Most people around the world get soccer. It comes at them packaged in so many ways for their consumption: on television, online, in print. They get it. It is available all the time. In fact, it is even more than available. It is there to indulge in, to feast on, even to glut on. There are, however, very few people who ‘get’ soccer. It is all in the level of apprehension, of comprehension, of rooted understanding. Manager Arsene Wenger truly gets soccer. As far as players go, Thierry Henry truly gets soccer. As far as writers go, David Goldblatt truly gets soccer.
We met at the corner of 12th Street and 1st Ave by accident, both on our way to Nevada Smiths, me hoping to have a chance to talk to him about his most recent book The Game of Our Lives, he on his way to an unfamiliar venue in an unfamiliar city. It gave us a chance to begin a conversation before the bar got packed.
David Goldblatt gets soccer in a way that looks deeper, looks beyond the play on the field and sees the society and lore that soccer engenders. This latest book was a challenge from his editor who told him, “You can tell the world about their game, but not Britain?” He took up the gauntlet. A Bristol Rovers fan, he sees the shirt hanging on the wall of Nevada Smiths and is excited. “Bristol Rovers! Brilliant!” He is a fan. When he talks about the state of the game in the United Kingdom, he is equally passionate. What David Goldblatt does with his book and in our conversation is to dispel the myths and present the facts. And they are as compelling as they are bleak.
A Labour Party supporter, and one time research assistant for the Party, he broke with them during the Iraq War, but there is a socialism, a social activism that pervades his book. For him, soccer is about the communal. “In a world of me, me, me and I, I, I, it is,” he points out, “a shared experience.” He says that 90% of fans go with someone else: friends or family. What keeps him going back, what keeps the game alive, is this live audience. “It is about ‘us’. Sure, there is individual brilliance, but in the end it is a collective. It’s a precious thing.”