Reading Galeano

By | January 21, 2018

Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow is one of the most lauded books written about soccer to this day. Rather than providing a standard ‘nuts and bolts’ account of the game, forcing the reader to sift through countless names, dates and statistics, Galeano instead provides his readers with 150 short sketches about the game. With topics as broad as “the Ball” and as specific as the “Goal by Atilio,” these sketches lay out a sweeping account of soccer’s history. But at as the “Author’s Confession” makes clear, these fragmentary sketches are also a biographical account of the history of the game seen through Galeano’s own eyes, focusing on the important events that shaped his understanding of the game.

Andi Thomas, a sportswriter for, provided an excellent reflection on the importance of Soccer in Sun and Shadow after Galeano passed away at the age of 74.

As you read, you might want to see if you can find videos of some of the goals or incidents described; you can also check out these previous blog posts that include videos of some of the goals described by Galeano himself.

Students, as we read the first have of Galeano’s this week in “Soccer Politics,” pick your favorite sketch and analyze its style and structure here in the comments section. What makes this particular sketch insightful, funny, or moving? Can you find other information about the incident or player he is describing? How does the sketch teach you to think about or see soccer in a different way?

Please post your response to this by Wednesday January 24th at 5 p.m.

Category: Galeano

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. 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 (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

30 thoughts on “Reading Galeano

  1. Matthew Eads

    Galeano’s Sketch about Garrincha struck me as one of the most memorable, as Garrincha is the quintessential example of the unique and beautiful type of player Galeano admires so much. With every medical problem imaginable, no one would have ever predicted Garrincha to be such an amazing player. As Galeano says, “They predicted this misshapen survivor of hunger and polio, dumb and lame, with the brain of an infant, a spinal column like an S, and both legs bowed to the same side, would never be an athlete.” Galeano states no one brought joy to fans quite like Garrincha did, and more importantly it was all for the love of the game. He never became a soccer idol for fame and fortune, he was not driven by a desire to make more money or garner more fame, he only became great because of his love for the game. Whenever Galeano talks about the lack of creativity in the game, or the technocrats dulling it down, I imagine Galeano yearning to watch Garrincha just one more time. Garrincha’s kinks were never ironed out in a farm program, or corrected by a manager, because if they had been Garrincha would have stopped playing the game. While I’ll never have the chance to watch somebody like him, this sketch more than any other makes me envious of the soccer Galeano was able to experience.

  2. Rebecca Quinn

    In reading the first half of Galeano, I was most interested in the first entry of the book, titled “ Soccer”. I found Galeano’s interpretation of the history of football leading up to the 21st century modern game was a cynical lens on the sport. That being said, I really enjoyed his writing style, particularly the use of analogies to describe the joy and freedom of a player with a ball and no restrictions. Galeano paints a very vivid image of the modern game as a highly structured and rigid spectacle. I think it’s funny how Galeano is labelling the players that are highest regarded by spectators as ‘rascals’. Who is imposing this restriction of freedom on modern football? Is it the coaches?

    From my own experience, I think that the influx of money into football can a less enjoyable environment for players. The sport is a job, with bonuses for starting matches, making international friendly rosters, and above all, winning championships/tournaments. Players are relocated from their native countries with their friends/families in order to play on professional teams. All of these aspects go against the purest form of football people normally think of- community members playing together in small matches of pick-up football at a local pitch/park with little to no rules, and rarely referees.

    Contrastingly, I believe in my own development as a professional footballer, I have become less structured as a player in some senses. At a youth level, players are set in positions based on their formations. Even at a collegiate level the movement within formations is minimal, consisting of simple winger, striker interchanges. When you look at the USWNT for example, you can see fullback and wingers interchanging on the pitch, a holding midfielder dropping in between centre backs, and so on. Although the movements follow a structure, it allows for players who are historically locked by formational structures to see different pictures and parts of the pitch, displaying skills not classically known to their positions. One of my favourite examples is a CANWNT player Jessie Fleming, picking up the ball on the top of the Canadian team’s box, and cutting Alex Morgan so quickly she fell to the ground. This is the thing crowds delight in, but wouldn’t be as rewarding without the risk created from the structural change of a classic #8 attacking midfielder receiving the ball so low on the park.

  3. Philemon Kiptoo

    Eduado Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow is an amazing book about soccer; I honestly consider it a must-read for those who want a deeper understanding of soccer, not just as a ninety minute match but as a complex sport whose effects go beyond the stadium. Using short sketches like The Ball, The Stadium, The Fan e.t.c full of vivid descriptions, Galeano masterfully captures an image of soccer that many other writers have not. I enjoyed reading all the sketches, some more than others. The Death on the Field sketch was really moving to me.
    Here, Eduardo Galeano tells the sad, yet compelling story of Abdon Porte. A legendary Uruguayan player of Club Nacional, Porte was at one time the beloved favorite of his team’s fans and went ahead to make more than two hundred appearances for his club. However, when his playing capability dipped and the fans jeered him, he committed suicide at the center of the stadium at midnight and his body recovered the following morning. I found this sketch very touching because this is unfortunately not an isolated incident in soccer. There are several stories told of soccer players, managers and even fans getting depressed to an extent of committing suicide because a particular game didn’t end with the result they wanted. Another famous incident revolves around the life of one of Roma FC’s greatest playmaker in the early ‘80s. After captaining his team to their first and only European Cup Final to date in 1984, the typical worst thing happened to Agostino Di Bartolomei. The game ended on a penalty shootout and Roma lost to Barcelona. Ten years later on exactly the same day Roma lost the final, Agostino Di Bartolomei committed suicide in his house in Rome. I would go on to give more examples where a player, fan or manager lost/took their life because of a match result, but the point is clear, that these occurrences aren’t isolated. As concerned individuals, it begs the question – who is responsible? Should the fans who boo their own player in a match be blamed when that player ends up depressed because he’s convinced he was the main reason they didn’t win, be blamed? What about players who don’t perform to the expectations of their fans, leaving them (fans) depressed? Or is there something in soccer that’s beyond us that’s responsible for these very tragic moments? Many people will argue these such occurrences, unfortunate as they may be, exemplify the passion and dedication that we have for the game. They might be right. On the other hand, one is left wondering what the ultimate goal of the so called beautiful game is. Isn’t it to enjoy the fun of playing and embracing both wins and loses? Ideally, soccer like any other sport, should bring the very best of ourselves; our values of hard work, unity and love. Unfortunately, such tragic events remind us with brutal honest that the game we so much adore has a silver lining, and a very cruel one in this case.
    This sketch also goes hand in hand with the The Player one. Both of the try to depict the real pressure an uncertainty that comes with being a professional soccer player. On one end, being a professional soccer player makes one the envy of the community – success comes lined with fame and money. On the other end, a player could be left devoid of purpose to live when his/her teams loses in the Cup Final.

  4. Erik Reiss

    Reading Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the sketch that I found most compelling and resonated most with me was “The Player” (3). The lives of the famous are often glorified and viewed from a very one-sided perspective: we only imagine the perks of fame but often neglect to realize the detriments. Galeano’s piece “The Player” does a very good job of contrasting the two and shedding light on the not-so-favorable aspects of being a professional soccer player. He begins by describing the player as “[getting] paid to have fun,” noting that “he won the lottery” (3). Even if he must work hard, he still reaps the benefits of his hard work through fame, countless women falling head-over-heels for him, and children wishing to be like him. However, Galeano then transitions into the hardships of playing professionally. Specifically, the line that caught my attention and really hit home was “he started out playing for pleasure…and now he plays for the duty in stadiums where he has no choice but to win or to win.” This reminded me of my career playing soccer and a big reason that kept me from playing collegiately. During my junior year of high school, I played in the US academy system, which is the highest level of competition in America, practicing four times a week, two hours per session, with two games each weekend, traveling forty-five minutes each way to practice, and traveling up to eight hours away for a single game. What started out as a passion began to feel like a chore and job. The practice field, which was once a playful environment, now had an ultra-competitive cut-throat feel to it, in which every player battled for his spot in the starting eleven, and even the smallest of mistakes could send you to the bench if repeated. By the end of the season, I needed to take some time away from the game because I no longer enjoyed what I was doing.

    Back to Galeano’s discussion, we forget to realize the discouraging aspects of professional athletics because our judgment is clouded by the glorification of the profession. Through the rest of the piece, Galeano juxtaposes this initial glory described in the first paragraph with a very bleak outlook on the life of a soccer player. His rhetoric in describing the player is demeaning, comparing him to an object that is bought, sold, and loaned by businessmen. He goes on to highlight a player’s lack of free will, as the better he performs the “the more of a prisoner he becomes” (3). He draws comparisons between a player’s pre-match practices to that of a “concentration camp where he does forced labor, eats tasteless food, gets drunk on water, and sleeps alone” (3). These are only a few of the sacrifices a professional soccer player must make. He also undergoes physical deterioration, “[suffering] the punishing daily round of training and the bombardments of painkillers and cortisone that hide his aches and fool his body” (3). However, possibly the saddest truth to “The Player” is the fact that his career consistently hangs by a thread, and his livelihood can be determined by a single unlucky situation. Once a bad injury comes, he one day discovers “he has bet his life on a single card and his money is gone and so is his fame” (3). Everything can be lost within a few seconds without any warning.

  5. Vinay Kshirsagar

    A couple of related sketches that really spoke to me were The Theater and The Sources of Misfortune, in how they illustrate how we as fans try to impose an order on a game which mostly doesn’t really have that order.

    Often when I watch a game I’m watching for the drama of it all. I don’t support any specific team most of the time, and I want to see beautiful high quality soccer, but also I watch for the stories I perceive and the stories I am fed by announcers and sports news websites. Part of the fun of a game is not knowing what the end result will be, as Galeano says in The Theater, “[the match] definitely depends on fate, which like the wind blows every which way. That’s why the outcome is always a surprise to spectators and protagonists alike, except in cases of bribery or other inescapable tricks of destiny.” But even in that statement, he attributes some results to “inescapable tricks of destiny,” indicating that there is some thread that runs from perhaps events long before and unrelated to the game, which mysteriously influence the game.

    This same sort of idea is carried through to The Sources of Misfortune, where we learn of some superstitions that players and managers and fans all act upon. As a high school soccer player, sometimes I would even feel that weird, unimportant changes in my daily routine, like which shirt I wore to class that day, could affect my performance on the soccer pitch for better or for worse. As a fan, watching any team that I support lose, I always feel that I didn’t root hard enough, or I left the room at the wrong time, and my mistake was telekinetically transferred to the minds and bodies of the actors on the playing field. It’s silly, of course, but it comes from a need to rationalize events which inherently have no rhyme or reason to them.

  6. Nikhil Kaul

    First off, I think this is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. I sat down and finished half of the book in one sitting because it is such a page-turner. I love how the book is structured and reads first by explaining all of the essential parts of soccer, and then moves into a sequential history from the person in the Ming dynasty playing with a ball “possibly made by Adidas” and goes all the way through to the 2010 world cup. I only read until the 1962 world cup about Sir Bobby Charlton’s goal, but I think one of the most fascinating sections was “Death on the Field.” This is the section about Abdón Porte and how hated he was by football fans for his lack of playing ability. The almost poetic way in which he killed himself with a revolver at center field holding a letter struck me and really demonstrated how MUCH people love this game and how much a part of their life it is. The other section that really struck me were “The sources of misfortune” and “amulets and Spells.” I think these sections really relate to Bromberger’s idea of Football as a ritual because it literally is rituals and practices that fans and players do to try to call on some divine intervention to help them win the game or the other team loses. I thought that the story of a fan burying a toad in the field to curse a team for 12 years was hilarious and ridiculous, and what I found even more ridiculous was how serious everyone took it, searching for the toad and digging up the field. It also reminded me of a story about Bela Guttman, a former manager of SL Benfica and how he cursed the team after they wouldn’t raise his salary, saying they would never win another European cup again. To this day they have made it to three European cup finals and lost all of them. I’m not one to believe in curses, and obviously, there are a lot of other factors at play, but I just find the level to which people will elevate this game crazy and amazing at the same time, and that’s why I love the sport more than any other. I also really like how Galeano always writes about all the significant world events happening at the same time as the World Cup before introducing it. I think it has an awesome effect of showing these significant and pivotal moments in history and how yet, there are millions waiting to watch the world cup games, be it on TV or in the stadiums. This really elevates the status of the world cup in my eyes and shows how important this event is in human history when it happens every four years.

    Also, just reading the narratives of wach world cup about how a favorite like Hungary lost the 1958 world cup to a team like west Germany which it beat 7-3 in group stage makes for an absolutely fascinating read.

  7. Noor Tasnim

    Two sketches that particularly stood out to me were the ones on Puskás and Yashin because of how their legacies have been honored in recent years. Some of you may be familiar with the Puskás award, which is an award given to a football player that scored that most “brilliant” goal of the year. Likewise, The Lev Yashin Award, which is now called the Golden Glove Award, was given to the best goalkeeper in the World Cup from 1994 to 2006.

    The sketch on Puskás glorifies him as a goalscorer. Indeed, he was a prolific striker when he played for Hungary and Real Madrid, nearly averaging one goal per match on the international level. Likewise, this sketch highlights his exceptional control of free kicks. It is very difficult to strike the ball at the same exact position through multiple free kicks. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to score with the same exact shot from a free kick twice in a row. The opposition’s failure to stop Puskás from scoring exemplifies his proficiency as a goalscorer and helped me realize why we honor his greatness each year.

    Likewise, Galeano admires Yashin and compares him to a spider with long arms. In fact, Yashin was referred to as the “black spider” because of how great he was at stopping the many shots that came his way throughout his career. Additionally, he is the only goalkeeper to have ever won the Ballon d’Or. Although Galeano uses an ample amount of superlatives to describe Yashin’s style of play, his descriptions are justified because of the amount of penalty kicks he saved and the amount of clean sheets he held.

    Connecting Galeano’s book to Bromberger’s article, we tend to worship players in the sport of football, as if football were a religion. However, these two short stories made me question what would be the best way to honor a player’s legacy? Of course, stadiums and towns have erected statues of magnificent players throughout the world, but is naming an award after a player enough? Maybe it is too much and unnecessary. I’m curious to see others’ thoughts on this because we continue to give out the Puskás Award, but renamed the Lev Yashin Award to the Golden Glove Award.

    For a better picture of Puskás’ and Yashin’s styles of play, check out the two videos below: (Ferenc Puskás) (Lev Yashin)

  8. Faris

    Being an avid Manchester United fan, I grew up in admiration of Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements. His spectacular leadership ability and motivational prowess meant that he could inspire a team of good players to perform at their very best and take on the world’s greatest. With this amazing managerial skill, he was able to win 38 trophies in 26 years, making him unequivocally the world’s best manager, period. After Sir Alex’s departure from Manchester United, a spell of poor management meant that what used to be one of the world’s greatest teams transformed to a pretty awful one. I think this is a perfect (yet heartbreaking) example of how a club’s management is crucial to its success.

    In reading Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the sketch “The Manager” (p. 35) resonated with me the strongest. Galeano argues that “the manager dreams up formulas as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception, which he uses to develop tactical schemes as indecipherable as the Holy Trinity.” In writing this, he draws a connection between the manager and the deity. He makes it seem as though the manager’s plan is of a divine nature. Near the end of this sketch, Galeano maintains that this divine image is demanded by the fans, even though the managers see themselves as scientists and the pitch as their laboratory, which further exemplifies the perception of the manager’s mysterious and magical work. It is not difficult to relate this back to the work of Sir Alex. He is widely regarded as one of the best managers in football history due to his magical and “god-like” performance, especially when transforming good players to great ones.

    Another noteworthy aspect of “The Manager” is that the drawing in it is of a factory machine. This, I believe, is a great description of how a superbly managed team works: like a well-oiled machine. This analogy was also pointed out by Bromberger in Football as world-view and as ritual. Bromberger explored the idea of a team as an image of the industrial world that underlines the co-operative nature of a football team composed of specialized players, all of which is brought together by great management. This analogy (shown by both writers) gives us a transformative view of the importance of leadership in creating a smooth and co-operative team effort.

  9. Carolina Herrera

    In Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow, one of my favorite sketches is “The Goalkeeper” because it illustrates not only the role the goalie plays in the game, but also the repercussions the goalie must live through when the opposing team scores. I really liked how Galeano begins with the different technical terms of the goalkeeper, but then, in the following sentence, he relates the goalie’s role to a victim stating, “He could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent, or punching bag.” Once again, there is juxtaposition of soccer and religion, as a martyr is someone who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs. Therefore, in thinking about soccer as a religion, the goalie represents a martyr because he is fulfilling his belief that he should keep the ball from being scored, willingly sacrificing his body in diving for a ball, and knowing that if the opposing team scores, he will be condemned. In awaiting “his own execution by firing squad,” the goalie knows what is coming and is still willing to defend the goal and “die.” Additionally, through Galeano’s straightforward language and rhetorical devices, I found it interesting how he puts the role of the goalie in perspective, saying how the goalie is the first one to pay for the mistakes of his team, “Whenever a player commits a foul, the keeper is the one who gets punished: they abandon him in the immensity of the empty net to face his executer alone.” This quote highlights how soccer is a reflection of society, and how sometimes one can be blamed and as a result suffer the consequences of a mistake that he/ she did not commit. Furthermore, Galeano underscores how when the team is having a bad day, the goalie ultimately pays for all the sins his team makes on that given day. The goalie has to deal with the offense and defense’s bad day and it becomes the goalies fault if a goal is scored, even though it is the job of the defense to keep the ball away from the goal. Lastly, Galeano drives home the role of the goalie by highlighting the subsequent consequences he has to face, stating that while other players can redeem themselves, the goalie can never redeem himself because one mistake can cause him to lose a crucial game or even a championship. As a result, his single mistake causes fans to forget all the other amazing saves he had in his career and defining him by that one moment of letting the ball to hit the back of the net.

  10. David Duquette

    The sketch from Eduardo Galeano’s book “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” that resonated with me the most was “The Theater,” (14). The sketch begins by outlining one of the most defining aspects of soccer, that players exercise autonomy over the game. As we have discussed in class extensively, there is only so much that managers and coaches can do to effect the game. Ultimately, soccer is a practice in improvisation, and Galeano encapsulates this idea perfectly when he states, “This play (soccer) mocks its author, unfolding as it pleases and according to the actor’s abilities,” (14).

    The part that I enjoyed the most about this sketch is how it highlighted the individual battles that ensue on the soccer pitch each game. Having played the game my whole life, these individual battles are a vital part of each match, sometimes swaying a match in one teams favor, yet spectators rarely get to fully appreciate them. Some of my most fond memories from playing soccer growing up were these battles. I loved getting into an opponents head, taking them out of the game, and frustrating them to the point that they often verbally and physically attacked me. As Galeano details, the beauty of this skill lies in getting everyone else on the pitch, but especially the referee, to believe that you are completely innocent. To me this passage emphasized how important the mental side of the game is, and revealed to those who might not have ever played soccer competitively the intricate interpersonal actions that are at play throughout the whole game.

    On the other hand, Galeano goes on to describe those who are masters of time wasting, a skill I thoroughly despised growing up. His description of the team physio coming out to treat a player faking an injury was quite funny to me, especially the part about the “infallible potion,” (15). The whole paragraph reminded me of the 2011 Women’s World Cup Quarterfinal between the US and Brazil, in which the Brazilian Erika faked an injury during extra time as Brazil futilely tried to waste time before Abby Wambach’s fateful equalizer. While it’s definitely a part of the game, I always found this type of gamesmanship to be unsporting, perhaps because of my American upbringing.

    Overall, I found “The Theater” to be revealing, putting oft under-appreciated aspects of soccer at the forefront of the game.

    1. Laurent Dubois Post author

      I’m glad you called attention to this section. Last week we talked a bit about the comparison between soccer and religious ritual, and here Galeano is offering another comparison, to theatre. I think both are apt, but the theatre metaphor really works in some ways — notably the extent to which certain kinds of acting (notably around fouls) is part of the arsenal of the game. But if soccer is a play, it is of course unscripted, and no one really knows how a game will go!

  11. Jack Bloomfeld

    In Galeano’s book “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” the very first sketch, “Soccer”, was particularly interesting. The sketch makes comments on how soccer has changed over time from a simple and rewarding alternate reality, into an intense and demanding industry. This point becomes clear starting with the first sentence, “The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty.”
    I sympathize very much with the point that soccer was created with the intent to “turn a man into a child playing with a balloon,” because that is what soccer has always meant to me. The sport brings the players together and disregards all backgrounds that would separate the individuals in the real world. Growing up I played soccer with teammates from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds that I never would have met and befriended without the sport. In addition to the unifying property, soccer is a tool of escape. At any point that one feels lost, hopeless, or depressed with their own reality, soccer provides an alternative. It is one of the only ways to completely escape your thoughts and enter a new reality where you are completely focused on the sport, and all of your irrelevant worries are left behind.
    Soccer, over time, has lost it’s unifying and therapeutic properties. Organized soccer as a profitable business contradicts the sport by placing the worries of the real world into the game. Players are bogged down by the intense pressure to win at all costs, the pressure to increase their salary, and the pressure to play for their manager rather than themselves. The passage explains that soccer is “organized not to facilitate play, but to impede it.” Much of the beauty of soccer is lost in these game-altering external pressures, but fortunately you are still able to observe flashes of beauty and appreciate that original purpose of the sport.

    1. Noor Tasnim

      I agree with you Jack, and could not stop thinking about why I could not continue to play soccer on a more professional level when I became older. The fact that soccer has become an industry has seemed to inhibit our youth from actually participating in the sport in a more professional level. As a result, children have resorted to relying on basketball or American football as a “tool of escape.” How often do we see a “rags to riches” story in soccer in comparison to basketball and American football? Our lack of funding at the youth level for soccer could have been one of the main reasons why we didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Soccer should become a more accessible sport to the general population to promote youth development in soccer and ensure prosperity for the US Soccer Federation in the future.

  12. Ben Gottschalk

    On page 55, Galeano portrays an image of a player seemingly celebrating. This comes at the end of a section that focuses on how a team or a player can serve as an inspiration or symbol for hope in war or during a resistance movement. For example, FC Barcelona served as a symbol of democratic resistance when Franco terrorized Spain at the hands of Hitler and Mussolini. Tough regimes and costly wars can cause a city or state to suffer, but in these times, soccer can inspire.

    This is why the picture placed on the bottom of p. 55 was so striking to me. As Bromberger noted, “a profoundly significant game is being played out on the field, which intensifies and enacts the fundamental values of contemporary life.” While not necessarily visibly apparent in the picture, the player seems to be expressing pure elation. In times of difficulty or strife, soccer provides an outlet, or motivation, not only for the players, but for the devoted fan bases. Something as simple as the ball gliding through the air and hitting the back of the net can lift a nation. It can remind people of happier or more enjoyable times while simultaneously distracting them the problems that they or their country may face either at home or abroad. Galeano’s book provides the reader with many historical aspects of the game, many of which can be translated to how the game is perceived even today. When a football match takes place, a fan or supporter is solely focused on the spectacle in front of them. As we discussed in class, fans are glued to their seats when a game begins, longing for their team to produce and hopefully win. So, when a player shares the passion of the goal with the fans it allows for the players and fans to be synonymous in their emotion. While the illustration does not prove that the player was even celebrating, (it’s possible that he was throwing his arms up at the referee) it is safe to assume that he is expressing a genuine sentiment that has been caused by the game. War and domestic strife has been constant in our global history, but so has soccer. And as Galeano depicts, soccer can inspire while bringing out the rawest emotions in everyone who follows it. For me, the imagery seen on page 55 is Galeano highlighting soccer’s importance not because of the competition, but because of distracting and inspiration it can bring to people.

  13. Will Cohen

    While many of Galeano’s sketches in “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” provide jarring historical accounts, I found myself most moved by the more abstract “The Fanatic.” At only three short paragraphs, this vignette paints the soccer fan as a transformed man, a soldier far removed from sense and from his somber reality. The fanatic, says Galeano, “watches the game but doesn’t see it… Liberated for a day, the fanatic has much to avenge.” In this way, a soccer supporter is transported from the stands to a battleground. He is no longer is a “cowed man” or a “frightened man,” but a powerful actor with enemies to quell. All the while, crazed obsession takes the place of logic in his mind.

    Though I’ve long been an avid soccer fan, I would never consider myself a “fanatic” — certainly not according to Galeano’s portrayal. While I’m aware of the classic stereotype of the (typically European/South American) soccer supporter as a somewhat maniacal fanatic, this mindset is incredibly foreign to me. However, when I went to Madrid over Winter Break and attended my first soccer match in Europe, I saw, for the first time, fans that embodied Galeano’s caricature. This sketch powerfully displays the transformative power of soccer and of sports in general.

    1. Noor Tasnim

      Soccer has been growing in popularity recently in the United States. Foreign leagues have become more accessible through television/the Internet and the MLS continues to expand. As a result, the general population is becoming more passionate about the sport. However, I still feel as if most Americans are more passionate about other sports, such as football which display so much original culture that their fans would be considered more as “fanatics” than your average MLS supporter. How could we change that in the USA? Would putting more money into the MLS and making it a more competitive league by attracting more skillful/famous players make Americans more passionate about soccer. Or should we simply accept that most soccer supporters in the US feel more passionate about foreign clubs, such as Real Madrid, Barca, Chelsea, Bayern, etc. and that we would not be as crazy about soccer as most foreign supports are?

  14. Will Cohen

    While many of Galeano’s sketches in “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” provide jarring historical accounts, I found myself most moved by the more abstract “The Fanatic.” At only three short paragraphs, this vignette paints the soccer fan as a transformed man, a soldier far removed from sense and from his somber reality. The fanatic, says Galeano, “watches the game but doesn’t see it… Liberated for a day, the fanatic has much to avenge.” In this way, a soccer supporter is transported from the stands to a battleground. He is no longer is a “cowed man” or a “frightened man,” but a powerful actor with enemies to quell. All the while, crazed obsession takes the place of logic in his mind.

    Though I’ve long been an avid soccer fan, I would never consider myself a “fanatic” — certainly not according to Galeano’s portrayal. While I’m aware of the classic stereotype of the (typically European/South American) soccer supporter as a somewhat maniacal fanatic, this mindset is incredibly foreign to me. However, when I went to Madrid over Winter Break and attended my first soccer match in Europe, I saw, for the first time, fans that embodied Galeano’s caricature. This sketch powerfully displays the transformative power of soccer and of sports in general.

  15. Lucas Carter

    My favorite sketch from Galeano’s “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” is “The Goal”. It is a short section, being only 6 sentences total, but it takes several read-throughs to fully appreciate. I liked this section because it used several strange and eye catching metaphors to make goals seem important to the point of being divine. It starts off by saying that “The goal is soccer’s orgasm”, insinuating that it is a rare, important, and climactic event in any game. It further hints at the excitement and importance of goals by comparing a 0-0 score to “two yawns” (which is exactly what I think of scoreless soccer games: they’re boring). As the section progresses, Galeano’s description of a goal becomes increasingly surreal, describing the ball as a “white bullet” and shifting the focus of the reading from the goal itself to the fans and stadium who appreciate it. This section was not only fun to read, but also did an incredible job capturing the passion, excitement, and divine experience that is scoring a goal in soccer.

    1. Noor Tasnim

      I did it find it interesting that Galeano compares the pleasure of scoring a goal to the thrill of sex by using the terms “orgasm” and “white bullet.” However, I was more fascinated by how we attribute excitement of the game to scoring goals. In discussion, we argued that in the United States, we may be unique in thinking that a scoreless game is boring because many of the other sports that we watch involve more aggression and “attacking” style of play. However, here we have Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, also agreeing that a scoreless game is boring. I personally think this passage, as short as it is, oversimplifies the elation of soccer matches by only correlating incitement to goal-scoring. Excitement can also be found in plays that nearly resulted in goals, fouls, injuries, substitutions, and many other aspects of the game.

  16. Jake Seau

    I really enjoyed reading Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow due to how unique his writing style was and the content he provided in the short stories. It was interesting to read a book that was extremely unorthodox in its layout as well as unpredictable in what was coming next.

    One of my favorite quotes was about Gerd Muller. Eduardo writes “nobody saw a wild wolf on the field. Disguised as an old woman, his fangs and claws hidden, he strolled along, making a show of showering innocent passes and other works of charity. Meanwhile he slipped unnoticed into the box. The net was bridal veil of an irresistible girl. In front of the open goal he licked his chops. And in one fell swoop he stood naked, then bit.”

    This quote spoke to me because I felt that it brought to the light the competitive nature within these athletes. Often it feels that soccer is heralded as the most beautiful sport in the world, and people forget that within these phenomenal athletes, is a competitive entity that drives them to be the best. That is why I loved this part of his writing, because these athletes such as Gerd Muller must be delicate with their passes, and precise with their touches, yet within all of them is this “wild wolf” that Eduardo Galeano speaks of. This aspect of the athlete is not always spoke about or touched on, yet it is also one of the most important aspects of their character and their success. The drive and competitive nature to win. Beyond the “wild wolf” reference in this quote, I liked the part of “showering innocent passes” because again I think it goes back to my previous point of precise passing and delicate footwork. It seems as though he’s writing about Gerd Muller lulling the defense to sleep, hiding the competitor behind this, and then eventually executing and pushing the ball. I liked this as a metaphor because it is relatable to all sports beyond soccer. I think an aspect of soccer that is incredible is that the athletes let the game come to them, rather than push and force the ball, resulting in turnovers. It is evident in watching games and I think what Eduardo is writing about here, is that the athletes let the game come to them with their “innocent passes” until they are ready and see their opportunity.

    Upon reading this quote, I also decided to read into Gerd Muller. What was interesting was that I found that he was rather short, with not exceptional speed, and not a prototypical scorer’s build. However, his competitive advantage over other athletes, was his competitive nature. Taking his shorter stature and building upon it with short bursts of speed, and competing for aerial balls despite his height. Gerd Muller’s style of play and game seemed to be mitigate his disadvantages, and even use his disadvantages such as low center of gravity, as a strength.

  17. Nathaniel Cooney

    One of my favorite sketches in Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow was, “The Olympic Goal.” This sketch was short, simple, but beautiful in its description of a significant moment in soccer history. The sketch describes a scene when Uruguay and Argentina played each other after the 1924 Olympics. A goal was scored directly from the corner by Cesáreo Onzari, without any other player touching the ball. This was the first time anyone had ever scored directly from the corner, and it would be referred to as the, “Olympic Goal.”

    I enjoyed this sketch so much because of the style in which Galeano manages to demonstrate both the beauty of the moment, and the shock. First, he describes Onzari as, “…the author of the winning goal.” This line demonstrates to the reader that for Galeano soccer is not a game, but more of a story or poetry. He then perfectly captures what must have been the pure shock of the Uruguayan side when he writes, “The Uruguayans were left speechless. When they found their tongues, they protested.” This initial period of shock is captured perfectly by Galeano short phrase style, as it gives the sense that when they finally realized what had happened they immediately argued it was unfair. I particularly enjoyed his depiction of the Uruguayans complaining the wind had scored the ball, not the player. Finally, when discussing the legacy of the goal, Galeano describes the fans as mistrusting it. I think that terminology is a wonderful way of showing that fans to this day are stunned when it occurs to the point where they are untrusting of whether it will even stand.

    I think this sketch is both insightful and humorous because of the language described above. The imagery Galeano utilizes of the Uruguayans attempting to figure out a way to argue the goal brings a comedic aspect to the historical moment. While Cesáreo Onzari and his Olympic goal are well documented, (if you want to read more the best source I found is in Spanish: it is an important moment in the development of soccer. I consider myself a dedicated soccer fan, but without Galeano’s sketch I am not sure I would have ever known who Onzari was and what he managed to do.

  18. Michael McAloon

    My favorite sketch thus far in Galeano’s “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” is “The Second Discovery of America” (50-52), which describes Uruguay’s journey to and participation in the 1924 Olympic Games in France. The piece begins with an introduction of Pedro Arispe, one of Uruguay’s key players, who saw no value in his homeland until he saw the blue stripes of the Uruguayan flag rising slowly up the pole of honor after their victory. I think Galeano chooses Arispe for two main reasons. First, his story can be generalized across the entire planet. A hard-working meatpacker with seemingly no upward mobility, Arispe felt trapped in his life. His country meant little to him, as he had not chosen it and it had not given him much in return. Such a narrative is so common across the world, as billions of people find themselves in dire situations in which they have little time to consider or give much thought to their national identity or their love for their country. For people like him, being a citizen is just a matter of fact. The second reason Galeano chose Arispe was to highlight how soccer can bring out national pride from these individuals. Arispe, who had never before placed value in his country, felt his heart burst when its flag rose above the rest. This athletic triumph finally made him feel pride and feel as if he were part of something bigger than himself. I think that through this example Galeano tries to highlight the power of soccer and the power of events such as the world cup, which bring together so many people often ambivalent to their national identities who are suddenly overcome with emotion and love. The power that soccer has to evoke this change rises to the level of the absurd.

    Next, Galeano goes on to describe how Uruguayans felt that their victory delivered them from an unknown country, one “just a tiny spot on the map of the world,” to one that was “not a mistake.” In truth, Galeano explains, “soccer had pulled this country from the shadows of universal anonymity.” In the same light, the author explains that the authors of Uruguay’s Olympic triumph were all working-class people…”Arispe was a meatpacker. Nasazzi cut marble. Petrone was a grocer. Cea sold ice. Leandro was a carnival musician and a bootblack. They were all twenty years old or a little older.” I think the point of this is to describe the universality of soccer and the way in which, at least from its outset, it represented a democratic process through which anyone could succeed on a level playing field. I think the descriptions of these occupations also point to the fact that early on, citizens were able to identify with players who may have come from the same communities or had similar backgrounds.

    Perhaps most interestingly, Galeano describes the Uruguay team’s trip to the 1924 Olympics and the tournament itself. Having arrived in Europe in third-class steerage, the Uruguay team traveled across Europe in second-class train carriages and slept on wooden benches while playing matches for room and board. Galeano’s description of the Uruguayan team’s deceit of Yugoslavian spies is quite humorous, but it also highlights the way in which the style and character of the team stood up to world superpowers. In their opening match with barely two-thousand fans in attendance, the Uruguay team thrashed Yugoslavia 7-0. They put on an absolute show and captivated the audience. When it came time for their next match, the team was a spectacle and thousands more came out to watch. The brown and black color of many players’ skin mattered not, their foreign identity made no difference. Thousands came to see their style of play and watched in awe as they passed the ball quickly and dribbled at high speed. I think that through this piece Galeano is highlighting the power of the game of football, which can transcend national identities and any prejudices. People simply love to watch the game, no matter who is playing it. When the ball is kicked off on the field, all else ceases to matter.

    Galeano ends with a discussion of the state of Uruguayan soccer since the 1924/28 Olympic Games and the 1930 and 1950 World Cup victories. The national team has never quite reached the same heights. In my lifetime, I only remember Uruguay’s national team being relevant in 2010, when Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez carried them to the World Cup Semifinal. Despite the national team’s lack of success, most Uruguayans, according to Galeano, consider themselves to have a Ph.D. in soccer. I believe he points this out to highlight the power of history in the game and the way in which glory and victory survive the test of time. In this game, people do not let things go, and certain events have the power to shape not only a team but a country and its people.

    You can read more about the 1924 Olympic team here:

    I think the photos on that page are particularly compelling, as they highlight how the team was simply a collection of “normal” individuals who otherwise would not stand out from a crowd. These boys defied the logic of the international power structure and placed their country on the map forever.

    1. Laurent Dubois Post author

      Thanks for this, Michael — great to see these photos indeed. The story of the Uruguayan team in the 1920s is really a beautiful and stunning one, and it had far reaching consequences — as I’ll explain in lecture — because in a way it was the moment when Europeans realized soccer had truly become global, and it made it clear that a World Cup was truly possible as a possibility.

  19. Vidit Bhandarkar

    Throughout his book, Galeano, describes football in a very flamboyant style, as is fitting of such a beautiful sport. His personification of the ball and his vivid and almost poetic descriptions of players such as Zizinho, Zamora, and Leonidas brought a wide smile to my face. Capturing each moment, event or goal into different chapters made for an engaging and easy read. However, despite enjoying the elegant descriptions of the various goals and players that shaped the history of this splendid sport, for me, the most moving sketch was “Death on the Field”. In this chapter Galeano is blunt and to the point in his writing. He talks about how Abdon Porte, once a star of the Uruguayan club Nacional, took his own life at midnight in the Nacional Stadium by shooting himself. This is extremely powerful in that it highlights how fickle of a sport football can be, with fans often time turning on their once adored players. In modern football, Real Madrid fans are a great example of this, even booing Ronaldo, their golden child. This sketch is a good reminder that although football is often seen as a sport that fulfills dreams, brings joy and fosters a sense pride and unity, this is not always the case. Football also has a dark side. Back when football did not have the money that it does today, a lot of players died alone and in poverty (with Garrincha as another example). Yes, it does serve as an escape for many, it does get players out of absolute poverty, but in most cases (especially in the early and mid 20th century), these benefits are only temporary and a lot of the times dependent on whether or not the player has the backing of the fans.
    In summary, this book has highlighted the beauty of football while giving me glimpse of its darker side from time to time. By taking a more historical approach, it has given me a lot background about the sport, thereby making it easier for me to understand why things are the way they are today. Finally it is written by a passionate football fan who craves a “pretty move” more than anything; someone who I can very easily resonate with.

  20. Soravit Sophastienphong

    Before Galeano, current laws dictating the beautiful game were to me indisputable facets of football, given that I had learned and developed an understanding of the laws when I first started playing, and they have ever since remained static. Hence, my most enjoyed sketch by Galeano is “The Rules of the Game” (28), which provides a thorough yet concise account of the way the rules of football have changed since their codification.

    I particularly enjoyed Galeano’s introduction about football’s integration into British society, initially summarized as “Under Queen Victoria soccer was embraced not only as a plebeian vice but as an aristocratic virtue”. I have always appreciated the classless nature of football in being a game that anyone can play, and I was fascinated by the notion that those at both ends of the social scale found productive benefits in football that allowed the it to become ubiquitous in society. There is a common rags to riches story about the young boy who comes from nothing and through hard work becomes a global superstar who’s able to provide for his family, yet I had never truly considered football’s immense ability to bridge the gap between reality and the land of dreams, especially for the impoverished and those lacking in opportunity.

    With regard to Galeano’s account of the history of football rules, I reached a realization that the game I love, in its simplest form, is not defined by player positions, throw-ins, offside, refereeing decisions, or even the composition of the goal, but rather two sides trying to best each other in kicking a ball around. My enjoyment of playing and watching the game, given reduction to its fundamental roots, does and would not change. However, I am surprised more than I should be that these seemingly characteristics aspects of the game were slowly introduced as it evolved. Will my children or grandchildren see VAR in the same way?

  21. Justin Sandler

    The Sketch on pages 10-11 “The Referee” really grabbed my attention. After talking about the referee in class today I began thinking about the power of the referee in other sports. Yes , in football the referee can call a penalty which will alter the fate of the game, or in basketball a foul could be called in the final seconds of a close game, or in baseball the umpire can call strike 3 to end a close game, however in all these sports they are at least 2 if not 3 or 4 referees. In soccer, there is one and he has all the power. I like how the section starts by calling the referee a tyrant. By doing that it is putting all the power in his hands. Clearly, the referee does not have all the power in a soccer game as the players do actually play, but by making the referee a tyrant, Galeno shows how much power he actually has and that he listens to no one, but himself. Galeno also makes an interesting point when he talks about how the referee’s goal is to make himself hated by everyone. No one wants to be hated by everyone, but by being a referee you know all you will get is hate and that comes with the job of being a referee. The referee might have the hardest and most physical job on the pitch, yet he probably wishes he were one of the 22 guys in the pitch playing. Everyone also blames the ref when they lose because there is no way anyone could lose because they other team is better. I think this section is slightly comical, but almost true in that the referee as a ton of power, and people honestly need him to hate on and to blame for losses. You might assume this section would be off to the side and in the rules section, but the ref plays such an important role that it needs its on section.

  22. Michael Olson

    I had a fun time reading, “Amulets and Spells” (Page 74). No matter the sport, superstitions and beliefs that other beings control the game always find a way to be involved. Soccer is no exception. I thought that this sketch was particularly memorable because it gradually showed the spectrum of superstitions from normal to extreme. (Not to mention, I learned about some of the craziest things people have convinced themselves of related to soccer.)

    It started by pointing out habits, things that are not really superstitions. Kissing the post, touching the grass, and wearing a necklace are all common place. Yet, things quickly get out of control. Amadeo Carrizo thought that wearing a cap at night made him have 8 consecutive clean sheets in goal. Pablo Hernandez Coronado blamed a six year Real Madrid championship drought on a renovated stadium. And of course, this curse wasn’t broken until a fan planted garlic in their soccer field. Fans would throw salt on the field to give rise to evil spirits. (Just imagine that for a second. People threw salt on a soccer field because they thought it would impact the outcome of the game.) Even more removed, people would throw flowers out into the sea to achieve the same goal. Thankfully, Galeano put everything in perspective. He explained that even though Mexican coach Juan Luque claimed that the Virgin of Guadalupe was on his team’s side, they still lost to France by four goals in the 1930 World Cup. (That’s some tough luck for Mexico.)

    Before reading Galenao’s work, I don’t think I had fully conceptualized the extent that fans and players will take their superstitions. His approach in this sketch shows that superstitions are just that, nothing more than superstitions. Many people believe in them and Galeano makes that clear (they surround the entire game), but the outcome of the game isn’t really dependent on them.

  23. Alex Torres

    The sketch “the ball” (20) in Galeano’s “Soccer in Sun and Shadows” is one of my favorites as it reminds me of my visit, last summer, to the FIFA World Football Museum in Zürich, Switzerland. Galeano describes the distinct balls used in the past and the transformation to that which we are familiar with today, a ball with “black on a white background.” Despite this, he fails to detail how even in today’s day and age, the balls used differ greatly based on region of the world, socioeconomic status, and even culture. One of the specific exhibits at the museum captures this perfectly though. In the “Fields of Play” section there is what’s called the “Galaxy of Balls,” which is essentially a display of different forms and types of soccer balls used all around the world. For example, there is a ball made of straw from Uganda and one made of socks from Brazil. The goal of this is to emphasize that no matter what type of ball used, soccer is still soccer; Galeano also makes the same point from his description of the leather and hemp ball used by the Chinese to the inflated and sewn shut ox bladder of the Greeks and Romans.

    Furthermore, another point that struck me while reading Galeano’s sketch “the ball” was his personification of the ball. He refers to the ball as a “she” as the Brazilians do, using words like “loyal,” “fickle,” and “proud” to describe her. I thought it was almost comical to assign an inanimate object a gender and certain characteristics and wonder if any other authors have done the same as well as whether players still do this as Péle and Di Stéfano did.

    1. Noor Tasnim

      I also found it interesting that Galeano and other players have used the pronoun “she” when referring to the soccer ball. I wonder what cultural aspects resulted in players and pundits to use “she” as opposed to other pronouns. Nevertheless, the soccer ball is truly an intricate part of the game and can make the difference in major tournaments. Note how the Jabulani ball caused much controversy during the 2010 World Cup. It would curve more in the air than expected and goalkeepers struggled to track and keep hold of the ball. It’s amazing to see the impact the engineering of a soccer ball can have on a match!

  24. Jan Maceczek

    In Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the sketch “Choreographed War” (17) particularly resonated with me. This sketch proves relevant as the World Cup nears, and soccer takes the international stage in the largest and most viewed sporting event. By characterizing soccer as “ritual sublimation of war,” Galeano does more than simply create a metaphor. Instead, he alludes to soccer as another embodiment of war.
    With ongoing wars rampant and international relations being tested, the World Cup will in some ways provide a different front for nations to challenge each other and assert their global influence. Although the stakes are merely symbolic, the World Cup nevertheless provides nations the opportunity to showcase the valuable resources of athletic talent and patriotism. The power of national representation is of course not exclusive to soccer. Still, the World Cup elicits more passion from fans than any other sporting event. Capturing this very thought, American midfielder Michael Bradley stated, “The joy that people have of watching their country play at the World Cup, and the excitement and the passion that it elicits is something that no other event—be it in the field of sports, entertainment or politics—in the world can match.”
    Similarly, the World Cup even presents an opportunity for governments to boost patriotism levels. This may be especially the case in nations where soccer is borderline religion, such as Brazil and Argentina. In Brazil for instance, soccer readily finds its way into policy because of the sports massive impact on the lives of citizens. In 1950, Brazil’s defeat to Uruguay in the World Cup final was perceived as a national disaster full of public grief.
    Lastly, while this sketch is a truly masterful reflection of soccer, I do not believe its title fully captures the message being conveyed. Although certain aspects are indeed fixed and “choreographed,” such as opening ceremony and pennant exchange, the match is anything but choreographed when the ball is in play. Still, like war, a soccer match is conducted within the bounds of accepted rules. While these are often moral, unwritten, and complex in war, they are straightforward and predetermined in soccer.


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