Posted by: davidjmarlow | 26/06/2015

In sun and shadow – a narrative for soccer and much else besides…

To this blog’s celebration of Latin American ‘magic realism’, and its search for meaning, must be added ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’ – Eduardo Galeano’s reflections on the ‘beautiful game’. Eduardo’s highly personalised ‘world history’ of soccer takes us up to the 2010 World Cup through the eyes of a Uruguayan and Latin American socialist. During his long career, he had to both flee his homeland, and then Argentina when he appeared on the generals’ death list. I like to think that the relative success of Uruguay in recent years, both on and off the soccer pitch, would have given him some comfort prior to his passing in April this year. However, the overwhelming impression of his tome is the increasing ‘shadow’ cast by Blatter, Fifa, the major sponsors; of the creativity-dampening commercialisation, technical discipline and cynicism of leadership of the modern game.

For the UK it is fascinating to read a Latin American narrative of England’s ‘glory years’ and the long deep shadow they cast subsequently. Galeano’s story of the 1966 World Cup is of how European referees allowed Brazil to be kicked out in the Group stages of the tournament. Then a West German referee sent Argentina packing against England, and an English referee sent Uruguay packing against West Germany at the Quarter Final stage. This ensured all-European semi-finals. Galeano admires the ‘sun’ of Charlton, Beckenbauer (and even Greaves who missed most of the tournament). But, Galeano suggests Rous’s manipulation of 1966 led directly to the anti-Anglo-Saxon backlash of FIFA under Havelange and then Blatter. In the 1970 tournament, Galeano’s recollection of England is not ‘our’ Banks ‘wonder’ save – but Jairzinho’s amazing goal that condemned England to the 1-0 defeat.

As a lifelong soccer fan, it is sad, but still stimulating, to be reminded of how so many of the episodes I have loved have ultimately been determined by the totally unaccountable ‘fixing’ of FIFA, their commercial sponsors, and co-conspirators – from the Argentinian generals of 1978, to corrupt referees of 2002; from criminal owners of major clubs, to cynical managers whose main goal is to prevent opponents playing – with moral indifference as to whether by fair means or foul.

Galeano’s Latin American take on 1966 is also a reminder of the power of narrative in determining contemporary choices and outcomes. England’s pervasive lauding of the ‘heroism’ of 1966 shapes English soccer and, to some extent, even national identity – underpinning myths and symbolism, certainly from Cameron to Farage and beyond. It would be almost impossible (and futile) to attempt to have a serious discussion in today’s England about the Galeano/Latin American perspective.

All of which takes me to my last blog – penned in the ‘shadow’ of the General Election 2015 (GE2015) results. I have a certain pride in the blog – at a number of levels.

At a personal level, I think it is a well-written invective, combining genuine anger with a set of reasonable and reasoned arguments. In terms of impact, the piece appears to have been read by many more readers than normal personal blogs, and has inspired a breadth of feedback. There was definitely a cathartic quality for those for whom the GE2015 robbery was so abominable; and some felt hope about the fight ahead. I am also gratified that a (small) number of Tories (some rather well-placed in the party) had the good grace to agree with the sentiments.

My most ambiguous feelings, though, are reserved for the client who claimed the blog threatened his ‘business’ with the GE2015 victors, and used it as a catalyst for terminating our relationship. This was a man and an institution with whom I had worked for a long period. In the aftermath of (my post-GE2015) crisis, neither man nor institution was prepared to stand up for ‘free speech’, nor to support a hitherto loyal colleague who happens to hold different and potentially controversial views.

I would never compare my loss of friendship, stimulating professional work, and income with Galeano’s flight from Argentinian generals’ death squads. But there is a tiny modicum of personal satisfaction in penning a narrative that does NOT collude in and accept Cameron triumphalism; and that does entail a minor personal ‘shadow’ for me in attempted future contributions(both personal and professional) to a ‘better Britain’.

You don’t have to agree with all of a narrative to appreciate it. There is much in Galeano’s book with which I personally disagree. But all is forgiven because his heart was clearly in the right place on soccer and much else besides. On a minor point, I suspect, he wrongly ascribes a telling quote to Cornelius Castoriadis – a perceptive Greek-French philosopher rather under-appreciated in the anglo-saxon world – but love the read-across of the reference to GE2015, whatever its providence.

” You win not because you’re good; rather you’re good because you win”.

As a comment on the Mourinho’s, or the Tory volte-face on Cameron, I could not express it better. As a lifelong Spurs fan, however, give me ‘Audere est facere’ (‘To dare is to do’) any day… the ‘game’ – whether soccer, politics, or life – is (or should be) about glory….


  1. […] I finished a recent blog, ‘the game (whether soccer, politics or life) should be about glory’, and never more so […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: