This is the first in a new series of posts featuring Global Football Today writers reviews of football books and movies.
Africa United:Soccer, Passion, Politics and the First World Cup in Africa is the story of modern-day Africa told through its soccer. Traveling across thirteen countries, from Cairo to the Cape, Steve Bloomfield meets players and fans, politicians and rebel leaders, discovering the role that soccer has played in shaping the continent. He recounts how soccer has helped to stoke conflicts and end wars, bring countries together and prop up authoritarian regimes.
Africa United calls attention to the amazing relationships between people and soccer, and to the state of Africa on the cusp of the biggest moment in its sporting history, the 2010 World Cup.
About the author (from Amazon.com):
Steve Bloomfield has been based in Nairobi since 2006, reporting from twenty-five countries across Africa. A former Africa correspondent for The Independent, he now writes for a range of publications including Monocle and The Observer, and has also written for Newsweek, GQ, and Esquire.
My take on the book:
I viewed firsthand how much football is a way of life in Africa when I visited Uganda back in 2009 while working for a non-profit in a rural western village. If you want to find a way to meet locals, it’s quite easy. Wear your favorite football kit (mine at the time was a Republic of Ireland kit), and inevitably, people will simply walk up to you and ask you which club you support or who your favorite player is. When an English Premiere League match was on, I’d find crowds of people throughout the village sitting outside around radios listening to the play-by-play. While the adults sit around listening, the children were out kicking around homemade footballs made out of the dried matooke leaves.
The other big topic of conversation, at least in Uganda, was politics. When word got around that I was an American, my walks through the village also brought out questions as to whether I was an “Obama supporter.” As I mentioned above, radio was often the medium in which Ugandans could follow English football, but Ugandan friends were also huge consumers of news and when football wasn’t on the radio, the people I stayed with were listening to the BBC. The relationship between politics, culture and football in Africa is a phenomena I found fascinating to say the least, and one reason I sought out Steve Bloomfield’s book.
Bloomfield’s book didn’t disappoint and I was greatly intrigued by his encounters with fans, players, politicians and even rebel leaders. I read the book from cover-to-cover, but there’s no reason you can’t pick and choose which chapters and what order you want to read. Each chapter designates one country and serves as one particular episode in the volume.
Bloomfield’s chapter on Egypt was particularly interesting because of the turmoil there over the last year and the fact that former United States men’s national team coach, Bob Bradley, is now Egypt’s national team coach. I was definitely struck by how much Egypt’s governmental changes and popularity are tied to the national team and vice versa.
While there was an air of familiarity with some of the countries I read (for example, I had previously read a lot about the story of Didier Drogba’s help in ending the civil war in the Ivory Coast), I had no idea about the Democratic Republic of Congo professional club, TP Mazembe, who had their road to the African Champion’s League final completely bought for by their town’s bizarre provincial governor.
My only complaint about the book was disappointment in not seeing Uganda included in Bloomfield’s travelogue. That’s a small complaint really though and I think overall, Bloomfield clearly knows his stuff and the book serves as a fantastic primer for exploring the Africa’s relationship with football.