A Fall First XI: Football Scholars Miscellany

It’s been another few months of abundance for those of us interested in thinking about ways the scholarly might engage with the sporty, so I thought I’d have another go at a ‘First XI’ of miscellaneous themes and links as food for FSF thought.  As always, the intention is not to try to cover everything (I’m particularly sorry that I haven’t yet been able to find much on the upcoming African Cup of Nations; the hosts Equatorial Guinea and Gabon should offer lots of talking points)—nor to focus on the specifically scholarly. Instead, the hope is to draw from a mix of the scholarly and the broader football world to offer perspectives that might be of interest to those thinking about such intersections. And please let me know what I’ve missed through comments or email—the First XI is never necessarily the best eleven; it’s just what’s available on the day…

1) Conferences; there’s been a bunch. Probably the largest in-person aggregation of FSF members came in the DC area at George Mason’s ‘Sport in the Global South’ conference (abstracts available at the linked page—though not all football specific), graciously hosted by John Nauright and the Academy of International Sport. It was great fun to meet in person with those previously only known as disembodied Skype voices, and John has already put out a call to do it again next year. Other relevant conferences include Play the Game in October, with plenty of football related sessions including a “sensational clash” between Andrew Jennings and FIFA reps – Play the Game has certainly done an admirable job building conferences that mix sport scholars, media, and administrators in a relatively high-profile mélange. There also look to have been some interesting scholarly papers at a September ICSSPE conference on Sport as a Mediator Between Cultures, and a June symposium hosted by the International Football Institute on Gender and Sport History. Finally, December will see a Beyond Football conference in Cape Town, affiliated with the big money Beyond Sport group, which tends to be more oriented to corporate sponsorship than scholarly engagement—but does get some high profile names involved.

2) Since there is a proposal to offer several future FSF meetings on football-related films, it is worth mentioning several that have come across the radar (perhaps with the caveat offered by way of Africa is a Country, quoting from The Offsides Rules, about tiring of a disproportionate focus on “soccer movies about poor, brown people”). In the FSF discussion several worthy films were mentioned, some of which have been around for a few years: The Great Match (about fans journeying to watch the World Cup final), The Game of Their Lives (documentary about the North Korean team in 1966), The 90th Minute (documentary about professional women’s soccer in the US), Once in a Lifetime (about the NY Cosmos), and The Two Escobars (about connections between Columbian soccer and Pablo Escobar). I’ve also been curious about recent references to Soccer City (on players in Alexandra township in South Africa) and to Soka Afrika (about a Cameroonian and a South African player trying to make their way in Europe). For these and more, also see the excellent new Futbol Films page on this site.

3) The attention to the politics and social issues surrounding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil continues to gain momentum, with examples including a useful short piece in the economist on the World Cup and corruption, along with an intelligent Brazilian feature on Ricardo Teixeira, president of the CBF. It’s also usually worth checking in with former FSF featured author Chris Gaffney as he blogs from Brazil, and with groups such as ‘Rio on Watch’ (though the latter is more focused on the Olympics than the World Cup).

4) A couple of smart bloggers recently took on an issue always rife for scholarly engagement; the integration of Hispanic and Latin American  players in American soccer. Here’s Elliot Turner on ‘Hispanic identity and US soccer’ (with part two here), and Miriti Murungi on ‘The Pitfalls of Latino Generalizations…’ It is also always interesting to learn about separate systems for “Hispanic soccer” in the US, such as the Alianza de Futbol Hispano – which was came to my attention via an interesting interview in Soccer America. (for a different type of immigration story, see also a UK perspective on the British role in recent American professional leagues in the Journal of Popular Culture)

5) For those inclined towards the business and economics of football, there was plenty of attention to football in the “Sports Issue” of Business Week, including articles on the marketing phenomena Manchester United and Abby Wambach (ok, maybe not quite the same level of phenomena—but still, Business Week!). There have also been several impressively thorough financial analyses on the blog The Swiss Ramble, including one on Derby County’s American ownership and one on Premier League television revenue distribution.

6) Speaking of business, it is always interesting to see updates on the money pits that are World Cup stadiums. For examples related to 2010, see South Africa’s Times on Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban and the New York Times on Soccer City in Johannesburg, along with the referenced report from South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council on the generally perceived outcomes of hosting the World Cup. For an update on Qatar stadium building see The Least Thing, and for a Play the Game presentation on an analysis of “75 stadiums that since 1996 have been erected or upgraded in connection with the hosting of mega-events” see here. Finally, though only tangentially related to soccer, Grantland had a thought-provoking piece on the modern and cultural aesthetics of stadium building.

7) In the gaps between the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics, the women’s side of the game often slips into media obscurity—though I have stumbled across a few interesting bits and pieces: here’s an engaging short video on an electric atmosphere for the US Women post-World Cup, a more pessimistic take on the status of the Japanese women’s league, an intriguing article about women’s soccer in Liberia, and a post on the challenges of women’s soccer in the middle east. See also a  special issue of the academic journal Soccer & Society on “Reviewing UK football cultures: continuing with gender analyses.”

8) Continuing with the Middle East, James M. Dorsey has more of his excellent coverage of “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer” with articles on everything from labor unions threatening Qatari stadium building to the role of football supporters groups in ongoing Egyptian demonstrations. On the demonstrations theme, there was also an interesting ESPN E:60 segment on ‘The Athletes of Bahrain’ focusing mostly on footballer Mohammad Hubail—some gruesome stories about the reality of high profile citizens involved in political demonstrations.

9) With the very early 2014 World Cup qualifiers underway we get some great stories of the interesting minnows of world football. See, for example, several interesting stories by James Montague, first on Haiti (also see here) and then on American Samoa (also see here on “the first transgender player to compete on a World Cup stage”). There also seems to have been a documentary crew on hand during American Samoa’s campaign; see updates here. Though not technically a qualifier, there was also an interesting story from the Fall on South Sudan using a soccer match to celebrate their recent independence.

10) From a more artistic approach to the game, I’ve recently been intrigued by references to “Neville Gable’s Photography Project On Goalposts From All Over The World;” references to “Deep Play” which is “a multi-channel video installation in which [Harun] Farocki simultaneously projects full-length broadcasts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup final from 12 different vantage points,” and an older reference to Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou selecting photographs for a “BBC exhibition celebrating a great year of African football.” I’m also intrigued by the mix of art and commerce embedded in Puma’s effort to have “leading African artists” design new kits for 10 national teams from different parts of Africa—and then put on display at the Design Museum in London based on what Africa is a Country calls “the weird friendships between corporations and cultural institutions.”

11) Ending on a somber note, the recent tragic suicide of Wales manager Gary Speed has once again put a spotlight on the challenges of coping with mental health issues while immersed in high level football. It also offers a chance to mention the book on another tragic footballer’s suicide—A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke, by Ronald Reng which recently won the  William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in the UK (though the book was originally published in German). There is also a thoughtful interview with Reng about the book on the New Books on Sports Podcast.

So that’s my first eleven; but, as always, I hope others have suggestions for substitutions or replacements—the manager tries to put together a group that might play well together, but recognizes that others may deserve a chance…

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