All Right, I Give in, Novels about Football (Soccer)

Everyone seems to be publishing lists of their must-read, English-language books about football (or soccer, where the lists are American). After all, we English speakers do seem to be terribly fond of lists.

Books that are list regulars are Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and Joe McGinniss’ The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. No Arabic books about football/soccer that I’ve noted.

I, too, am having a hard time coming up with a list of Arabic literature that features football in an important role. Perhaps you can add your own.

*Drumbeat, of course, by Mohamed al-Bisatie. In Drumbeat, the national team of an “Emirate” qualifies for the World Cup, and the country empties out as everyone is required to go to France and cheer on the team. We don’t watch much football in this book, but we do see the insanity and euphoria that attends it.

*Moon over Samarqand, by Mohamed Mansi Qandil. In the latter part of the novel, titled “My Tales,” the narrator—Ali—plays out a sometimes-violent battle with an Islamist rival on the football pitch.

*And, speaking of football and Islamism, Khaled al-Berry attributes joining the Islamist group Al Jama’a Islamiyya to football in his memoir Life is More Beautiful Than Paradise: A Jihadist’s Own Story.

*The great poet Mahmoud Darwish talks soccer, among other things, in Memory for Forgetfulness, which you can read as part of our Summer Reading Challenge (and win!).

*I can’t think of novels where Naguib Mahfouz places soccer front and center, however, soccer does feature in The Mahfouz Dialogs, by Gamal al-Ghitani, and the NYTimes places him as center back on their literary football team:

As a child Mahfouz played street soccer in Cairo’s Abbassiya section on land also used to stage Islamic festivals commemorating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, with Egypt under British occupation, he says soccer had special allure, “It was the only thing in which we could beat the British without anyone complaining.” At some point, though, “I switched from football to reading,” Mahfouz tells Al-Ahram Weekly.

Nevertheless, he continued to attend matches involving Cairo rivals Zamalek and Al-Ahly and regularly met friends at a neighborhood qahwa (café) to talk about soccer. He named a collection of stories, “Qushtumur” (1988), after the establishment. Two years before his death, in 2006, he publicly backed Egypt’s unsuccessful bid for the 2010 World Cup. In his final months he rejoiced in Egypt’s fifth Africa Cup of Nations championship (the sixth came in 2008). “Now we play to forget our sorrows,” he said.

(Thanks to Bibi for the NYTimes link.)

I’m sure I’m missing any number of gems. But perhaps that’s what you should be doing this summer—writing the great football novel.