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Football in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano

Posted on August 27, 2011 by samh

Football in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano (1997)

This book is a poetic and eclectic look at the history of world football.

Galeano, who is Uruguayan, takes the reader along in small sections which describe not just the hard facts, but the less well-known folklore and anecdotes behind such elements of the game as the ball, players and various countries’ traditions.

Translated by Mark Fried, the prose is refreshingly ‘un-English’ and free of cliches. Galeano surely lays to rest that old one about football just being 22 men kicking a pig’s bladder about – he recognises its huge significance to popular culture and politics.

Moreover, he makes the important point that the two are inextricably linked, acutely noting: “Official history ignores football. Contemporary history texts fail to mention it, even in passing, in countries where it has been and continues to be a primordial symbol of collective identity.”

Galeano also shows how various dictators shamelessly used football to promote their regimes; he describes the terrible fate of a Dynamo Kiev team shot by a firing squad – still in their football strip – for daring to beat Hitler’s Germany in 1942. We also hear of the Uruguayan Abdon Porte, who, in 1918, after a loss of form and being dropped from the team, killed himself on the pitch at midnight, “at the centre of the field where he had been loved.”

Where there is sun there is shadow, where there is winning there is losing, where there is happiness there is sadness, where there is adulation there is obscurity. It is a simple theme, but it works perfectly. Every now and then there comes along a gem like this, almost submerged in the tidal wave of cash-in biographies and Fever Pitch imitations. If you are bored of the same old dross, you must read this.

Review by Sam Hawcroft

Buy this book from Amazon

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