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Radical Soccer

posted Saturday, 25 October 2014

Last Tuesday I was standing with the other parents on the sidelines of the plastic soccer pitch just off the LIE where our boys train with a professional soccer training company. The practice field is too far from home to just drop the boys off, so we wait for the 90 minutes while the boys kick the ball around. The weather was a bit cool and rainy, so I'd spent the first part of the practice snug in my car and reading a book.

What were you reading? someone asked. I laughed thinking to myself that "you don't really want to know" but I couldn't bring myself to lie or beg them off, so I said, I'm reading Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton. Nervous laughter all around. Marx? The other parents weren't sure they'd heard me correctly. You mean Karl Marx? someone asked. The very same, I said. But he wasn't right, said another person. Is it a joke book? another person asked. Are there any pictures? asked another.

When in 2012 I started writing notes about soccer, I immediately started amassing a personal library of soccer literature. One of the first books I read about soccer was Gabriel Kuhn's book Soccer vs. the State. Kuhn's book is a necessary starting point for any socially conscious soccer supporter who loves the game but who is also uncomfortable with the commercialization of the sport. Soccer vs. the State is a knitted together set of essays, articles, and interviews that Kuhn collected together over a period of years. So as a work of creative nonfiction, it has a disjointed feel at times, but the information and the perspective presented are spot-on.

But back to pitch side on that cool drizzly night in October. What I told the parents was that I was concerned that the pay-for-play model we've bought into is not the only way. Why don't we expend more effort to build a community run organization that includes everyone? That way we all could be out there with our kids having a good time rather than paying for a professional to train them. On the flip side, I do see some advantages to the pay-for-play model. It's easy to hand over some cash to a professional so that I have time to sit in my car reading anarchist literature.

I'm only half joking.

As with the craft brewing business, the youth soccer business is shaped by social and economic structures. Given that we live in a world governed by capitalism, we shouldn't be shocked to discover that the pay-for-play model is the only model that people endow with credibility. Capitalism engenders a natural disdain for anything amateur. The hobbyist is viewed with suspicion or as a source of income for those capitalists who erect mechanisms to extract cash from the hobbyist. Industries grow up around amateur pursuits to professionalize and monetize them. While it's tempting to resist these capitalist forces, individual acts of resistance come off as quixotic. Resistance is best when it is a collective action. And soccer (and craft beer brewing) just might be an activity around which collectives can organize to erect structures of their own to counter capitalist forces.

So that's how soccer and craft beer brewing fit together. Both are radical activities, or could be if the amateurs banded together to form democratically run organizations which resist the hierarchies and rules imposed by capitalist society.