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How Soccer Explains the World

An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

How Soccer Explains the World
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US$ 8.99

Soccer is much more than a game, or even a way of life. It is a perfect window into the cross–currents of today's world, with all its joys and its sorrows. In this remarkably insightful, wide–ranging work of reportage, Franklin Foer takes us on a surprising tour through the world of soccer, shining a spotlight on the clash of civilizations, the international economy, and just about everything in between. How Soccer Explains the World is an utterly original book that makes sense of our troubled times.

HarperCollins; October 2009
272 pages; ISBN 9780061864704
Download in secure EPUB
Excerpt

Chapter One


How Soccer Explains

the Gangster's Paradise

Red Star Belgrade is the most beloved, most successful

soccer team in Serbia. Like nearly every club in

Europe and Latin America, it has a following of unruly

fans capable of terrific violence. But at Red Star the violent

fans occupy a place of honor, and more than that.

They meet with club officials to streamline the organizational

flow chart of their gangs. Their leaders receive

stipends. And as part of this package, they have access

to office space in the team's headquarters in the uppermiddle-

class neighborhood of Topcider.

The gangs have influence, in large measure,

because they've won it with intimidation. A few months

before I arrived in Belgrade to learn about the club's

complicity in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, Red Star

fan clubs had burst into the team's training session.

With bats, bars, and other bludgeons, they beat three of their own players. After their havoc, they aren't typically

shy about advertising their accomplishments. In this

instance, the hooligans told reporters bluntly that they

could "no longer tolerate lack of commitment on the

pitch." It took only one phone call to organize an interview

with a handful of them in their first-floor meeting

room at the Red Star headquarters.

The Belgrade neighborhood around Red Star is cartoonishly

ominous. An enormous gaggle of crows

resides on the stadium's roof. When goals are scored

and the crowd erupts, the birds flee -- across town, it's

possible to gauge the results of a game based on presence

or absence of an ornithological cloud above the

skyline. On the other side of the street from the stadium,

the family of Arkan, the most notorious warlord

and gangster in Serb history, lives in a castle he constructed,

a nouveau riche monstrosity with tiers of towers

and turrets. When I loiter near the house for too

long, a large man in a leather jacket emerges and

inquires about my business. Because of the atrocities

committed by Arkan's men, I describe myself as a lost

tourist, nervously ask him for directions, and walk away

briskly. On the evening of my visit, the sky is gunmetal.

My translator had arranged for me to meet with

Draza, a leader of a Red Star fan club that calls itself the

Ultra Bad Boys. He had persuaded him with the

overblown promise that an interview would bring glory

unto the club and world renown unto the achievements

of the Red Star fans. Six of Draza's loquacious colleagues

join him. At first glance, the Bad Boys look

entirely unworthy of the first part of their name and too

worthy of the second. Aside from the big red tattoos of their gang name on their calves, they seem like relatively

upstanding young men. Draza wears a fleece

jacket and chinos. His head of overgrown yet obviously

manicured hair has the aura of a freshman philosophy

student. As it turns out, he is a college student,

swamped with preparations for exams. His comrades

aren't any more menacing. One of them has a bowl

haircut, a pudgy face, and an oversized ski parka that

he never removes -- he looks like the kind of guy who's

been shoved into his fair share of lockers.

Perhaps to increase their credibility, the Bad Boys

have brought along a gray-haired man called Krle, who

wears a ratty black San Antonio Spurs jacket. Krle's

sinewy frame gives the impression that he fills his

leisure time with pull-ups on a door frame in his flat.

Many years of living a hooligan life have aged him prematurely.

(When I ask his age and occupation, he changes

the subject.) Unlike the naïve enthusiasm exhibited by

the teens, who greet me warmly, Krle blares indifference.

He tells my translator that he has only joined our interview

because Draza insisted. His one gesture of bonhomie

is to continually pour me warm Serbian beer

from a plastic bottle. After I taste the beer, it hardly

seems like such a friendly gesture. But because of his

angry gray eyes, I find myself drinking glass after glass.

Krle serves as senior advisor to the group, a mentor

to the aspiring hooligans. Putting aside his intense

glare and unfriendly demeanor, I was actually glad for

his presence. My interest in Red Star centers on the

1990s, his heyday as thug, when the fan clubs played a

pivotal role in the revival of Serbian nationalism -- the

idea that the Serbs are eternal victims of history who must fight to preserve a shred of their dignity. With little

prodding, Draza speaks openly about the connections.

Unfortunately, his monologue doesn't last long.

Exerting his authority with volatile glances and brusque

interruptions, Krle seizes control of the conversation.

He answers questions curtly.

"Who do you hate most?"

A pause for a few seconds' worth of consideration.

"A Croatian, a cop: it doesn't make a difference. I'd kill

them all."

"What's your preferred method for beating a guy?"

"Metal bars, a special kick that breaks a leg, when a

guy's not noticing." He sharply stomps down a leg, an

obviously well-practiced move.

Because the beer has kicked in, I try to get closer to

the reason for my visit. "I noticed that you call Arkan

'commandant.' Could you tell me a little more about

how he organized the fans?"

His look is one of deep offense and then unmitigated

fury. Even before the translation comes, his

meaning is clear. "I shouldn't be answering your questions.

You're an American. And your country bombed

us. You killed good Serb men."

As good a reason as any to redirect the conversation

to another topic. In an aside to my translator, which he

didn't tell me about until after our interview, Krle

announces, "If I met this American asshole on the

street, I'd beat the shit out of him." Krle then drops out

of the conversation. At first, he stands impatiently on

the far side of the room ...

ISBNs
0061864706
9780061659737
9780061659744
9780061659751
9780061864704
9780061978050