskás, meilleur joueur hongrois au cours de l’histoire.

Malheureusement, la retraite de Puskas a suscité un déclin pour l’équipe nationale, qui ne s’est pas qualifié pour un tournoi international en 27 ans. L’exemple de l’équipe hongroise symbolise une question important dans les sports : est-il possible de réussir pour toujours, or est-ce que le succès est fugace ? C’est une question à laquelle j’ai beaucoup réfléchi. Une de mes équipes préférées, les Yankees, est peut-être l’équipe le plus victorieuse dans l’histoire des sports professionnels. Toutefois, la saison actuelle est une épreuve pour les Yankees, qui sont loin d’être imbattable. Il me semble que c’est souvent difficile de réussir s’il existe trop de pression d’être aussi gagnante que vos prédécesseurs légendaires. Il est difficile à être à la hauteur des espérances si la barre est très haut. Montague explique que « Puskas…and the legacy of his Magical Magyars have weighed heavily on the shoulders of every team that came next ». La peur d’échec n’est pas spécifique au foot ; au contraire, c’est un phénomène universel. Par conséquent, le foot est un aperçu de la nature humaine.

L’analyse de Montague devient plus profond quand l’auteur réfléchit à une autre histoire : celle des relations entre l’Hongrie et la Roumanie, les deux côtés du match éliminatoire. Tandis que cette histoire n’est pas liée au foot soi-même, elle donne un sens nouveau au match. Les frontières des pays de l’Europe de l’Est étaient redessinées après la Première Guerre mondiale et la chute de l’Empire austro-hongrois. Par conséquent, beaucoup d’Hongrois se trouvaient dans des autres pays, comme la Roumanie, la Slovaquie, l’Ukraine et la Serbie. Montague suggère que la décision politique la plus contestée était la passation de la Transylvanie de l’Hongrie à la Roumanie. Cette tension était exacerbée en 2010 quand le parti de l’extrême droit a pris la direction du gouvernement et a passé une loi qui donnait de la citoyenneté à tous les Hongrois, mêmes des expatriés hongrois. Cette loi a particulièrement agacé la Roumanie, où habitent plus que 500 000 personnes qui parlent l’hongrois. Le ressentiment entre les deux pays a percé la sphère du foot quand certains supporters hongrois ont scandé « ‘Transylvania is Hungarian !’ » à un match contre la Roumanie.

Le cas du match entre l’Hongrie et la Roumanie démontre le fait que des matches ont souvent des nuances politiques et historiques. Chaque équipe a sa propre histoire et ses propres légendes. En plus, les affaires étrangères fournissent souvent le contexte des matches internationaux. Maron Gyongyosi, membre du parlement hongrois reconnaît ce phénomène :

« ‘In this case there will be a football match that is only partly about sport,” he said. “It is about history and politics. It is not only winning a football match. It is also about beating Romania. If anyone expects the Romanian and Hungarian supporters to watch the match with their popcorn and their Coca-Cola in silence, then they don’t know what football is all about’. »

Est-ce que le foot et le contexte historique et politique sont inextricablement liés, ou est-ce qu’ils peuvent être séparés ? Est-ce que les joueurs pensent à l’importance historique et politique de leur match quand ils sont sur le terrain ? Est-ce que le contexte les motivent, où est-il un stress inopportun ? Tout ce qui est certain c’est que l’interaction entre le foot, l’histoire, et la politique peuvent créer des matches extrêmement stimulant et leur donne beaucoup de signification.

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Jul 05 2012

Profile Image of Philip Kaisary

¡Tricampeones! Spain complete their cycle

“Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hands outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”
– Eduardo Galeano


They are calling them el generation de fenómenos – ‘the generation of phenomenons.’ On the night of July 1, 2012, in Kiev, the most talented generation of footballers that Spain has ever produced – or, perhaps, will ever produce – fashioned their most lucid performance. With their destruction of Italy by four goals to nil, the largest margin of victory in a European or World cup final, Spain has become the only team to defend successfully the European Championship, and the first international side since the Uruguay teams of 1924, 1928, and 1930 to win a hat-trick – tres tantos – of consecutive major tournaments.

Spain, the perennial underachievers have become perennial world-beaters and record-setters. Much has been made of the fact that the cycle that was set in motion when Spain defeated their bête noire, Italy, on penalties in 2008, a team that they had never previously beaten in tournament football, has now come full circle. Italy has been beaten again, and with panache.

Spain’s recent dominance of world football has been so staggering that we must rouse ourselves from the enchanted state that their mesmeric play is capable of inducing and remind ourselves of its unreal reality: Spain have not so much as conceded a goal in a knock-out game since Zinedine Zidane scored a break-away solo effort in their 2006 World Cup quarter-final against France. Or to put it another way, as Rob Smyth has observed, “Iker Casillas’s net has been untouched for sixteen and a half hours.” Spain’s extraordinary cycle has been defined not only by their inventive and artistic football, but also by their impregnability.

Yet, it is not for achieving their record-setting triptych of victories that Spain 2008–’10–’12 now assumes a place in the pantheon. Hungary 1953, Brazil 1970, Holland 1974, Brazil 1982: football’s immortal sides are not mere winning machines, but the workers of miracles. Last night, Spain’s miracle was to play at a level of such audacious incisiveness, married to an impregnability approaching perfection, that, as Pablo Neruda might have put it, it were as if the moon and the stars lived in the lining of their skin. If it was not quite as astounding as Barca’s 5–0 destruction of Real Madrid in 2010, the spectacle of the condemned Italians chasing Spanish moon-shadows was both exquisite and cruel.

That the Italians had sight of goal on occasion only exacerbated the cruelty of the joke: as if the cat-like Casillas would ever be beaten! Denied agency, Spain’s adversaries became mere victims: the harder Italy chased, bravely competing for territory and possession, the more stretched they became and the more hopeless their cause. By half-time Spain were two goals to the good.

Jonathan Wilson has argued that Pep Guardiola’s final season at Barcelona became like a Greek tragedy – the hero aware of his destiny yet unable to prevent it. This final’s narrative arc also took on something of the hue of Greek tragedy: Spain compelled Italy to chase the game, creating the conditions in which Italian defeat would be fulfilled by their desperate attempts to avert it. The theme of Italy’s defeat had been scripted through the ages: Aeschylus and Sophocles, Yeats, Mann, and Conrad. Italian defenders strained and stretched sinews, contorted their bodies (to breaking point in the cases of Giogio Chiellini and Thiago Motta), pressed and continued to chase, but Spain’s prodigies created or discovered space where none seemed to exist, stretching, manipulating, and piercing defensive lines, seemingly at will. Such exquisite mastery sears itself in the memories of aficionados forever.

The aesthetic aspect of Spain’s sublime technique and dazzling collectivity is consummate evidence with which to buttress Lilian Thuram’s contention: “Footballers can be like artists when the mind and body are working as one. It is what Miles Davis does when he plays free jazz – everything pulls together into one intense moment that is beautiful.”

Intense moments of beauty in which fantasy and reality blur: Xavi’s perfectly measured pass for Jordi Alba in full-flight, inviting the left-back to return to earth to score a goal I had only thought possible on a Playstation; the balletic quality of an Iniesta body-swerve; the high-speed smuggling of the ball through, between, around, and away from Italians all night long; the sublime improvisation inherent to what Xavi calls “mig-toc” – “half-touch” – tiki-taka that maps the coordinates of a beautiful and unrelenting dance: ‘there is only one ball and you shall not have it.’

With Spain’s near flawless performance in Kiev, the argument about the identity of football’s greatest team just got more complicated.

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Jun 14 2010

Profile Image of John Harpham

The Algerian Bleus: Dispatch from Paris

On Sunday afternoon, I rode the metro up from my place in the thirteenth arrondissment to Belleville, in the northeastern part of Paris, to take in the Algeria-Slovenia match in a neighborhood with a large Algerian population. Almost as soon as I emerged from the station onto the wide Rue Belleville, I met Ben, an Algerian immigrant whose parents were French, and his son Ilias. They were selling the green and white jerseys of the Algerian national team, both draped in Algerian flags themselves. Ilias predicted a 2-0 Algerian win; Ben thought 1-0.

Ben directed me to a local dive about a quarter mile down the boulevard, called the Cafe Hotel de Paris, where he was sure there would be a good Algerian crowd. There was, about forty men crammed onto wooden chairs in the back room of a small cafe. The game was about to begin, and it was displayed on a small TV in the corner of the room. The place was dimly lit, but I could make out photos of the Algerian squad covering the walls, as well as one older photo, which I was told showed the 1970 Algerian club team CRB.

The mood in the room was lively and expectant. The men, and they were all men between about twenty-five and sixty-five, chatted loudly in Arabic. I bought some tea and took a seat in the middle of the group. Soon, two young Europeans, a Frenchman and a Czech, walked into the cafe and sat next to me. We got to talking and agreed the US team had not played half bad the night before. “Are you French?” the Czech asked me. “Worse,” I said, “I’m American.”

The first half was excellent, though of course scoreless, the Algerian team keeping control of the ball with touch passes in the defense and quick runs up top. At halftime we all went out front of the cafe and smoked. The Algerians were in exalted moods. I talked with Abbes, the Algerian-born owner of the bar. I asked him how he was feeling, and he told me, “I am proud to see my country in the Cup. It’s been twenty-four years since we’ve been here. This is grandiose for us, a good surprise.”

We went back inside as the second half began, and the game quickly turned dismal–a Serbian goal, an Algerian red card, and the game was over. Afterwards, I hung out in the front room of the cafe for a while and commiserated. Most of the men took a philosophical attitude towards the result (as one reminded me, “Football, it’s not an exact science”), but others were less forgiving (Brihimi Zacharias, a college student I later played pick-up soccer with, reported, with only slight sarcasm, “Today, I am ashamed to be an Algerian”). During the game, the Algerian fans had chanted at crucial moments, sprung from their chairs with close calls, and maintained ironic grins until the end–more detached than the open, or perhaps exaggerated, investment in the match that characterizes American fans, but more collective and animated than French fans.

In the aftermath of the loss, I was interested to know whether the Algerians would also be supporting other teams in the World Cup. They would, they said immediately. Abbes liked Italy; others liked Brazil; a young man with a thin face named Mohamed Meghrici was rooting for Argentina, though he reported he was not a “Messian.” They all said they were proud of their country, and would support it before any other, but that they were general fans of the sport as well and followed many of the good teams.

By their country, they had all meant Algeria, though, so I asked, would they support France in the World Cup as well? “Of course,” Abbes responded, to general assent. “Pourquoi pas?”

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Jun 11 2010

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

“The French Caribbean Team” @ Pilgrimages

My second post to the “Pilgrimages” Blog is up, this one on how France is the Caribbean team in this World Cup.

“When the French team takes the field against Uruguay, and later against Mexico, history will be lurking. In 1924 and 1928 the Uruguayans famously took the Olympic football competition by storm, leaving a lot of Europeans wondering, “Where did these guys come from?” One of the starters in that Uruguay team was José Leandro Andrade, the descendent of slaves, who was feted as a star in Paris.  Uruguay’s victories inspired  Frenchman Jules Rimet – former coach, World War I veteran, mediocre but passionate footballer and head of FIFA – to create the first World Cup. That tournament was held in 1930 in Uruguay. The kick-off game, on July 13th, was a France-Mexico match-up, which France won.

Eighty years later, the French team that has travelled to South Africa is in some ways itself a Latin American team. . . .” Read article @ Pilgrimages Blog

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Jun 11 2010

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

“Haiti in the World Cup” @ Pilgrimages

Filed under Haiti,History,World Cup

My first piece is up at Chimurenga’s Pilgrimages Blog:

“In Port-au-Prince there stands – or at least there stood, before the January 12th earthquake devastated much of the city – a mural depicting four great nationalist heroes of the Caribbean: Toussaint L’ouverture, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Emmanuel Sannon. If you don’t recognize the last name, you are not alone, for Sannon’s presence among this group might at first seem a little odd. He’s not a legendary revolutionary hero, but rather a legendary football player, beloved by Haitians but little known outside the country. Although Sannon had a great professional career in Haiti as both  player and coach, he is best remembered for one illuminated moment on the football field. In 1974, Haiti reached the World Cup, for the first and so far only time in its history. In the group phase, Haiti faced Italy, a team against which no side had scored a goal for a long time. Yet, early in the game, Sannon burst forward, taking the Italians by surprise, and slid a beautiful goal into the net.”

Read the rest of this post at Pilgrimages…

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Jun 09 2010

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

World Cup History at “The World”

Filed under France,History,World Cup

Yesterday I did an interview for the “How We Got Here” podcast of BBC’s The World, available here. I talk about my book Soccer Empire, about Zidane, Thuram, and the 2006 World Cup, and about my hopes for this tournament.

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