The Age of Football: The ugly side of the beautiful game

Review: David Goldblatt’s fascinating account of how football is abused by political interests

President of Fifa Gianni Infantino, Russian president Vladimir Putin and French president Emmanuel Macron during the award ceremony following the World Cup final match in Moscow last year. Photograph: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty

President of Fifa Gianni Infantino, Russian president Vladimir Putin and French president Emmanuel Macron during the award ceremony following the World Cup final match in Moscow last year. Photograph: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty

In the prologue to this heavyweight rebuke of the international football scene, David Goldblatt takes us back to the night of Sunday, July 13th, 2014, when Germany met Argentina in the World Cup final in Rio. One billion people watched the game; 3.2 billion watched some part of the tournament. He uses an omniscient eye to portray the efforts people made that evening – British scientists in Antarctica huddled around a shortwave radio; a satellite dish grabbing a signal for refugees in Syria; football fans gathered under a bridge in bombed-out Yemen – to watch the big match. The fascination is universal.

“No shared moment will come closer to who we are demographically,” Goldblatt writes. He reserves a more caustic eye for events in the Maracanã stadium, where heads of state and sports and celebrities have gathered – Ashton Kutcher, Placido Domingo and LeBron James are among the great and the good. “That tiresome old war horse of self-promotion, Mick Jagger, has become an ever-present at these occasions, and young pretenders like David Beckham are equally available for the paparazzi,” Goldblatt tells us in a tone that promises fun. “But both will be eclipsed today by Rihanna, who will be live-tweeting the whole match from the stands.”

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