Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Simon Kumin Explains the Collapse of the Soviet Union

For a reader (that would be me) whose knowledge of soccer-- football, fútbol, fußball, футбол--is just about zilch, almost everything in Simon Kuper's Football Against the Enemy comes as a revelation, perhaps none more intriguing than this: Commie bosses don't like the game.  Okay, that is overgerneralized, but consider Kuper's account of his conversation with Helmut Klopfleisch, a "a large, blond, moon-faced man" so devoted to the gme that his enthusiasm got him hounded out of Soviet East Germany.   Kuper reportd:
  It is a minor irony of history that the only match between the two Germanies was won by the GDR: at the World Cup of 1974, they beat the West 1–0. (Jürgen Sparwasser, scorer of the goal, later defected to the West.) Klopfleisch looked away when I mentioned the game. ‘I just can’t understand it," he said, "it was a day of mourning in our house. There were big celebrations in East Berlin, even though it was just a lucky win. The worst of it all was the 300 Party bosses in the stands, waving their little flags with the East German sign, clapping at all the wrong moments because they knew nothing about football.’ 
--Kuper, Simon (2011). Football Against The Enemy
(Kindle Locations 477-478). Orion. Kindle Edition.
Okay, this might just be an East German thing.  The juice of the story is that after the wall came down, Klopfleisch (and Kuper) got to see Klopfleisch's Stasi file.  It's clear that they pursued him with a patient curiosity that makes J. Edgar Hoover look like a kid under the expressway with a can of spray paint.  Work that hard at collating the data, and you probably don't have time to brush your teeth, much less to hang out at the ballpark.

Or could this be a cross-cultural bureaucrat kinda thing?  Could it be that in any culture it is the 97-pound weaklings who wind up on swivel stools next to the file cabinet, while the guy who kicks sand in his face is out there yelling "KILL HIM!" from the bleachers.  Kuper's point is not that football is larger than life, nor even that it is like; rather that football drives in powerful if sometimes unexpected ways.  If Kuper is right, then what does that say about the relative staying power of the pencil-pusher and the thug?

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