2014 January | FREE

Archive the month of January 2014

January 29, 2014

Bad conscience

It’s increasingly difficult to read books about women’s football. Especially if you’re a white, bald male over 50. If you are, you won’t be able to put down Markwart Herzog’s excellent and very complete volume on Women’s Football in Germany without a tinge of bad conscience.

As a matter of fact, just like women’s football itself is victim to the eternal comparison with the same game played by men, male spectators of women’s football seem to be trapped in a discursive catch-22: whatever they say may be hold against them. They will inevitably be blamed for being unfair, or ignorant, or condescending, or outright sexist. Especially if they’re white, bald and over 50.

It must be acknowledged, though, that some of them are really stupid. The guys at FIFA that branded the 2011 World Cup in Germany as the ‘FIFA Women’s World Cup’ without even mentioning the term ‘football’ cannot be blamed enough for their incredibly inadequate (and very revealing) semantics. And the marketing guys paid on the same occasion by the DFB to invent slogans like ‘Fußball von seiner schönsten Seite’ and produce seemingly ‘ironic’ TV commercials with washing machines may think they are ‘postmodern advertisers’, but all they are is as has-been as ‘Manndeckung’ in the age of Spanish or Bavarian total football.

This being said, the average 50-year old bald male will still learn something from reading this book.

First of all, he will be impressed by the sheer variety of academic approaches to women’s football. The conference organised at the Schwabenakademie Irsee in 2011 and on which the volume is based probably attracted more researchers than an average game of the Frauen-Bundesliga. (Or was that yet another sexist comment that should be deleted by the mediator? I swear it was just intended to be a harmless joke!). There are theoretical reflexions based on gender study theory, followed by concrete, local historical case studies from Germany and Austria, spotlights on education in school and university, as well as analyses of women’s football in the media, in the arts and in museum exhibitions.

Secondly, he will get some food for thought. Not only about his own lack of sensitivity to the semantic pitfalls of his personal discourse on football, but also on the bigger issues that underpin these pitfalls and that make the discourse so immune to change and so difficult to emancipate from. In particular, the ten provocative ‘conclusions’ on the future of women’s football formulated by Matthias Marschik in his chapter are in fact challenging theses about the society we live in (or want to live in).

Finally, he will simply know much better what he’s talking about (if ever his haunting bad conscience does not prevent him to ever engage in a discussion on women’s football again). These are 360 pages of state-of-the-art research, well written in most cases, sometimes a little demanding, but in any case a reading experience that makes you feel you learnt something.

The narrative announced by the book’s wide-ranging subtitle ‘Beginnings – Prohibition – Resistance – Breakthrough’ is delivered, at least for the German-speaking world. And the implicit promise of the Schwabenakademie’s intelligent ‘dialogues’ book series – original interdisciplinary studies of complex sociocultural phenomena – is also kept. As usual.

Markwart Herzog (ed.). Frauenfußball in Deutschland. Anfänge – Verbote – Widerstände – Durchbruch. Irseer Dialoge. Band 18. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2013.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts - No comment

January 12, 2014


I have always been struck by the neglect or even disdain shown by historians for the important part that popular culture plays in collective memory. A year ago, shortly before the FREE conference on football memory in Stuttgart, I even expressed my bewilderment in a post on this blog. There is a whole world out there of popular narratives about who we are, way beyond the ‘officially accredited collective memory’ of history textbooks framed by an elite. There is a living memory of icons, events and heroes that I have, over the years, often referred to as the ‘Parallel Pantheons’ of popular culture.

I was quite fond of this expression with its nice little alliteration, but from this week onward I will have to be more careful in using it. Reality has caught up. In a rare consensus, both social networks and parliamentarians of all parties in Portugal decided it was time a footballer was transferred to the ‘Panteão Nacional’ (located since 1916 in the former church of Santa Engrácia in Lisbon).

Eusébio's statue in Lisbon decorated by thousands of fans.

That the great Eusébio, who died last Sundat at age 71, had been a cherished national hero, had become very quickly obvious in the days following his death. Not only did tens of thousands of people give testimony to their unrestricted love and admiration for the former Benfica star and Ballon d’Or (1965) – the first black player to win the trophy – but the government also immediately declared three official days of mourning.

The decision to vote for Eusébio’s transfer to the National Pantheon is all the more remarkable as the Portuguese do not have the habit to bestow this honour in a casual manner. In its century of existence, the ‘Panteão Nacional’ has only welcomed 10 national heroes. But it has already  opened its doors to another representative of popular culture, the ‘Queen of Fado’ Amália Rodrigues (who died in 1999). How very fitting that Eusébio will be number 11 and thus complete the national team’s line-up!

What seems to be somewhat over-the-top at first sight, is actually not so surprising after all. Mass media and communication technology have eroded the traditional legitimacy of what used to be ‘the official transmitters of memory’. In the age of facebook ‘likes’, people increasingly decide for themselves what they consider worth remembering. As I wrote elsewhere, top-down official memory is now being complemented by a new bottom-up ‘wiki-memory’, whose archivists have the means to make their voice heard.

Santa Engrácia, the 'Panteão Nacional' in Lisbon.

The popular pressur in favour of recognition of the fact that Eusébio, whose performances have firmly anchored Lisbon and Portugal on the map of European football, has done more for his country than many political leaders is not without recalling the pressure exerted on the Vatican by the massive and repeated ‘santo subito!’ request concerning pope John Paul II.

The extent to which the memory of Eusébio was immediately celebrated across the continent also gave evidence to the remarkable interconnectedness of the European football community. Contrary to the 1950s and before, the 60s have left a lot more images, and Eusébio was visibly admired all across Europe. Maybe he was more of a European hero than other recently mourned icons like George Best? In any case, he will be very likely to increase the number of visitors to Santa Engrácia.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts - No comment