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Soccer Against the Enemy

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"British fans enjoy fan culture, and most of all they enjoy hating their rivals."

"The Germans came out for the second half with a new tactic: kicking Dutchmen."

"'You are asking which is more important — Brazil or a U.S. invasion?' one Haitian fan asked an American reporter in 1994. 'We are hungry every day. We have problems every day. The Americans talk about invading every day. But we only have the World Cup every four years.'"

Simon Kuper's "Soccer Against the Enemy", subtitled "How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power," is chock full of nuggets like the above. Kuper mined most of them while traveling around the world in 1992 with no agenda other than to encounter soccer wherever it was and conclude what he could from the adventure. He found rivalries that pitted conqueror against conquered, former occupier against formerly occupied, Catholic against Protestant, and fascist against democrat.

Originally published in 1994, "Soccer Against the Enemy" sometimes feels a bit dated, and Kuper is the first to acknowledge that times have changed. "Soccer matters as much today as when I first made the journey that became this book," he writes in a preface to the U.S. edition, "but it matters in different ways...though Celtic and Ranger fans still shout sectarian slogans at soccer matches, they usually no longer mean them."

Elsewhere in that preface, Kuper compares George W. Bush to Silvio Berlusconi, the recently ousted Prime Minister of Italy who also runs the very successful soccer club, AC Milan. "In matters of sport," he writes, "George W. Bush is an American Berlusconi. Bush had ended the 1980's as nothing but the middle-aged son of the American president. After a mediocre college career, he avoided the Vietnam War, failed to get elected to Congress, failed in the oil business, and generally drank a lot. In 1989, he reportedly confided to a friend: 'You know I could run for governor, but I'm basically a media creation. I've never done anything.'

Then Bush and some friends bought the Texas Rangers...and in 1994, he ran for governor on something of a 'baseball ticket.' Asked in the campaign about his career, he tended to talk about baseball...He was duly elected governor, and proceeded from there."

Forgive the digression. Simon Kuper's book isn't about the former owner of a baseball team whose stake was a six hundred thousand dollar loan, and who made a fourteen million dollar profit after Arlington, Texas was strong-armed into building a stadium and the "owner" cashed out. The book is about soccer. I just couldn't resis

This program aired on June 30, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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