Thursday, September 10, 2009


Nine of the last fifteen books I have read have been about soccer. I am tearing through a tenth -- David Winner's self-indulgent (but wondrously short) Around the World in 90 Minutes -- and have an additional stack of books on the sport that I am eager to start. At my current ridiculous (obsessive) pace, I will have read more books on soccer in the last three years than I have read about all other sports combined in 33 years.

I feel a certain urgency to reading everything I can, as every page seems to enhance my enjoyment and appreciation of the pastime. And because I was raised without any acculturation to the sport other than AYSO soccer, the exercise is also an artificial attempt to download, en masse, a historical context for the contemporary game. To that end, Winner's book has been opened at the perfect time. Yesterday, a significant portion of the world was glued to results (from the Faroe Islands' insanely impressive win over Lithuania to Uruguay's huge win in La Paz -- which potentially sets up a breathtaking matchup in Montevideo on October 13th -- to another embarrassing performance by the El Tri at the Azteca). I was one of them and delayed my arrival at RFK by half an hour just to see the first 15 minutes of Paraguay-Argentina. Winner's tales of Gdansk and Seoul reveling in their respective teams' 2006 German tour provide a beautiful backdrop to the current mania of qualifying for a 2010 South African tour.

There are times, however, when knowledge is gained too late. The last book I finished was an English translation of Filippo Maria Ricci's wonderful Elephants, Lions & Eagles: A Journey through African Football. The book -- really a collection of short essays -- describes an amazing variety of topics in a limited number of pages. One of the topics is the Liberian national team; Ricci sets out a 2003 article he wrote for Gazzetta dello Sport regarding a Africa Cup of Nations-qualifying match (Tunisia, 2004) between Liberia and Guinea. Ostensibly, the story is about Liberia's struggles to compete amidst a renewed civil war. Though a home game for Liberia, the team was forced to play in Accra and, worse, the Liberian FA was without funds to pay for the team's travel to the match. So the team fielded for the country was drawn largely from a refugee camp in Buduburam, 25 miles outside of Ghana's capital. In describing the intensity of passion describing football played in the camp by the refugee inhabitants, Ricci writes: "Inevitably enough the local hero, Francis Doe, was christened the new Weah." Say what? Francis Doe? Our Francis Doe. Yes, indeed.

Now, if I had paid attention and read Paul Tenorio's article describing how and where Louis met Francis, I would not have been as surprised. But I didn't and it took randomly reading an Italian journalist's reprint of a newspaper article to realize (five months after his departure) how amazing Doe's personal story is.

Doe has moved on to the Egyptian Premier League, to current top-of-the-table Al Ahly where he scored in the squad's opening fixture this season. And while his former teammates enjoyed a runout against Real Madrid at FedEx Field, Doe had the privilege of being part of a side destroyed by Celtic and Barcelona at Wembley in the Wembley Cup.

I hope that Doe finds success at Al Ahly. I am confident that had he came into a DC United side that had any interest in entertaining its (dwindling) fan base, he would have become a local legend. But that was not to be, to the detriment, I believe, of both the franchise and its supporters.

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