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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 12 October 1999
Simon Kuper's work shows exactly how football can penetrate any aspect of day to day life in the most unsuspecting and subtle ways. Not just a football book, Simon Kuper illustrates how only one medium in the world could encompass such a wide range of seemingly divergent subjects. From gulags in Russia to Apartheid in South Africa, military corruption in Argentina, religious conflict in Scotland...the list goes on. In chapter after chapter the author makes his point that the world would not be the same place without the boundless reach of the influence of football. Mr. Kuper deftly tells stories of his travels and makes his point as neatly with his pen as a player like Pele did with his feet on the football pitch. This book belongs on the reading list of college political science courses and should be required reading for any American yet convinced that there is no force in the world like the sport of real football, of soccer.
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on 11 February 2014
When is football more than just a game? When it’s against a rival so bitter, that emotions take things to another level altogether. That’s the premise behind this wonderful book, which isn’t solely a football book, but a social and political study with football as its recurring theme. This made it truly ground breaking in that such “intelligent” football writing was rather rarer when this first came out in 1994 than it is today. Some elements now seem slightly dated, but for a reader willing to give it some historical context this is still a compelling book.<!--more-->

The main theme is that cultures and nations use football to reflect their national identity and self-image. Kuper looks at several examples from across the globe to illustrate his point. Notably he focuses on the Dutch and their rivalry with Germany; something that he, writing as someone who lived in Holland for years, states just didn’t exist in the same way pre the 1988 European Championship semi finals. It was an almost invented rivalry and justified with the understandable historical reasons, to stoke the feelings of a generation too young to have lived through the Nazi occupation. It became an event of national significance, which transcended mere sport.

There is also a look at the perception in Argentina of such underhand antics as Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal and the reasons for this, and sections on the development of national identities in an Eastern Europe that was freshly split from its Communist nation states; and the mention of one East German whose interest in western football clubs earned him a Stasi file and a secret police follower. All in, there are studies of football and character in 22 countries from Europe to South America to Africa

It’s easy to forget with our saturation sports reporting and a steady supply of wonderful sports books these days, but at the time this book came out in 1994 it was an almost lone gem in a genre that wasn’t so much moribund, as almost nonexistent. Quality football writing, or indeed sports writing in general, has come on in leaps and bounds since, but in the early nineties it was more about poor autobiographies or how-to manuals. Truly ground breaking, and still a terrific read today. [...]
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on 12 July 2012
It is every author's dream to write a book on contemporary affairs that will still have a sensation of freshness in twenty years' time. This task becomes even more challenging when the story is composed with evasive bits that can change their meaning and importance with one kick of the ball.

Or, perhaps, the role of football does not actually depend on one kick, whether shot into the roof of the net or wide into the row Z, and, instead, it is much deeper than that? Maybe football and its social legacy can defend itself regardless of an outcome of a 90-minutes match?

First published in 1994, Simon Kuper's "Football Against the Enemy" looks into the relations between the beautiful game, politics and culture shortly after the Cold War. The world was at its turning point - not to mention a widely acclaimed concept of the end of the history around that time. In dynamically shifting environments, Kuper recognised football as a point of reference. "It's just a game," some may say, but for the Dutch author it was also a means of understanding new cultures as well as comparing them with those more familiar to him.

Yet, despite being a fascinating read, it took me a good half a year to finish it. The reason? Extremely engaging chapters unfortunately lacked continuity between each other. No doubt, the theme is always there but not necessarily a story. It is by no means a criticism of the book but a common problem in some of Kuper's other writings - an issue that many broadsheet journalists-cum-writers suffer from.

It is rather hard to disagree with a statement: "If you like football - read it; if you don't like football - read it," as quoted from the Times' review on the front cover. A timeless book on the role of football in describing the world in the post-Cold War era is an achievement per se. Most of these stories are still very much so up-to-date or at least can help to understand what role the beautiful game has played in shaping the political and cultural reality of today. Whether it is Buenos Aires, Glasgow, Kiev, Berlin or Gaborone, football has left its mark.
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on 29 September 2010
I wanted to love reading this book. However, it didn't quite live up to expectations.

It has clearly suffered from being written so long ago, as so many of the political circumstances described have changed hugely in the intervening years. Having read other reviews it's clear that, when it was first released, this was a pioneering attempt at examining the socio-political background of football.

Aside from the outdatedness, the writing style grates a little. So many passages begin with an 'exclusive interview' with a certain character. While it's impressive that the author has these connections, you begin to imagine that you are being told a story by the man in the local pub who claims he's friends with everyone 'off the telly.' As such, the regular "XXXX told me in the strictest confidence that..."-style passages become irritating. Conceited is perhaps the wrong word, but it's certainly getting that way.

Ultimately though, anyone with an interest in international football (club or country) will be able to appreciate and enjoy this book. If you find yourself lagging after the first chapter - stick with it, it gets better.
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on 18 February 2001
Simon Kuper astonishes me by the experience he gained traveling the world and viewing it through football. The stories of East Germany and Russia are right out of the spy world and secret football mafia. I will never think of the word "Dynamo" the same again. The story of Herrera and Italy was a unique insight into how the world's game changed on one man's tactics. This book goes right into the world of con men, dictatorship, tyranny, and business and shares how football is used as a vehicle to fulfill the agendas of corrupt men. I am still fuming at the injustice of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and cannot believe that FIFA are not blameless in conspiring to further the evils of the world at large. I only wish they could make movies this good. I immediately thought, after reading this book, that they need to do more documantaries on the type of material covered here. It is eye-opening.
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on 6 June 2013
I found this book a real mixed bag - some insightful commentary on the relationship between politics and football cut with interviews which were too often overlong and with people who often had no meaningful credentials other than being where Kuper happened to be at the time. This might be unfair - the media flurry around football in the past decades has probably blinded me to how interesting this may have been at the time - but I found myself flicking pages at times bored of the same drab talk.

The real value in this book now is the ability to look back at a snapshot in time. FATE was written in 1994, at a real transition point for politics in many places around the world (the Eastern European chapters were particularly interesting for me, having visited most of the places involved in more recent years) and football (the capitalist revolution fuelled by the Premier League's inception in 1992 was just getting going). I found it fascinating to see the world and football as it was then, to see Kuper's expectations for the future with the benefit of hindsight as to how things really worked out.

Well worth a go.
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on 21 November 2011
I first knew Kuper from his columns in FourFourTwo magazine and had heard good things about this book. Sometimes the depressing books are better than the happy ones, and his stories of Eastern Europe, Argentina and Africa are quite depressing. And yet the tone of the book never loses hope, and shows why the personalities described therein never lose hope.

I have two complaints. I wish Kuper had discussed Italian football more. And the edition I bought, in the U.S., is a U.S. edition, titled "Soccer Against the Enemy." (John Foot's magisterial "Calcio: A History of Italian Football" also becomes "Winning At All Costs: A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer.") My problem isn't with the title (after all, the vast majority of English speakers do call the sport "soccer"), but it seems as though some editor over here used a word processor to turn every instance of the word "football" into "soccer" -- resulting in phrases like, "He had to sell a player for a soccer" or "He was buried with a soccer," instead of "...with a football" or "...with a soccer ball."
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on 14 February 2011
Simon Kuper manages to write a book that touches the true essence of football: a game that's much more than a game.
If you like football, not only as a game but as a social, economical, cultural and political aspect of modern day society, then this book is for you.
Wonderfully written, it's one of the best books about football ever.
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on 5 November 2010
First, this is a groundbreaking work. Before it, literary football books came by once a decade or so. Now, there's a new "quality" title out every week.

Second, it's still a cracking read. Some of the foreign places aren't quite so foreign anymore, but that's down to the internet and how the world's changed. The introduction where Kuper talks about staying in youth hostels and how hard travelling is seems as quaint and old fashioned as black and white television.

Finally, his main point -- that football creates national culture, as much as national cultures create football -- is still every bit as difficult and thought provoking as it was 15 years ago.

One of my all time desert island books.
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on 24 November 2008
Given that this book won a major award, I had high hopes for a well-crafted exploration of the relationship between football and politics and perhaps a bit of travelogue-type writing thrown in there too. The book certainly covers these bases well but is just a little dull. The author is the only one I have read who has managed to downplay the intensity of a Rangers-Celtic derby. He also failed to expound properly on the relationship between a national team's playing style and the national character. That said, he describes some memorable encounters and writes in a quite enjoyable manner.
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