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OT Book Club: This Love is Not for Cowards
   May 1, 2012 (12:00 PM) by Howie Michaels     Email This Post Email This Post

I’m throwing out a new irregular feature here at OT: the OT Book Club. I first threw this out on Twitter a few weeks ago when I was about one-third of the way through it. We’ll post it every so often whenever there’s some soccer literature to discuss.

I recently finished Robert Andrew Powell’s This Love is not for Cowards.

after having heard about it from an interview that the author did on the Mexican Soccer Show podcast (you can listen to the interview starting at 35:30). Finding the intersection of soccer, politics, and culture to make for great reading (the first soccer book I read was Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against the Enemy, which remains one of my favorite reads), I ordered the book shortly after its release.

The book traces the (now-defunct) Indios de Ciudad Juárez during the final months of their two-year stay in Mexico’s top flight. For those not aware, Mexico has been embroiled in a violent drug war for several years now, and Juárez (just across the border from El Paso, Texas) has seen some of the worst violence (averaging thousands of murders per year).

It is this besieged city that the author moves to and a soccer club fights relegation. Shortly before Powell’s arrival, an assistant coach was murdered. A starting midfielder was carjacked. Players and fans receive threats (in one memorable passage, the leader of a fan group [deliberately named El Kartel in a bid for irony]) is pulled from the group’s headquarters and held at gunpoint in the street.

However, this is not just a book about violence and soccer. Rather, it’s a portrait of a city, a city where people live, work, and dream. Powell, while not fully embracing the city, clearly develops a certain affection for it. Rather than just adding to the heaps of violence literature porn that the city tends to inspire, Powell does a fine job of considering what soccer means in the greater scope of the city. It’s terrific, in my opinion, because of that. Rather than just churning out 300 pages on the city’s flaws, he actually develops the citizens. What is it like for American midfielder Marco Vidal? How does Juarez’s reputation affect its ability to field a winning side? Does the city have an issue with femicides?

So yeah, it’s a book about soccer, but it’s also an ode to a city (and navigates the drug war issues without getting directly political). Definitely a recommended read, so much that I’m including a link to Amazon twice.

Anyone have a soccer book you’ve read recently to recommend? Next on my list is Jonathan Wilson’s Behind the Curtain, which promises to be distinctly free of Americans abroad (unless 1989 Peter Vermes appears).

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Howie Michaels

Howie once received a death threat at a USA-Brazil friendly. He still believes in Fred Adu. He plays forward in coed rec, although not well.

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Categories: OT Book Club

3 Responses to “OT Book Club: This Love is Not for Cowards”

  1. Ian says:

    This does sound very interesting and is going on my to-read list. I recently finished a book called “The Ball is Round” by David Goldblatt. It’s a large volume that thoroughly details the history of soccer. You see how the game evolved and became standardized. I give it 5/5 stars.

    Another excellent book about soccer is “How Soccer Explains the World” by Franklin Foer. One aspect of soccer that really fascinates me is how a club can assume a political, social or religious stance (whether the club chooses to or their fanatics choose for them). I think this is a big contrast compared to American sports where geography seems to be the main factor in determining who one cheers for. The author uses different examples around the world to illustrate how, for many people, soccer is not just a game. I give it 4/5 stars.

    I’m going to throw out 2 more titles that are on my to-read list: “Inverting the Pyramid” by Jonathan Wilson is a book about the history of soccer tactics and “Outcast United” by Warren St. John is a book about a group of refugees in an American town who start their own team.

  2. Howie says:

    “How Soccer Explains the World” was okay, although I prefer “Soccer Against the Enemy”, which has sort of a similar theme.

    I starting reading “Inverting the Pyramid” about a year ago and just never got going…it’s on my list after “Behind the Curtain”.

    “Outcasts United” was also pretty good.

    I have heard great things about “The Ball is Round”…very haven’t tried it yet (seems daunting).

    I should also add that “Soccer in a Football World” should be mandatory reading for all American soccer fans.

  3. Trent Hill says:

    Howie–I’m glad you endorse both. I’ve read How Soccer Explains the World, but haven’t dove into Soccer Against the Enemy yet.

    I have The Ball is Round, too, but haven’t even touched it.

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