Some Thoughts On Writing About Soccer. . .

I just posted a blog to Football Is Coming Home on South Africa’s early round loss to Nigeria in the 2014 African Nations Championship.  Check it out here; please feel free to distribute widely and comment.

I wanted to post about my post (holy redundancy!), because in South African History in the Digital Age last week we briefly discussed how anxiety-ridden the act of blogging can be.  I am not really concerned about posting blogs about South African history or digital history; those are pretty comfortable fields for me (though when I see that people from around the world are reading my writing, my stomach does perform some gymnastics).  But posting on soccer continues to be a source of major anxiety for me.

My interest in, and subsequent scholarship, on soccer is fairly new; I didn’t really get exposed to soccer in any kind of substantial way until I moved to Michigan last year.  Since then, my knowledge of futbol has expanded rapidly.  From my interactions with other graduate students who were football fans and players and sometimes scholars of the game to my relationship with my PhD advisor, Peter Alegi, soccer became a major part of both my academic and personal life.

Building off these relationships, when I was given a teaching assistantship for Peter’s Culture of Soccer course, I found myself immersed in new material on the global game (read my reflections on this experience here); many times struggling to keep up with the students as they digested the material simultaneously.  But, as time went on, I found my footing and really started to enjoy delving into this scholarship.  When I left to travel to South Africa in June 2013, I was excited to finally delve into the football culture that I was familiar with only in an academic sense.

My time in South Africa kicked up my interest in football by about a million degrees.  In addition to observing how South Africans digested international and domestic football, I was also profoundly impacted by the prevalence of soccer in South Africans’ everyday lives (or at least the lives of the South Africans that I was in contact with).  You couldn’t drive 5k without seeing a makeshift football pitch on the side of the road; no meal was complete without the patriarchs of the family getting into an argument about the latest PSL matches; and every child that I came into contact with seemed to exude genuine joy when a soccer ball came into their field of vision.

While I was in South Africa, I also traveled to Pietermaritzburg and spent a few days with the Izichwe Football Club.  I have written about my experiences with this club frequently.  This organization showed me the great potential of soccer, and sport in general, to impact society with a grassroots approach, as opposed to its individual athletic benefits.  I left South Africa in love with soccer; not only the beautiful game, but also its capacity to inspire, motivate, and change lives.

I ventured into writing about this topic tentatively.  As I wrote my pieces, I found myself reading other soccer writers and questioning my qualification to contribute to this discussion.  But, as I’ve continued, due in great deal to public affirmations via Twitter and commentary, I feel like I’m gaining some confidence.

But this piece I wrote yesterday is different.  I went into writing it with very strong opinions and a very specific point of view.  And seeing it up on the website was terrifying.  What if I offend someone?  What if people don’t agree?  What if I missed something?  So I’ve been refreshing the page every five minutes, hoping (yet fearing at the same time) that someone has commented.

Why does electronic writing inspire so much anxiety and fear?  What’s so different from academic writing?  Is it because this forum is more instantaneous than traditional scholarly writing?  Is anyone else feeling like this?

That being said, I’m proud of this piece.  It’s building a foundation for more substantive work on soccer and development in South Africa that I’ve been working on for a while and it’s nice to test the waters.  I just hope that there are no sharks lurking. . .

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