About The Long Ball to Freedom:
This summer, I will be going to South Africa to fulfill a life-long dream of watching the World Cup. I am starting this blog to share my experiences on the trip; share my thoughts on the competition, the teams and the players; and to reflect on the wider meaning and significance of football: the political, economic and social undertones to the world’s game.
From a very young age, I have had a thing for The Beautiful Game. This liking grew to an obsession when my family moved to Brazil for a couple of years, and I had the pleasure of watching some games in the greatest football stadium in the world—the Maracana. Trust me: there is nothing like the Maracana, and once you’ve watched a game there, you will be hooked for life.
Football is far more than just a game for me; it is the most common and unifying human experience of today’s world. I have played and watched the game with thousands of people from all over the world—everywhere from Saudi Arabia, Rio de Janeiro, Amman, Ramallah, Beirut, London, New York and more. Football truly is the world’s most universal language. You could get children from all over the world, none of whom speak each other’s language, give them a football, and they’d organize themselves into a game in no time. All barriers of race, language, ethnicity, religion and nationality vanish; they pale into triviality next to the captivating magic of playing football. Nothing else offers humans that sort of shared experience. No sport, music or other experience even compares to the Beautiful Game.
The special thing about this World Cup and my trip is that it is held in South Africa. As a Palestinian growing up under Israeli apartheid in Ramallah, I have always been fascinated by the story of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. In this trip, I want to see what has happened to South Africa, how it relates to Palestine, and how all of this relates to the World Cup, football and the world’s game. The links between politics and football are a topic that amuses me, and that amusement will be on display in this blog for all to share.
The title of this blog is a play on the title of one of my favorite books, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. If you’ve not read it yet, read it. Also, I am a fan of England—the historic merchants of the long ball. For some strange reason, I thought this play on words would be cute. If you don’t think it is, don’t let that put you off. The rest of the blog will not try much of this stuff!
About Saifedean Ammous:
I am Lecturer of Economics at the Lebanese American University and final-year candidate for PhD in Sustainable Development in Columbia University.
I’ve been a devout fan of the great Liverpool and the great Vasco da Gama for a very long time, and have suffered immense heart-ache as a result. I have also experienced supreme joy: I was in Istanbul on May 25, 2005, to watch Liverpool come back from 3-0 down to defeat AC Milan in one of the most memorable games in the history of football.
England are my international team—football fandom is pathological and incurable. No matter how many disappointing performances they put in, no matter how little their overpaid prima donnas care about winning, no matter how abjectly disjointed the team is; I continue to choose to suffer supporting it. The old saying of England was “More in hope than expectation,” and this has led to a lot of hopes being dashed. This time, however, I have as little hope as I have expectations of the Three Lions. At least I won’t be disappointed, and the inevitable gutless quarter-final exit will be easier to stomach.
After England, I’d love to see the Dutch win, like many football connoisseurs. The Dutch have for decades amazed the world with some of the most exciting and joyous football to watch, but have never won the World Cup—always failing in the most heart-wrenching and painful manner possible. This year’s team promises to be one of their best ever, which might mean victory, but more likely will entail spectacular, inexplicable and devastating failure.
Having lived in Brazil between 1987 and 1989, I was lucky enough to witness the emergence of one of football’s greatest talents, Romario, then a wonderkid with Vasco da Gama. He remains my favorite footballer of all time, followed by the great Robbie Fowler and Steven Gerrard. I also have a strange fetish for 3-5-2 and think that it is the solution to every team’s problems.