Watching the World Cup, Hemon on Soccer in Hand


Aleksandar Hemon
The Matters of Life, Death, and More: Writing on Soccer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 96 p.

I spent yesterday evening at a crowded bar in the West Village watching the United States play Ghana in the World Cup. Four years earlier, I’d spent a Saturday afternoon in a crowded bar in Williamsburg, also watching the United States play Ghana in the World Cup. Last night, a space full of supporters of the American team experienced a sort of collective ecstasy following their win; four years ago, a group of us that had staked out a booth hours before the game sat in the bar long after Ghana’s win. Eventually, we headed over to an apartment, where we watched more soccer. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

Something about good soccer–and both the 2010 and 2014 editions of the US/Ghana matchup were eminently watchable games–leaves you craving more. Last night, with World Cup games having ended for the day, that came through my choice of reading for the trip home. As I sat on the subway beside commuters and more than a few people wearing US jerseys, I read The Matters of Life, Death, and More: Writing on Soccer, an ebook which collects Aleksandar Hemon’s writings on soccer.

I was ecstatic to hear about this; Hemon’s essay “If God Existed, He’d Be a Solid Midfielder” (also found in his stunning collection The Book of My Lives) is one of the best pieces of writing on the sport I’ve encountered, and I’ve savored the occasional soccer-related byline of his I’d encounter in places like Howler and The New Republic. Hemon is the kind of writer who can make virtually any topic fascinating, but his writing about soccer is something I particularly savor. I happily bought the ebook; if FSG does a print edition, I’ll probably shell out the cash for that as well.

Collected are thoughts on particular teams and matches; there’s a look at soccer in Bosnia, an examination of the legacy of Liverpool in the modern era, and some musings on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And there’s a point in one of the essays in which Hemon and the great Javier Marías sit around and discuss the Real Madrid/Barcelona rivalry, which pretty much hits all of my sweet spots. In an essay on Euro 2012, Hemon writes that “watching soccer is not unlike reading a novel.” This might be the most succinct explanation I’ve ever read for why I find myself drawn to the sport. One of the many reasons I’m glad to have this collection is that very quality: the ability to capture the sport’s appeal and render it neatly in language.

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