Book Review: The Country of Football
The Country of Football edited by Paulo Fontes and Bernardo Buarque de Hollanda
Published by by Hurst Publishing
Having reviewed David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation in June, here we are pleased to provide an appraisal of another book timed to coincide with the World Cup. Assisting us with this process by applying his thoughts to paper has been Stephen Brandt. Stephen is host of the Yellow Carded Podcast and can be followed on twitter at @yellowcardSCB.
In this World Cup year, a number of authors have jostled to offer their views on the beautiful game in Brazil. The Country of Football, edited by Paulo Fontes and Bernardo Buarque De Hollanda is one of the latest and is comprised of an impressive collection of essays on every aspect of the sport in the country. Unlike many soccer books, this book doesn’t hit you over the head with football itself and constitutes instead a socioeconomic look at the game as it relates to the Brazilian context. Hence you by no means need to be a football fan to enjoy the book while there is clear potential for it to be used on university courses.
The Country of Football begins with the origins of football in Brazil and with many countries tracing the early days of the sport to the arrival of the British, Brazil is no exception. The book takes a couple of chapters to explain the sport’s history from its beginnings via the influence of Charles Miller, culminating in the struggle for professionalism. Originally played by the working poor in the suburbs and the wealthy in the city centres, the divisions in Brazilian society are exposed and the roots of a racism problem that is still very much there today analysed.
The death of Garrincha, and his subsequent funeral are covered in Chapter 5, and are wonderfully described by Jose Sergio Leite Lopes. Garrincha’s story is unbearably sad, scandalously neglected by his club and subject to jealousy of his wizard-of-the-dribble talents — he helped Brazil to two World Cup wins but suffered the price of fame.
The rise of hooliganism also forms an important chapter in the book. Each team has its own supporters group, and the tougher the economic and political conditions, the more agitated these groups became. In the years of military dictatorship, each had a head of the “group” to drum up support for the government with meeting rooms in each stadium, often the home for guns and drugs.
A final chapter covers the run up to the recent World Cup, and the administration’s battle with taxpayers. Graphs are shown depicting different tiers of ticket holders and how much some were paying to have ‘special’ privileges like internet access and food brought to them. The widening gap between the haves and have-nots harks back to the origins of the game. If you don’t have the money, you can’t get close.
Of the many books devoted to the sport in Brazil that have shown up in the last year, this is among the best out there and it moves the story well beyond what takes places on the field. As a semi-academic book, it is occasionally dense, and you’ll need a degree of context to some of the issues the authors talk about but overall, it’s highly recommended.