FSF 2018: Documentaries, Biography, and The Language of the Game

The second half of the Football Scholars Forum’s 2017-18 season features two documentary films, a biography, and a “guide to appreciating the drama of soccer.”

On February 23 (2pm US Eastern), FSF explores documentary film as a medium for stories about football. “New Generation Queens,” by Megan Shutzer, tells the story of Zanzibar’s women’s soccer and follows the Queens team to mainland Tanzania for a tournament where several players hope to be recruited to the Tanzanian national side. [WATCH it on [amazon] or [google play].  “Ciudad Deportiva – El Documental” by Alex Galarza and co-produced with four Argentine journalists, tells the story of Boca Juniors’ attempt to build a massive stadium and sports/recreational complex in the 1960s. The documentary focuses on the history of this project and the fascinating links between soccer and the city. [watch below, turn on English subtitles].

Doctor Socrates book coverIn late March (date/time to be confirmed), author Andrew Downie will join us for a discussion of Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend. A symbol of democracy and Brazil’s futebol romantico, Downie reveals Socrates to have been a man of many contradictions.

Then, on April 26 (3pm U.S. Eastern), we welcome longtime FSF member Laurent Dubois for a session devoted to his new book, The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer—”a passionate and engaging introduction to soccer’s history, tactics, and human drama.”The anguage of the Game book cover

To participate in the sessions send an RSVP to Alex Galarza (galarza.alex AT gmail).

FSF conducts its online sessions with Zoom. As always, the events will be recorded and archived on this website for those who cannot participate.

“Dreaming of Sports City” in Buenos Aires

On Thursday, November 12, at 3pm U.S. Eastern Time (-5 GMT), FSF co-founder Alex Galarza will discuss “Dreaming of Sports City: Consumption, Urban Transformation, and Soccer Clubs in Buenos Aires,” a chapter from his PhD dissertation in the History Department at Michigan State University. His advisor is Dr. Edward Murphy.

Galarza’s research in Buenos Aires was funded by Fulbright-IIE and FIFA Havelange scholarships. While in Argentina, he began working with Argentine journalists on a documentary film about the Ciudad Deportiva. As part of a Kickstarter campaign, the project produced a concise overview and trailer for the film (click to view).

Galarza has blogged about his doctoral research and the documentary on FSF member Manu Veth’s blog, Futebolcidade.com. The trailer and blog provide useful context on the research and help disseminate scholarly work beyond typical academic channels.

Please RSVP to galarza DOT alex AT gmail DOT com and send your Skype information if we don’t already have it.

Navigating the Study of Sports in the Academic World

wahl-grant-with-fan-scarfGrant Wahl writes for Sports Illustrated and is the author of The Beckham Experiment, the first soccer book ever to become a New York Times bestseller.

In the spring of 1995, during my junior year at Princeton, I met with the head of the politics department to pitch an idea for my senior thesis. I wanted to spend three months in Buenos Aires studying the political culture of soccer clubs. It seemed like a worthwhile topic. In a still-young democracy like Argentina, the nation’s soccer clubs had been a thriving part of civil society for decades. With memberships ranging from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands, the clubs often had multiple political parties (agrupaciones) and election campaigns that received more attention in the media than governmental elections. What’s more, the function of soccer clubs in civil society had barely been explored by academics at the time. In Making Democracy Work, a classic study of Italy’s political culture, the Harvard professor Robert Putnam had mentioned the nation’s hundreds of soccer clubs before dismissing them in a single sentence, never to return to the topic again.

It was though the academics I encountered viewed anything sports-related as somehow not worth their attention. And, sure enough, the meeting with my university professor—a somewhat fossilized character named Paul Sigmund, the department’s main Latin American expert—did not go well. He called my thesis project “a silly idea,” dismissing it in a single sentence.

Fortunately, I met with another professor who did like the idea. His name was Carlos Forment, and it only took him a matter of minutes to volunteer to be my thesis advisor. We discussed the topics I might research, and I made plans to live in Argentina from June to late August that year. Forment always wanted to go big on projects—this is a guy who titled his own book Democracy in Latin America—and he had some great ideas. Spend a lot of time in the archive of Clarín, the big Buenos Aires daily, he suggested, and you’ll find a trove of material on the history of the soccer clubs. (And so I did, piecing together a chronicle of associational life in Buenos Aires.) Visit a smaller club, he added, to understand how the membership works together. (And so I did, interviewing people at Banfield and conducting a survey at their club elections to find out if the club’s political parties diverged from governmental party divisions. It turned out they did, which was a good sign.) Finally, interview the members and leaders at a big club like Boca Juniors, he suggested. (And so I did, sitting down with Boca presidential candidate Mauricio Macri, who would go on to win that election and later became one of the country’s rising political stars.)

While I was in Buenos Aires, I also researched topics that hurt the development of the clubs’ democratic political culture: the fan violence that plagues the sport and influences club elections; the corruption of club officials; and the shortage of women involved in the clubs. It was by far the most rewarding experience of my years as a student. Not that there weren’t difficult moments. My apartment got robbed in Buenos Aires, and the university denied my request for funding to attend the Boca Juniors elections that December. (That old prejudice: One of my professors, who was on the funding committee, said they viewed my application as “someone who wanted to go watch soccer games over winter break.” Facepalm.)

In the end, though, everything came together. My thesis—Playing the Political Game: Soccer Clubs in Argentine Civil Society—won the prizes of the politics and Latin American Studies departments. Forment, the adviser who believed in the project from the start, started doing his own research on the topic. And I learned that I wanted to write about sports and soccer for a living if possible. The experience showed me that not only could academics and sports co-exist, but so could academics and journalism. What I was doing in Argentina was just as much one as the other. And yet part of me still wonders: Is there still a bias against sports in the academic world?

FSF cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Alex Galarza with his PhD advisor (and FSF member) Ed Murphy
Alex Galarza with his PhD advisor (and FSF member) Ed Murphy

The Football Scholars Forum has garnered national media attention as a venue for innovative and collaborative scholarship. On February 11, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a feature article on rethinking doctoral dissertations that quoted FSF co-founder Alex Galarza, a PhD. student in history at Michigan State University.  Click here to check out his prototype for a digital dissertation on soccer clubs of the 1950s and 60s in Buenos Aires.