FORGOTTEN BOOKS: A WORLD CUP TWO-FER!
The U.S. Men’s Soccer Team was both inspiring and humble in their World Cup win earlier this week. I have railed against the quality of play and coaching of the U.S. men’s team, but I was on my feet and cheering when Landon Donovan lifted the U.S. team on his shoulders. So, it is with inexplicable high hopes that I am looking forward to the next U.S. World Cup game against Ghana.
The past couple of weeks, I’ve covered a couple of fiction novels that have used the World Cup as a story background. These fiction outings have only been mildly successful, so today I want to cover a couple of my favorite non-fiction soccer related titles. Both of these books are compelling reads and worth seeking out if you have any interest at all in the beautiful game.
First up is The Miracle of Castle di Sangro from bestselling true crime writer Joe McGinnis. A long time soccer fan, McGinnis reached a point in his career where he need to escape the darkness of the reasearch he’d been doing in order to write his true crime tomes. In an effort to recharge, McGinnis moves with his family to a small Italian village where he leans the difference between being a soccer fan and becoming a true soccer fanatic.
THE MIRACLE OF CASTLE DI SANGRO
In the summer of 1996, Joe McGinnis, the author of such non-fiction bestsellers as The Selling of the President, Fatal Vision, Blind Faith, and The Last Brother, set out for the remote Italian village of Castle di Sangro, located deep within the forbidding and isolated region of the Abruzzo.
His goal was to spend a season with the village soccer team, which only weeks before had accomplished a feat – hailed throughout Italy as a miracle – of winning promotion to the second highest professional league in the land. Though Castel di Sangro had only five thousand inhabitants, its team would now compete against those from such cities as Genoa, Turin, Padua, and Venice in a fight to keep its miracle alive.
Almost immediately, Joe McGinniss was embroiled in a small-town drama that had less to do with a game played by men kicking a ball than with hope, fear, love, loss and almost unbearable suspense. He found himself, like everyone in the town, bursting with affection and anxiety for this quixotic and boisterous band of young Italian athletes. Through victories, losses, scandals, deaths, and hard lessons in the Italian way of sport, he found a story whose depth and powers stunned him.
This book is his account of that year, a masterpiece of storytelling that transcends its particulars to embrace universal emotions.
Written with passion, tenderness, and humor – plus an appreciation for the absurd – The Miracle of Castel di Sangro is an unforgettable portrait of Italy’s people, its towns and cities, and its complicated, irrepressible spirit.
Next up is a book that literally moved me to tears. It is the story of a group of amazing athletes who make the greatest sacrifice for their sport imaginable. I dare anyone to read this story and not be emotionally moved.
DYNAMO ~ TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY IN NAZI-OCCUPIED KIEV
When Hitler initiated Operation Barbossa in June 1941, he caught the Soviet Union completely by surprise. At breathtaking speed, his armies swept East, slaughtering the ill-prepared Soviet Forces. His greatest military gains in all of World War II were made in these few short months, and the largest single country that he concurred was the Ukraine. Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, was circled, assaulted, and overrun. Among the city’s defenders who were captured and incarcerated were many of the members of the sparkling 1939 Dynamo Kiev football team, arguably the best squad in Europe before the war.
Captured Kiev was a starving city whose young population was deported in vast numbers as slave labor. However, one man was determined not to just save the surviving players from the Dynamo squad, but other athletes as well. He offered them work, shelter and – more valuable – bread , as workers in his bakery.
Inspired by the charismatic goalkeeper Trusevich, the Dynamo side was re-formed as Start FC, and a series of matches were arranged, all of which the team won handsomely, and to such an extent that they inspired Kievan spirits.
The final match, however, against the Luftwaffe, was arranged by the German authorities. A well-fed team from the Fatherland would vanquish the upstart Ukrainians, especially since the game would be refereed by an S.S. officer. The match itself was an allegory of resistance, and its consequences were brutal.
In Dynamo, Andy Dougan has discovered the truth behind the legendary encounter, sorting fact from fiction and restoring a moment of extraordinary poignancy and complex bravery to the center of World War II. The cliché is demonstrably true: football is not a matter of life or death, it’s much more important.
As the World Cup continues over the next few weeks, I’l be there each day glued to the unfolding drama. For anyone who doesn’t understand the game, that statement will make no sence. For those who have been bitten by the soccer bug, however, there will be no misunderstanding.
“WE’RE NOT DONE YET. WE BELIEVE, MAN. WE’RE ALIVE, BABY!”
~ LANDON DONOVAN.
WE’RE WITH YOU, MAN. GO U.S.A.