The Global Game: Soccer as a Second Language

Caitlin Moyles

Some soccer blogs cater news, gossip, and analysis to the fans of a certain team, league, or region. The Global Game: Soccer as a Second Language is different. In contrast to the male- and often Euro-centric world of FIFA, The Global Game explores the relationship between soccer and the lives of ordinary people around the world. According to its “about” page, The Global Game “says ‘no’ to big soccer and yes to soccer as a game for women and the marginalized, as a place of resistance, as a tool for education and social learning, as a vehicle for expression in the arts and all creative fields.” Edited by John Turnbull, a journalist and graduate of the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, the blog “privileges non-American stories” in its amalgamation of original articles, interviews, short stories, and media showcasing soccer around the world. The non-profit blog does not draw from corporate support, nor does it replicate mainstream coverage; it treats soccer as more than spectacle, an important topic in news, history, politics, and literature. The Global Game is an outlet for readers who are interested in soccer’s coalescence with art, history, literature, grassroots organizations, the lives of women, and different cultures around the world. In his introduction to a monologue by actress, poet, and gender activist Tapuwa Moore, who coached the Chosen Few Lesbian Soccer Club in Johannesburg, Turnbull encapsulates the essence of the blog in one sentence: “[Moore] is emblematic of the paradox in FIFA’s stewardship of the World Cup that in claiming to show us the world’s best, we sometimes miss the world’s good.”

The blog is divided by topic—Arts, Grassroots, History, Language, Media, Podcast, Regions, Teaching Resources, and Women’s Football. Nevertheless, diverse articles filed under different tabs touch on similar themes, such as soccer’s role in advancing the social good. This article, for instance, features an América TV news video about a six-month Andean women’s soccer tournament organized by the Agrorural public-works program in Lima. The indigenous football tournament, in which women play in colorful skirts, included 40,000 women from 13 regions. In conjunction with Agrorural’s reforestation program, the soccer tournament gave women a source of relief and recreation outside of their field labor. Similarly, this interview with Martin Afrika, captain for South Africa team at the Homeless World Cup, highlights soccer’s transformative powers. “It made me a really, really good person,” Afrika said in the podcast. “It changed me from drugs, from alcohol, it changed me totally from that…Now I have to look out for something…This is a big opportunity, not everybody gets this opportunity, so I just put my head to it and my heart.”

Experimental essays and creative writing inspired by soccer are filed under the Language tab. An experimental story called “No último minuto” (“In the last minute,”) by Sérgio Sant’Anna uses video replay to reconstruct the final, defining minute of a Brazilian championship game. As the goalkeeper rehashes every fatal move from the perspective of Channel 5, in slow motion, Channel 3, in slow motion, behind the goal, Channel 8, and then in slow motion again, the reader partakes in the agony that the advent of video replay has caused for goalkeepers. Tapuwa Moore’s monologue, “Before funny things started,” is equally evocative. She recreates the build-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and explores the different facets of fandom, from crazed national fever (“The sound of the vuvuzela never went away, the buzz reached the church premises. I heard church hymns blowing out of a vuvuzela,”) to the society-wide, even global “revolutionary drama” which swept even her away. “The revolution is live in Jozi when you see a Caucasian, Indian, Asians, Japanese and all the colours of the world blowing this South African horn,” she says. “And this revolution did other funny things. Magoshas (prostitutes) went out of business. Therefore sex was for free, alcohol was free, and people were free to be happy.”

For history buffs, The Global Game also delves into the intersection of soccer and the changing tides of history. For example, “Auschwitz and the Perversion of Football” is an interview with poet William Heyen, whose poem “Parity” was inspired by accounts of a soccer match that occurred during the Holocaust between the SS and the Sonderkommando, a primarily Jewish unit given the job of running the crematorium. “Come, said the SS. Today, we must play,” goes Heyen’s chilling line. The editor’s introduction to the interview incorporates eyewitness accounts of the event, including that of Jewish doctor Miklos Nyiszli, who wrote the following account—“They put the ball into play. Sonorous laughter filled the courtyard. The spectators became excited and shouted encouragement at the players, as if this were the playing field of some peaceful town.” Generally, the editor’s introductions are full of noteworthy tidbits of historical information; sometimes, the introductions outshine the articles themselves. The editor’s introduction to “Excavating American Soccer Fields” is particularly informative. It frames soccer fields as symbols of and testaments to the continual transitions of host communities. A soccer field in Montana, for instance, was once a WWII internment camp; organizers of the 2010 World Cup learned that the site of Green Point Stadium in Cape Town was a burial ground for slaves during the Dutch occupation. (Consequently, the stadium’s visitor center positions the stadium as a symbol of reconciliation because it is a space in which diverse people now come together.) The following essay by Martha Saavedra is a mental exercise in virtually excavating the soccer fields in her suburban hometown in Maryland, which she says would reveal the transitions of the local community throughout her childhood.

The Global Game considers the sport from a philosophical perspective, as well. Theories of chance, existentialism, and soccer converge in “Taking a turn ‘in the woods,’ confronting the goalkeeper’s choice.” The essay explores how 20th century existentialist writers viewed goalkeeping as “a paradigm for reasserting the moral imperative of action.” In this vein of world literature, goalkeepers are portrayed “as narrators of their experience, as personalities defined by the choices they make—especially when they have chosen the correct direction to dive for a penalty.”

A complement to mainstream soccer coverage, The Global Game thoughtfully and thoroughly brings together English translations of world news, literature, essays, interviews, and media about soccer. It’s a site for readers who want to think about soccer’s relationship with social work, politics, literature, history, and philosophy. For further reading, check out The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), an English-language anthology of world soccer literature, which Turnbull co-edited with Thom Satterlee and Alon Raab.

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