Jonathan Wilson’s “Kick and Run” and the Golden Age of Soccer Writing

Kick and Run cover

Kick and Run cover

Jonathan Wilson’s Kick and Run is subtitled “Memoir With Soccer Ball,” which serves as a deeply accurate description of what one will find inside. Wilson’s life has taken him from his native London to Israel to the United States, where he currently resides. The book covers his family’s history, his own fondness for American literature, and the ways in which he has felt like an outsider, encompassing questions of culture, nationality, geography and aesthetics.. The through line here is Wilson’s passion for soccer — both playing it and watching it. Supporters of Tottenham Hotspur will likely appreciate Wilson’s recounting of the team’s history; fans of Major League Soccer — myself included — might hope Wilson gives the league another shot sometime in the future. (But I digress — which happens a lot when I talk about American soccer, so bear with me.)

Soccer provides the structure for Wilson’s narrative. It also allows him to look at ways in which the sport had tapped into a wider sociopolitical context. He lauds the teams that brought together players of many faiths in Israel and Palestine, and disapprovingly cites the group of Beitar Jerusalem supporters who disparaged that team’s signing of Zaur Sadayev. This approach, of finding reflections in soccer of larger issues, is one that readers of Simon Kuper and Franklin Foer will find familiar — and readers of those authors’ Ajax, the Dutch, the War and How Soccer Explains the World will find much to appreciate here.

Kick and Run is being released in the U.S. a few months after Nation Books released a translation of Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow, a series of short, poetic sketches of soccer with a distinctly American — South American, to be specific — focus. Galeano’s elliptical, irreverent style creates a sort of mythology around the players, teams, and coaches he discusses — emphatically left-wing and anti-colonial. (Galeano’s discussion of World Cup qualifying slots for continents that are not Europe is one that’s hard to shake.)

More broadly, Wilson’s memoir is coming out stateside during a particularly notable period for soccer writing. Publications like Howler and XI Quarterly have become homes for thoughtful pieces on the sport; for those seeking more traditional coverage of soccer, ESPN FC and Sports Illustrated‘s Planet Futbol likely have you covered. One of the strengths of Kick and Run is how it brings together Wilson’s enthusiasm: for him, a passion for soccer and a passion for literature are intertwined. These days, that attitude seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. It’s a welcome one.

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