Eugene Weekly : Books : 9.27.07

Bloody Unsporting, But Fun
Soccer book says more about culture than the game

Are you longing for more Women’s World Cup action on TV right now? Have you ever been to Germany? If so, this book probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you don’t know a handball from a header, a keeper from a kewpie doll — and if you don’t know your East Germany from your Eastern Oregon — pick up Jamie Trecker’s Love & Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans and Freaks.

The title’s about the most exciting thing in the book, which despite its lack of soccer energy is a smoothly written piece full of mostly fascinating details about Trecker’s press experience covering the World Cup. But for a soccer fan, there aren’t enough blow-by-blow descriptions either of the games or of the controversies surrounding them. Even the horrific end to this cup, when French superstar Zinedine Zidane head-butted a foul-mouthed Italian defender, goes by too quickly. You want great game recounting? You won’t find it here.

But there are rewards to this speedy read. Trecker’s strength lies in explaining to Americans why they should love the game and, more importantly, how they should love the game. For one thing, he explains, soccer isn’t about scoring a ton of goals or even, necessarily, winning (OK, it might be about winning in the World Cup): Soccer is a game of beauty when it’s played well, of breathtaking passes, of watching players like the great Zidane read the field (akin to a point guard seeing the floor, but on a much larger scale). And he also lays bare problems with the organization that runs the World Cup, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), and the massive racism in how host countries are chosen, all in a breezy, assured style that stems from his years of experience talking and writing about the game.

Tales about hooligans, those orange lederhosen that the Dutch fans were forced to take off before games and the coaching strategies of various wily bastards (seriously — these guys are crazy) also give a reader various entries into the world of soccer. Perhaps for an American public that’s on the cusp of “getting” the game, Love & Blood is just about the perfect book: Fast, skimming the surface and crammed with rat-a-tat-tat stories about pornography, food, alcohol and the fan culture of other countries. Buy it for your sports-obsessed friends, but only if the only thing they know about soccer is the Zidane video clip, “soccer moms” or that fabled Univision cry, “Goooooooooooooooal!”