Monthly Archives: June 2013

Two Portrayals of Soccer Fandom

I am currently reading John King’s 1996 novel The Football Factory about soccer fan culture and its causes in 1980s/early-1990s England. I also just read Sarah Lyall’s recent New York Times article about attending English soccer matches, which I found via one of my favorite soccer websites, When Saturday Comes.

The contrast between the two pieces is striking. It is clear to any serious follower of the English game that Lyall’s piece is written by a rank outsider (which is, admittedly, in part the point, as she assumes that most of her readers will also be outsiders), and thus contains some major flaws. Aside from a smattering of factual errors (e.g., that the famous meat pies served at matches are traditionally filled with chicken rather than red meat, usually beef), there is no attempt to actually understand the culture. Instead, the article highlights its idiosyncrasies in order to demean them and the culture as a whole. It is an example of disgustingly U.S.-centric reporting.

The article is flawed in its depiction of sports fandom in general, not just soccer fandom. The usual elitist attitude toward sports that is shared by way too many otherwise rational intellectuals (i.e., the sentiment “Why waste time caring about sports? It’s just a game.” In contrast, the reason I love When Saturday Comes is that it shows that a love of sports and a life of the mind can coexist.) is present throughout the piece. For example, Lyall is puzzled by the fact that English fans often seem miserable when watching their team, but this is the case with the majority of serious fans of any sport, including Americans. It is difficult to watch a team that you desperately care about for a multitude of reasons (not just whether they win or lose) play even if they are often successful (like my beloved Manchester United) and you expect them to win. Once you understand the nuances of a sport, it is difficult not to focus on the flaws inherent in the way it is played. That doesn’t mean that the glorious moments of beauty and triumph aren’t enjoyable, but that the knowledge that they are rare leads to a sort of resigned pessimism.

Unlike the article, The Football Factory endeavors to show how soccer fandom fits within its broader societal context. The book is especially trenchant in its portrayal of how the Thatcher government’s policies destroyed the working and middle classes, and how responses to this calamity manifested themselves in soccer fandom. The novel does not celebrate troubling elements of fandom such as hooliganism, but it does offer a genuine attempt to understand them. Lyall’s article fails in this regard. It views fandom in a vacuum instead of considering how issues of class, race, and gender intersect with it.

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Books Acquired Recently: Mostly Mennonite/Mostly Canadian Edition

I’ve been thinking and writing about Mennonite literature a lot lately, and this latest round of book-buying includes some of the earliest novels published in the field. It also includes one of the more recent works of Mennonite fiction and a book by someone with a Mennonite-sounding name (Kroetsch), though to my knowledge he has no Mennonite ties. Aside from Flamethrowers, all of the books take place in Canada.

Friesen, Gordon. Flamethrowers. Caldwell: Caxton, 1936.

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Flamethrowers is to my knowledge the earliest literary novel by a Mennonite published in the United States. It, like Kliewer’s book (and arguably like Wiebe’s), is rather critical of the community. I bought it from one of amazon.com’s booksellers. Hossack’s, Kliewer’s, and Wiebe’s books were also purchased via this method.

Hossack, Darcy Friesen. Mennonites Don’t Dance. Saskatoon: Thistledown, 2010.

I try to keep up on writing by as many contemporary Mennonite writers as possible, and just heard about Hossack’s short story collection from a friend. This person passed along the rumor that the publisher insisted on the title rather than on Hossack’s choice because books with “Mennonite/s” in the title sell better, especially in Canada where Mennonites are seen more as an ethnic group than as a religious one.

Kliewer, Warren. The Violators. Francestown: Jones, 1964.

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This is another early example of U.S. Mennonite fiction. I am tickled by the juxtaposition between the cover’s bucolic illustration and the book’s violent title.

Kroetsch, Robert. The Stone Hammer Poems: 1960-1975. 1975. Lantzville: Oolichan, 1983.

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I bought this at Back of Beyond Books in Moab, Utah, which is an excellent new-and-used independent bookstore. I’ve been wanting to investigate non-Mennonite Canadian literature more, and Kroetsch is an author in this category whom I’ve heard of, so I decided to buy his book. It is a lovely aesthetic object.

Wiebe, Rudy. Peace Shall Destroy Many. Toronto: McClelland, 1962.

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I already have the 1964 Eerdmans paperback edition of Peace Shall Destroy Many, which is the most important early piece of Mennonite literature, but I wanted a copy of the McClelland and Stewart hardcover edition because of its unique back cover, pictured here. The front cover of both the hardcover and first paperback printing has a white background with red lettering for the title and author’s name, and black lettering for the controversial plot description (Wiebe was the editor of a church newspaper at the time, not a “theologian.” He strongly objected to this description, but the publisher insisted on it). The back cover’s reversal of these colors is striking and foreboding. I acquired this copy for only $7.00 even though it is signed by Wiebe.

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