Where art thou hooligan?

How Soccer Explains the World

I am about midway through reading Franklin Foer’s book How Soccer Explains the World: An (Unlikely) Explanation of Globalization and it has raised an unrelated question in my mind. Since so much of the story of soccer (or football to be more precise) around the world is the story of hooliganism, this topic has been the subject or at least backdrop of most of the chapters (at least thus far). So, here is the question: Why are hooligans and hooliganism largely absent in American sports?

There certainly have been any number of events befitting a hooligan at various sporting events and stadiums through the years. And I’m sure there is despicable behavior/language on internet bulletin boards. And there have been incidents on the court or the field between players. And there have been any number of isolated episodes that disturb us and capture our attention. But that’s the point – these events largely stand on their own. While we have organized fandom and ways to support our favorite teams, there is no institutional support for hooliganism (as there has been in some instances with soccer). Personally, I grew up attending University of Tennessee football games with my family and I am a huge fan of my alma mater (University of Georgia) and I certainly have seen passion for a team. At the same time, I have never feared for life or limb in attending a game, a truth that I am took for granted but am thankful for now.

So, what is the difference? I do not think we are necessarily better people, but there must be cultural distinctions. Are we not as rabid sports fans as we sometimes think we are? Is it the rule of law? Again, I am thankful that we fully partake and participate in sport without the fear that we could be beat down simply by wearing the wrong jersey in the wrong part of town. Any thoughts?

As an aside, I am enjoying this book in a couple of ways. Given the interest in soccer of some good friends, I have become a little more engaged in this worldwide sport and so have been enjoyed reading about the sport. The book also is a good bit history and I like that as well. Finally, there any number of words that are new to me or fun (e.g. superannuated, canards, philo-Semite, jingoistic, zeitgeist); every few pages there is a word I don’t know or one that I find fun. My criticism of the book is with the central premise of the book – that soccer can help explain globalization. I don’t think (at least thus far) Foer has done a great job of connecting the dots for his readers in this regard. This detracts from the book, especially if you were looking for a more explicit explanation of what is happening around the world. However, I am still enjoying my reading of this book.


3 responses to this post.

  1. It would be interesting to see a side-by-side comparison of this book with something like The World Is Flat which approaches explaining globalization via technology and the function of multi-national business. How many points line up, etc. and simply have different ways of illustating the more general truths.

    Could that be it? That there is a set of truths that explain globalization, and these books simply contextualize their explanation through the metaphor of choice?


  2. Posted by adamtisdale on May 5, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    That is a good thought Ed. I started The World Is Flat a while back, but for one reason or another did not get to far. It’s on my lengthy list and it is out on paperback now. Anyway, it would be interested to do some comparison in that regard.


  3. […] An Unlikely Explanation of Globalization by Franklin Foer: This book prompted an earlier post on hooliganism or the lack thereof in American (USA) sports. I also gave initial thoughts on what I liked and […]


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