Book: Football in Sunshine And Shadow by Eduardo Galeano Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99

Monday's Book

In 1937, distraught that his team had been humbled 12-0 by Vasco da Gama, a fan buried a toad with its mouth sewn up in Vasco's pitch and laid a curse on his tormentors. For 12 years, he swore, if there was a God in heaven, Vasco da Gama wouldn't win another championship. The curse worked - not for 12 years, but 11. When they were champions again, Vasco's chairman observed, "God gave us a little discount".

Recounting stories like this with a poetic economy, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano gives us an uplifting insight into the South American sensibility. By turns reckless, ironic, impassioned and wistful, his book sparkles with supple imagery and a fine dry wit. He gives us the history of football (from a South American perspective; all European referees are deeply suspect) in a sequence of abrupt, elegant little essays. His roster of great players is a veritable bestiary - Gerd Muller was a wolf, Romario is a tiger - and they can all do impossible things with their bodies. As one Italian says of Pele, two of them jumped at the same time: but when the Italian landed, Pele was still up there.

This magic is, of course, the whole point. Football in South America, more than anywhere else, is never just a game; it is a liberation of flesh and spirit, a thing of soaring fantasy, "the forbidden adventure of freedom". The ball is a woman to be worshipped and caressed; the tango, says one player, is absolutely the best way to train. For the brutal tendency in his continent's approach, Galeano has a withering scorn, as he does for anyone who would subject the sport to discipline, rigidity, the stifling concentration on defence. As a Chilean player puts it, fear of losing makes "football for bats - eleven players hanging from the crossbar".

Moreover, football is a vivid affirmation of national character. When Uruguay won the Olympic soccer tournament in 1924 and 1928, then the first World Cup in 1930, "the sky-blue shirt was proof of the existence of the nation". Uruguay was the first country to field black players. One of these, Jose Leandro Andrade, was asked by a dazzled European press how on earth they learned to play that way, darting, interpassing, making "ringlets" round opponents. Andrade told them they trained by chasing chickens - and the reporters believed him.

Later, like all too many in these stories, he died in abject poverty. Galeano angrily mourns the treatment of players as chattels in those days. Although the stars have more money now, he's not convinced they're much better off otherwise. They're pharmacies on legs; walking billboards. The game exploits both them and us. For Galeano we are less and less fans, more and more consumers.

He is, in my opinion, absolutely right. FIFA - cosying up to the generals in Argentina in 1978, cosying up to Coca-Cola round the clock - are roundly, scornfully lambasted. They deserve every word. Galeano is a clear, sane voice amid the uncritical tumult of marketing that surrounds the game. For this alone, even if his book were not such a lovely piece of work in so many other ways, he deserves the widest possible readership.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there