My favorite memory of the FIFA World Cup is from 1966 when England hosted the event and beat West Germany in the final to win their first and only World Cup title. My family and friends were watching on our tiny black and white TV. When the match ended one of my friends jumped up and cried “Let’s pretend we’re really there!” She made us all stand huddled together cheering as though we were in the stadium with all the other delirious England fans. I had never shown much interest in football, as soccer is called in England, but even I got caught up in the exuberant celebration. My father and little brothers were ecstatic. When I first came to the U.S. nobody played soccer and the World Cup went entirely unnoticed. I could never get interested in the strange sports of the New World. American football seemed so nonsensical after the “football” I was used to. “You mean they can pick up the ball and run with it? Isn't that cheating?” But times have changed. My own children played youth soccer, now my grandsons do, and the World Cup, if not quite as big a deal as the Super Bowl, is still a major event with plenty of American fans.
Whether you yourself are a soccer fan, or just surrounded by fans among your family and friends, here are a few books to give you some interesting background on the world’s most popular sport (with an estimated 3.5 billion fans worldwide):
In case you are wondering what all the fuss is about, soccer’s most famous player tells you why you should care about “the beautiful game.”
Soccer for Dummies by Michael Lewis
A publication of the United States Soccer Federation. This is the place to start if you want to appear knowledgeable when watching the World Cup surrounded by die-hard soccer fans.
The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer by David Goldblatt
This history emphasizes the political, social, and cultural context of the game around the world.
Many cultures claim soccer as their own. This book explores how the Spanish tradition became predominant.
You can’t get very far reading about soccer before finding that it has a magnetic attraction for cultural theorists and philosophers. This writer argues that “soccer is a perfect window into the crosscurrents of today’s world.”
Not interested in reading about soccer but enjoy a good thriller? Here's one set on the eve of the World Cup in Brazil. A star player’s mother is kidnapped. Is Brazil’s bitter rival Argentina trying to gain an advantage? Chief Inspector Silva races to solve the crime before the final match. This book reflects how seriously soccer is taken in Latin America. In 1969 a disputed soccer game even sparked a war between El Salvador and Honduras.
Now you are an armchair expert, you can follow all things soccer at the Soccer Blog, through this year’s World Cup and beyond. For a list of perfect places in the local area to watch World Cup matches with fans from all over the world, check out this guide from The Washington Post. Happy viewing, and in the interest of good sportsmanship, may the best team win!