Earlier this summer, The New Yorker magazine—home of some of the best writers in the world—tore down its paywall. From now until September you will be able to read every after article published after 2007 … for free.
The magazine is known for its excellent coverage of business, food, the environment, politics—but also for its sportswriting.
Here are the 10 best New Yorker articles about soccer. Read them now before you have to pay for them.
10. The Meaning of Sir Alex Ferguson
You know you have made it as a soccer manager when The New Yorker covers your retirement. John Cassidy on the man, the myth, the legend—up close and personal.
“Unless you were a United fan, he was a hard man to like. In my hometown of Leeds, which is just across the Pennines from Manchester, he was (and is) roundly hated—the personification of everything loathsome about a too-successful rival referred to locally as “the scum.” He sometimes made me mad, too, especially when he would rise from his seat late in the game to berate the officials. But I always secretly admired how Ferguson and his team went about their business. I had a grudging respect for him.”
9. Jailhouse Soccer
In a shorter piece, Reeves Weidman writes about the Makana Football Association. A soccer league set up inside South Africa’s infamous Robben Island prison—where Nelson Mandela was held.
“Last year’s film “Invictus” suggested that rugby was the sport of revolution, but it was soccer that meant most to South Africa’s anti-apartheid fighters. For three years, beginning in the mid-sixties, prisoners on Robben Island had made weekly requests to form an intra-cellblock league. They were denied each time: daily labor in the prison’s quarry, the warden said, provided enough exercise. Finally, in 1967, the league was approved.”
—> Published July 1, 2010
8. The Writer Who Designed Brazil’s Soccer Uniform
Jon Michaud gives us the origin story of Brazil’s classic kit. It was designed by a contest winner after Brazil’s traumatic loss to Uruguay in 1950. Before that tournament, the international team wore white kits with blue collars, but most felt a changed was needed after the disaster of “The Fateful Final.”
“The most recognizable symbol of Brazilian soccer—and therefore of Brazilian identity—is the canary yellow jersey worn by the national team, and by millions of supporters around the globe. In New York, London, Tokyo, and many other non-Brazilian locales, those shirts will appear in the coming weeks like late-summer flowers, blooming as long as the hosts remain alive in the tournament. Appropriately, Bellos devotes an entire chapter in his book to Aldyr Garcia Schlee, the unlikely designer of that world-famous strip, who came up with the design in 1953, when he was nineteen, and went on to become a prize-winning writer.”
—> Published June 2, 2014
7. Playing Fake Ball: Why Chinese Soccer Matters
Evan Osnos gives us the run-down on the supreme corruption of Chinese soccer. Which, honestly, doesn’t sound any more messed up than FIFA or UEFA.
“At its core, the problem is philosophical: the Chinese Football Association operates the professional leagues, but it is also the body that supervises itself and investigates wrongdoing. The association has assembled what it calls an “independent professional league council” to chart a way forward.”
“Do we hate soccer? That depends on who we think “we” are. One of the things that Franklin Foer’s charming book ‘How Soccer Explains the World’ explains is how soccer, along with its globalizing, unifying effects, provides plenty of opportunities for expressions of nationalism, which need not be illiberal, and for tribalism, which almost always is. The soccerphobia of the right is tribalism masquerading as nationalism. One in four of those twenty million viewers of the U.S.-Ghana match was watching it on Univision, America’s leading Spanish-language network.”
=6. A Century of American Soccer Anxiety
This is a tie because the articles are very similar, but both are worth reading. In this piece, Ian Crouch gives us the full history of America’s reaction to the World’s game, and also ultimately concludes that it is here to stay.
“America’s uncertain dance with soccer continued. A circuit called the American Professional Soccer League debuted in the Northeast, in 1921, fielding teams in industrial cities with immigrant populations, including Fall River, Massachusetts; Pawtucket, Rhode Island; and New York. The United States team placed third in the inaugural World Cup, which was hosted by Uruguay, in 1930, and then played again in 1934, in Italy. At the 1950 World Cup, in Brazil, the U.S. pulled off one of the great upsets of all time, beating a massively favored England in the group stage. The A.P. noted that the loss had brought Britain’s sportswriters to tears. American writers and fans were less moved. Reuters called it “a day some Englishmen consider the greatest in the annals of American sport”—the implication being that Americans would beg to differ. The Americans wouldn’t play in another World Cup for forty years.”
5. Writing the Beautiful Game
In a review of Simon Kuper’s book, Soccer Men, Giles Harvey describes the art that is soccer writing. I will leave the rest to the expert …
“Style, in soccer as in prose, is less the product of ‘personal expression’ than of poise, discipline, patience, and infinite care. Most people who kick a ball, like most people who put words down on paper, do so with little distinction: they could be anyone. The more one masters the impersonal demands of technique, however, the more a personal style begins to emerge. Beckenbauer, Cruijff, Pele, Zidane: these figures are as unmistakable on the pitch as are Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov, and Updike on the page.”
4. The Making of “Victory,” The 1990 U.S. World Cup Anthem
Adam Edler writes about that little known but often mocked video from the USMNT’s 1990 World Cup squad (which included a special guest appearance from … OJ Simpson). This was five full years after the travesty that was the Super Bowl Shuffle—but apparently America had not learned any lessons yet.
“In the months leading up to this year’s World Cup, a crew for ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series recorded almost every move the U.S. team made, producing four hours’ worth of episodes that first aired in the lead-up to the tournament. “Victory,” in contrast, is one of the few artifacts of that young, 1990 squad, who, on meager wages and without endorsement deals or even liability insurance, set U.S. men’s soccer on its current course.”
3. How to Survive a Soccer Game
Reeves Weidman attended a USMNT vs Mexico match at Estadio Azteca and—thankfully for us—lived to tell the tale. It is a stadium that very few Americans will ever get the chance to step foot into, so his first person account of the dangers and the thrills are a fine peephole into the Mexican soccer experience.
“…Earlier in the day, as we were heading to the match, an expat friend’s landlord had told us a story about the aftermath of a game in which Argentina had beaten Mexico. Two Argentinian fans started celebrating boisterously nearby, and several Mexican fans approached and started beating them up. The Argentines spotted several police officers and called to them for help. The officers looked the other way.”
2. Croatian Soccer’s Pyromania
In an eye-opening story about Croatian soccer supporters that I wish was five times longer, Matt Negrin (who is also a Paste Soccer contributor) describes a soccer fanaticism that Americans will never fully understand. In countries like Croatia, it truly is more than a game—and that is said without the slightest bit of hyperbole. The article gives you something to think about the next time you attend a sterile MLS game.
“At the hospital, it got worse. It was like a clinic in a war zone, with members of Torcida and the Blue Boys all waiting for doctors to stitch them up. Frightened and covered in their own blood, they heard on a radio broadcast of the match they were missing that Hajduk had a chance to score. They started cheering, and the Blue Boys pounced on them again. The brawl was so brutal that the police had to be called in to separate the wounded from the club they were supporting.”
1. Samba Soccer
In a piece you are going to wish you had read before the World Cup, Ben McGrath writes a brilliant—but very long—story on Brazil’s preparation for the tournament, using the club team Corinthians as metaphor. A little dated, but worth every minute of your time.
“… The economic boom that recently brought Brazil, with its burgeoning middle class, to the brink of First World respect has been dizzying. This June, the opening game—Brazil vs. Croatia—of what the New Statesman suggests may be the last World Cup that ever matters will be played at the Itaquerão, a new stadium going up in São Paulo for the storied Corinthians, a professional team known both for its historical ties to the proletariat and for its thuggish fans. The stadium, a monument to gentrification, will feature the largest digital screen on earth and lighting twice as bright as that used in Munich’s Allianz Arena, said to be visible, on a clear night, from nearly fifty miles away.”