South African Goals of the Season, 2011-13

By | February 20th, 2014 | No Comments



Goals galore from South Africa, courtesy of MattMzansi’s YouTube channel. Because you can’t win if you don’t score.

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Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil

By | February 11th, 2014 | No Comments



The Garrincha of futbology, David Goldblatt, admits he’s neither Brazilian nor a Brazilianist as he begins his recent public lecture at Pitzer College in California.

Then, like Garrincha, he feigns left, goes right through through Brazil’s World Cup history, pivots on slavery, Lusotropicalism and GINI coefficients, does a give-and-go with Mario Filho, dribbles around Benedict Anderson, reaches the Maracanazo touchline, and delivers a cross into the Vinegar Revolt of 2013.

Eduardo Galeano has written that “in the history of soccer no one made more people happy” than Garrincha. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that in the field of futbology the same is true for David Goldblatt.

China’s Stadium Diplomacy: A Zambian Perspective

By | January 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments

New_Lusaka_stadium

Guest Post by *Hikabwa Chipande

“If you want to see the heart of China’s soft-power push into Africa,” writes Elliot Ross in a recent piece for Sports Illustrated’s “Roads & Kingdoms” series, “you’ll find it in the continent’s new soccer stadia.”

I am one of the many Zambians saddened that most of our national team matches are now staged at the Chinese-built Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola, an industrial town on the Copperbelt 200 miles north of the capital, Lusaka. This is not only because I live in Lusaka, where the team used to play its home games, but also because the move greatly diminishes, if not erases, the deeper significance of historic football venues.

It was in Lusaka’s then-newly constructed Independence Stadium on October 23, 1964, that the Union Jack was lowered and the new Zambian flag raised at midnight in a sumptuous ceremony attended by the Princess Royal and Kenneth Kaunda’s new cabinet. The following day, the stadium hosted the final of the Ufulu (independence) tournament. Ghana’s Black Stars, reigning African champions, beat Zambia 3-2 in front of about 18.000 spectators.  From then on, almost all important international matches (as well as domestic cup finals) were played at Independence Stadium, a local example of how stadiums in postcolonial Africa, “quickly became almost sacred ground for the creation and performance of national identities” (Alegi, African Soccerscapes, p. 55).

Occasionally, Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium in Ndola hosted big matches. Constructed by the Ndola Playing Fields Association during the colonial era, this ground was rechristened in honor of the Swedish Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in 1961 in a plane crash near Ndola. After the British colony of Northern Rhodesia became independent Zambia, the stadium was donated to the Ndola City Council.  As the largest stadium in the Copperbelt, the traditional hub of football in the country, it hosted virtually every important  match in the region.

In January 1986, the Zambian government bought into the idea of hosting the 1988 African Nations Cup finals. Mary Fulano, then a member of the Central Committee in charge of sport, informed the public that the government had started renovating both Independence and Dag Hammarskjöld stadiums.  But in December 1986, after Dag Hammarskjöld stadium had been demolished for its planned reconstruction, Youth and Sport minister Frederick Hapunda announced that government had withdrawn its bid to host the 1988 tournament.

Copperbelt residents complained that they needed their beloved stadium, but the government kept on issuing empty promises. Surprisingly, two decades later, when an opportunity arose to build a new stadium in Ndola courtesy of China, the Zambian government opted for a completely new Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in a different area, thereby burying the rich history of Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium.

In 2012, I attended the inauguration of the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium: a 2014 World Cup qualifier between Zambia and Ghana (see my blog post about it here). The atmosphere at the venue was similar to the one described by Elliot Ross at the Estádio Nacional do Zimpeto in Maputo. Unlike the game in Maputo, however, there was no pushing and shoving at Levy Mwanawasa, thanks to plenty of available space  and sound event management.  But the stadium was so vast that the crowd could not sing and chant cohesively, or create the electrifying atmosphere so many of us treasure at football grounds.

The ignominuous end for Independence Stadium in Lusaka came after FIFA inspectors in 2007 declared it unsafe for international matches.  As a temporary solution, the Football Association of Zambia moved internationals to Nkonkola Stadium in a small mining town on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bolstered by another Chinese loan, the Zambian government then erected a new National Heroes Stadium directly across from Independence Stadium and the graves of national team members who perished in the Gabon air crash of 1993.

The demolition of Independence Stadium prompted many people to wonder why the government chose not to renovate the hallowed ground and build the Chinese-funded stadium somewhere else in Lusaka. While younger Zambians tend to like the new sporting arenas, many older fans lament the disappearance of stadiums they associate with the stories of their personal lives, their memory, their past.

Regardless of age and status, Zambians are very much aware of “Chinese soft diplomacy.” People know that Chinese stadiums have less to do with friendship or mutual cooperation and more with gaining access to Africa’s material resources. Yet there is very little that can be done about it because the government does not consult with citizens on economic deals with China. There is criticism about Chinese firms bringing very cheap laborers to work in construction sites. But there seems to be a general feeling among the population that it is acceptable for the Chinese to build stadiums and other infrastructure in exchange for copper because the alternative is allowing Zambia’s political leaders to pocket the profits from this wealth. 


*Hikabwa Chipande is a PhD candidate in History at Michigan State University. He is a recipient of the FIFA Havelange Research Scholarship for his doctoral dissertation on the social and political history of football in Zambia, 1950-1993. Follow him on Twitter at @HikabwaChipande

South African Football’s “Crisis of Monumental Proportions”

By | January 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment

Nigeria-South-Africa-2Guest Post by Liz Timbs (@tizlimbs)

“We indeed have a crisis of monumental proportions. We don’t have a crisis of talent, we have a crisis of putting everything together,” thundered South African Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula following South Africa’s 3-1 loss to Nigeria in Cape Town on Sunday, which eliminated the hosts from the 2014 African Nations Championship.

Mbalula publicly lambasted the national team, declaring that what he witnessed “was not a problem of coaching, it was a bunch of losers.” This “bunch of losers” and “unbearable useless individuals,” Mbalula continued, humiliated their country: “In Africa we have won nothing—we are the laughing stock. Even Madiba Magic would not have worked. This generation of players we must forget.”

Danny Jordaan, president of the South African Football Association and ex-CEO of the 2010 World Cup Local Organizing Committee, also criticized Bafana’s performance in the media, though in slightly less forceful terms than Mbalula. Jordaan saw the team’s elimination as an embarrassment, noting that SAFA had been “dismissive and even insulting to the quality of football on the continent.” He highlighted a deficiency in the “preparations, philosophy and technical staff.”

The reaction from Bafana Bafana head coach, Gordon Igesund, was decidedly tamer. “There are no excuses,” Igesund declared, “We lost to a better side . . . at the end of the day we have to look at ourselves and admit we were just not good enough even though we gave it our best shot.” Midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala echoed Igesund’s understated honesty in his comments to the press. He apologized for the team’s debacle, adding that: “we are hurting and we know the nation is also hurting and we are not proud of not doing well but we just have to apply ourselves better in the future.”

Tshabalala and Igesund’s comments cut straight to the realities of why South Africa lost to Nigeria. Bafana certainly did not lose because goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune withdrew due to an ankle injury that threatened his participation in an upcoming Kaizer Chiefs league match against Mamelodi Sundowns. Let’s acknowledge the painful reality and move on: The South African national team is, at best, mediocre; we have to face this truth.

What makes digesting this bitter pill more difficult is that Nigeria did not even field her best team. The CHAN competition is limited to home-based players, which meant that Nigerians playing in European clubs were ineligible for selection unlike most Bafana regulars who ply their trade in the well-endowed domestic Premier Soccer League. Despite this apparent advantage, Bafana was no match for a team of young Nigerian players with limited experience in international competition. The visitors delivered three staggering blows and came close to a fourth before Bernard Parker scored a consolation penalty for the hosts.

Jordaan and Mbalula’s frustration with the national team is understandable. South African fans were frustrated watching the game. The problem is not that politicians and football officials were voicing their legitimate concerns, but rather the way in which they were framing these issues. These micro-level critiques, while useful in expressing frustration and releasing tension, are unproductive for getting to the root of South African football’s larger problems.

While not solely responsible, SAFA should be assisting in whatever way possible to develop talent at the grassroots level in order to eventually effect positive change at the highest level. Jordaan stated that SAFA is aware of the need for “big changes” at “grassroots level,” adding that “If we want to build a winning team for the future we have to have efficient structures in place right from school level.” Yet this vision is narrowly framed in terms of how this vaguely defined development would result in better showings by the senior national team.

Jordaan is right that grassroots development is desperately needed. But perhaps not in the ways he and others like Mbalula are suggesting. Mohlomi Maubane spoke to this important issue in a 2012 post on this blog. “SAFA’s understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ in domestic football is confined to four-year cycles for the men’s national team,” Mohlomi wrote. “But local football needs sound management, serious youth development for boys and girls, better coaches’ training, and infrastructural improvements at the grassroots.”

Using football as a tool for development not only helps to nurture athletic talent (as Jordaan noted) but also works to build healthy, productive members of society. As the remarkable work of Izichwe Football Club in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal demonstrates, this kind of development takes time, work, and resources. While the results won’t be seen right away, South African football can move forward through community-based, player-centered, long-term, sustainable approaches to youth and coaching development.

Minister Mbalula was correct in one regard: “We indeed have a crisis of monumental proportions.” Hopefully, the latest Bafana loss will inspire South African sport administrators and partners to invest the necessary resources and knowledge to go beyond crisis management and move closer to fulfilling South Africa’s great football potential.

 

*Liz Timbs is a PhD student in African history at Michigan State University. Her research interests are in the history of health and healing in South Africa; masculinity studies; and comparative studies between South Africa and the United States. Follow her on Twitter: @tizlimbs.

Football Scholars to Discuss Soccer and Politics in France

By | January 16th, 2014 | No Comments

making_lesbleusThe Football Scholars Forum 2013-14 season resumes on February 12 with a discussion of Lindsay Krasnoff’s The Making of Les Bleus: Sport in France, 1958-2010.

The book “traces the Fifth Republic’s quest to create elite athletes, a compelling tale that serves as a prism through which to investigate the larger history of France, the evolution of society, the impacts of the media revolution, and the government’s mission of public health. It provides perspective on how France coped with and adapted to the post-1945 world and underscores just how much things have changed—yet still remained the same.” 

An active member of the Football Scholars Forum (FSF), Krasnoff is an historian of France and Modern Europe, with expertise in sports, media, and foreign policy. You can listen here to Lindsay discussing her book on the New Books in Sports podcast.

To participate in the online 90-minute session, which begins at 8pm Eastern Time, please email me (alegi.peter AT gmail.com) your Skype name (if I don’t already have it) so you can be added to the conference call.

FSF has two more public events scheduled in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  In March (25/26, time TBD), the fútbol think tank is trying something new. Instead of members reading a common book, each participant will read a different fútbol book (or lengthy article) and give a 5-7 minute report about it to the rest of the group. The idea is to produce a sort of “state of the field” snapshot from various world regions and academic disciplines.

Then in April, I’ll be joining several FSF soccerati in attendance at the “Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity & Politics” conference at Hofstra University (Long Island, NY). In addition to scholarly papers and presentations, the conference features a special FSF-sponsored roundtable on “Academics, Journalists, and the Changing Trends in Fútbol Writing.” I’ll be doing a post about the Hofstra roundtable in the coming weeks.

Filed under: The Players

Eusebio: How Africa Changed Football

By | January 5th, 2014 | No Comments



On Sunday, January 5, Eusébio died of heart failure in Lisbon at the age of 71. Born Eusébio da Silva Ferreira in 1942 in what is today Maputo, Mozambique, he became the first African player to acquire global fame. Portugal has declared three days of national mourning in his honor. As per Eusébio’s wish, his coffin was carried to the center of the pitch at Benfica’s La Luz Stadium in an extraordinary ceremony on Monday (see video above). Fans created a memorial that enveloped his statue outside the stadium.

The striker’s standing in the game’s history was celebrated in two excellent obituaries published in today’s New York Times (read them here and here). Many would agree though that the most poetic tribute to Eusébio comes from Eduardo Galeano (click here to listen to the author read it).

Like most African boys, Eusébio grew up kicking makeshift footballs in the streets. As a teenager, he failed a trial with Desportivo, Benfica’s Mozambican subsidiary, because he showed up without proper boots so he joined rival Sporting instead. His big break came when he scored twice against Ferroviara de Araraquara from Brazil, which was touring Mozambique. José Carlos Bauer, the Ferroviara coach and a former member of Brazil’s World Cup team recommended Eusebio to Bela Guttmann, the legendary coach of Benfica. Guttmann was an ardent believer in overseas players and a globetrotting emigrant himself.

In 1961 Benfica signed Eusébio for £7500. Fast and strong, he had that rare combination of mobility, long-range shooting ability, and a striker’s instinct close to goal. These qualities, according to David Goldblatt, made him “perhaps the archetype of the modern football player.” He won 7 league titles , 2 Portuguese FA Cups, and a European Cup. In 1965 he was crowned the best player in Europe, three decades before Liberian striker George Weah, and was top scorer in the 1966 World Cup with nine goals.



He was idolized in Portugal and throughout Africa. His statistics spoke volumes: 317 goals in 301 matches with Benfica; 41 in 64 for Portugal—a record Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to surpass. Together with Pelé, Eusébio was instrumental in elevating the status of black players in world football. He “destroyed the nonsense that Africans could not play soccer—or rather could not learn to harness individual flair for the good of the team,” wrote Rob Hughes in the New York Times. He also exemplified how African labor benefited Portuguese football by providing athletic talent at affordable prices and making it more cosmopolitan.

“Eusébio represented a confident, glamorous, mobile new Africa on the world stage,” Sean Jacobs and Elliot Ross noted in their poignant tribute for Al Jazeera America. “But his remarkable historical achievement was to be the face of not one but two emerging continents. He helped, in his own way, to reshape the idea of Europe itself.”


This post draws on material from my book African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Ohio University Press, 2010).


Suggested Viewing/Reading:

Eusébio – Um Jogador de Todos os Tempos (documentary, in Portuguese)

Farewell Eusébio by Sports Illustrated’s Planet Fútbol

“Remembering Eusebio’s brief time in the NASL” by James Tyler with Shep Messing

Historicizing the Politics and Pleasure of Sport

By | December 19th, 2013 | No Comments

Madiba visits Detroit, June 1990Sport is serious fun.  Nelson Mandela, a keen amateur boxer in his youth, appreciated how the antiapartheid sport boycott assisted South Africa’s liberation struggle and, as a democratically elected president, he used the “politics of pleasure” to propel Rainbow Nationalism.  Team sports like football reveal much about the experiences and mindsets of neighborhoods, cities, and nations. “The way we play the game, organize it and reward it reflects the kind of community we are,” is how Arthur Hopcraft put it in The Football Man (1968), one of the finest football books ever written.

These issues strike at the heart of a new project I am embarking on with my Latin Americanist colleague Brenda Elsey, author of a splendid book on fútbol and politics in Chile. Brenda and I will be editing a special issue of Radical History Review on “Historicizing the Politics and Pleasure of Sport.” This marks the first time RHR, an academic journal known for “addressing issues of gender, race, sexuality, imperialism, and class, and stretching the boundaries of historical analysis to explore Western and non-Western histories” will turn its attention to sport.  The issue is scheduled for publication in 2016.

Here’s the call for papers:

The global reach of football (soccer), basketball, cricket, and Olympic sports in the contemporary world can be traced back to European and U.S. imperial and commercial expansion. The agents of that imperialism—teachers, soldiers, traders, and colonial officials— believed sport to be an important part of their “civilizing mission.” Military interventions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, often accompanied by “soft power” cultural programs and private business ventures, fueled the popularity of Western sports. Reform movements tied eugenics and racism to their dissemination. But local elites and subalterns were not simply duped; they enjoyed the games on their own terms. As more communities participated, sport came to represent and constitute broader processes of social change. In the stands, sports pages, and clubhouses, fans rendered sport a place to debate racial and gender hierarchies. In the late twentieth century, international sport became part of a new global capitalist network of sport institutions (e.g. FIFA, International Olympic Committee, International Cricket Council), private corporations, mass media, and migrant athletes and coaches. In this process, sport came to symbolize and intensify unequal social and economic relations.

Histories of sport reveal a paradox: sport generates empowerment and disempowerment; inclusion and exclusion; unity and division. Sports have provided spaces for pleasure, freedom, solidarity, and resistance, but they have also reproduced class privilege, patriarchy, and racism. The performance of masculinities, creation of ideal body types, and the ongoing marginalization of women in sport illustrate these tensions. Recent events in Brazil, where controversy over contemporary mega sporting events merged with massive demonstrations for a range of social justice issues, highlight the unusual capacity of sport both to crystallize inequalities and to trigger civic activism. Reports of labor abuses in Qatar and censorship and environmental damage in Russia cast a dark shadow on the human and material costs of hosting “mega” sports events.

The editors invite submissions from scholars working on any period and world region. We are especially interested in studies that build upon the rich historiography about the nature of agency, identity, and embodiment as a way to explore sport’s contradictory past and present.
(more…)

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