Prolific Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano died today after a long battle with lung cancer, according reports from media in Uruguay. The 74 year-old, a leading voice for the Latin American left, wrote dozens of fiction and non-fiction works over a writing career that spanned more than fifty years. He is perhaps best known for his 1971 book Open Veins of Latin America, which criticized the capitalist and imperialist economic exploitation of the South American continent, and made headlines in 2009 when Hugo Chávez gifted Barack Obama with a copy.
Less famous but just as seminal, was Galeano’s 1995 soccer classic, Fútbol a Sol y Sombra, an ode to the beautiful game and also a blistering critique of the systems of power that have profited from turning it into one of the world’s most lucrative games.
For last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, The Nation Books translated and edited an English version of the book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Here, we revisit five of its most memorable quotes.
On the game as worship
“I’ve finally accepted myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outsretched, and in the stadiums I plead ‘A pretty move for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.”
On the ghosts that live in empty stadiums
“Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of spectators.
At Wembley, shouts from the 1966 World Cup, which England won, still resound, and if you listen very closely you can hear groans from 1953 when England fell to the Hungarians. Montevideo’s Centenario Stadium sighs with nostalgia for the glory days of Uruguayan soccer. Maracanã is still crying over Brazil’s 1950 World Cup defeat. At Bombonera in Buenos Aires, drums boom from half a century ago. From the depths of Azteca Stadium, you can hear the ceremonial chants of the ancient Mexican ball game. The concrete terraces of Camp Nou in Barcelona speak Catalan, and the stands of San Mamés in Bilbao talk in Basque. In Milan, the ghosts of Giuseppe Meazza scores goals that shake the stadium bearing his name. The final match of the 1974 World Cup, won by Germany, is played day after day and night after night at Munich’s Olympic Stadium. King Fahd Stadium in Saudi Arabia has marble and gold boxes and carpeted stands, but it has no memory or much of anything to say.”
“[Garrincha] was the one who would climb out of the training camp window because he heard from some far-off back alley call of a ball asking to be played with, music demanding to be danced to, a woman wanting to be kissed.”
“Whoever believes physical size and tests of speed or strength have anything to do with a soccer player’s prowess is sorely mistaken. Just as mistaken as those who believe that IQ tests have anything to do with talent or that there is a relationship between penis size and sexual pleasure. Good soccer players need not to be titans sculpted by Michelangelo. In soccer, ability is much more important than shape, and in many cases skill is the art of turning limitations into virtues.”
On Preserving Soccer Diversity
“An astonishing void: official history ignores soccer. Contemporary history texts fail to mention it, even in passing, in countries where soccer has been and continues to be a primordial symbol of collective identity. I play therefore I am: a style of play is a way of being that reveals the unique profile of each community and affirms its right to be different. Tell me how you play and I’ll tell you who you are. For many years soccer has been played in different styles, unique expressions of the personality of each people, and the preservation of that diversity seems to me more necessary today than ever before. These are days of obligatory uniformity, in soccer and everything else. Never has the world been so unequal in the opportunities it offers and so equalizing in the habits it imposes: in this end of century world, whoever does not die of hunger dies of boredom.”