Without his distinctive haircut, I wouldn't know Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo if I ran into him in Walgreens, and, no, I didn't get up at zero-dark-thirty to watch the World Cup final. I consider it a character flaw--a streak of ugly Americanism--but, yes, I get bored when I try to watch a soccer match. It wouldn't be so bad that match after match ends with a 1-0 score, but I always seem to be looking away when the lone goal is scored.
And yet, oddly, I have developed a passion for books about soccer. It all started with Joe McGinniss's Miracle of Castel di Sangro, which I was interested in more for the Italian ambience than the soccer playing. That changed quickly, though, as I got into the book. Usually the literature of a sport is only accessible to those who appreciate the game in the first place. With soccer, it works for me in reverse. Come for the ambience, stay for the match. Furthermore, the ugly American in me is convinced that there are more goals scored in one soccer book than in a whole season of soccer watching.
Buford, Bill. Among the Thugs. 1992. Random/Vintage, $14 (0-679-74535-1).
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. This isn't really a soccer book, and it's frankly very unpleasant reading. And yet, Granta editor Buford's account of soccer hooliganism in Britain is difficult to put down, as compelling in its way as In Cold Blood. The violence of the British soccer mob is primal in its animal intensity, and it's made all the more chilling by the racist, white-power sympathies of many of the participants.
Doyle, Roddy. The Van. 1992. Penguin, $13 (0-14-017191-6).
The third novel in Irish author Doyle's trilogy about the working-class Rabbite family is a comic jewel. Jimmy Senior and his pal Bimbo buy a used fish-and-chips van and set off on the trail of the Irish soccer club as it competes in the World Cup. This is a road novel in the grand tradition: two men-boys having a pisser of a good time peddling fish and chips to rabid soccer fans while dodging the environmental police and downing well more than their share of beverages. …