The Football Crónicas & Outcasts United

The Football Crónicas

Edited by Jethro Soutar and Tim Girven (Ragpicker Press, 2014)

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town

By Warren St John (HarperCollins, 2014)

Another year, another set of ‘best books’ lists that ignores the sporting world entirely. ‘Snub’ is the correct verb, I feel. Fiction I’ve long since accepted but non-fiction too? Can it be true that not a single book on cycling, football, cricket et al met the ‘literary’ criteria that every nature book seems to meet with a quick glance at the cover? Could the critics not find one book relating to sport, our society’s number one pastime, that was worthy of acclaim? Over this festive period alone, I’ve read two excellent football titles that in different ways push the boundaries of what has come to be expected from a ‘sports book’.

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The Football Crónicas is a wonderfully varied collection of Latin American ‘creative non-fiction’ edited by Jethro Soutar and Tim Girven. The most famous example of the genre remains Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow but there are several pieces here to rival that linguistic flair and exuberance. Mario Murillo’s ‘The Goal in the Back of Beyond’ offers a successful argument for football as ‘an elevated form of artistic expression’, Leonardo Haberkorn’s ‘Run, Ghiggia, Run’ explores fame and its afterlife, and Juan Pablo Meneses’ ‘A Grenade for River Plate’ narrates a tense Chilebus journey with a gang of colourful ultras. Best of all, however, is ‘The Goal-Begetting Women of the Andes’ by Marco Avilés. What begins as an exotic travel piece about a remote Peruvian village of skirt- and sandal-wearing female footballers transforms itself into something much more thought-provoking as the team comes face-to-face with the modernity of the town below. The crónica makes the perfect partner for football writing – a hybrid of fiction and journalism, ‘fact told as a story’.

There is nothing creative about the non-fiction of Outcasts United and yet the story is even more magical. In the 1990s, the American town of Clarkston in Georgia became a resettlement centre for refugees from war-torn nations including Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo. As the town itself came to terms with its new multicultural makeup, football-mad Luma Mufleh founded a soccer club called ‘The Fugees’. Outcasts United follows every step of the amazing journey, reporting on the trials and tribulations of Luma, her players and their families. For large parts of this uplifting story, football is no more than a means to an end. Author Warren St John’s focus instead is sociological; how do refugees come to terms with America and vice versa?

Football is the powerful weapon of choice for teaching valuable life skills and uniting different cultures. As clichéd as it sounds, sport really is the universal language. This bonding experience is also reflected in The Football Crónicas. In Alberto Salcedo Ramos’ ‘Queen’s Football’, a team of Colombian transvestites seek solace and solidarity in the face of abuse, poverty and drug addiction. And in Hernán Iglesias Illa’s ‘San Martín de Brooklyn Eye The Playoffs’, we find another example of soccer’s central role in the lives of US immigrants.

On the back-cover of Outcasts United, there’s an endorsement from cricketer-turned-journalist Michael Atherton. ‘Like all good books about sport,’ he says, ‘this is about much more than sport.’ These well-written books have as much to do with society as they do with sport, and they are far from unique in this regard.

Buy The Football Crónicas here

Buy Outcasts United here