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 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.