Joe McGinniss (1942-2014) On Sporting Obsession

In lieu of a re-post from an off-site article today, instead I thought I’d share a little something.

Joe McGinniss was an American/journalist author, noted for several books on political issues, like The Selling Of The President 1968. He died three weeks ago.

One of his lesser known works is very far removed from politics though. McGinniss was a huge sports fan, and became obsessed with the sport of football (that’s association football for any Americans reading, or “soccer”) around the mid-nineties. In order to feed that obsession, and to pursue a very viable journalistic interest, he spent a full season travelling around and becoming very intimate with Castel di Sangro, a small town Italian team that achieved the minor miracle of being promoted as far as the Italian Serie B, the second highest division in Italian football.

They did so with a mix of hard graft and good old fashioned luck. McGinniss’ subsequent account of their year at this dizzying height is one of the most gripping accounts of the sport I have ever read, and I’m stunned that the book is not better known. The story of that season is more than just that of a football team from a town of barely 5’000 people. It encompasses a wide range of emotions and themes: elation, disgust, family, enmity, determination, laziness, honesty, corruption, triumph and tragedy. It is a wonderful book, and something that, if you’re a football fan, I would well advise you to check out. At some point, I may offer some more elongated words on the extraordinary story within its pages.

For the moment, I just want to print out a few paragraphs that really spoke to me. McGinniss is a total outsider, both to the sport and to the team that he becomes attached to. Yet, he still forms an immense attachment, and his words to the effect resonate because they are the kind of thing I have often felt but never been quite able to enunciate clearly. And they can apply to any sport really:

“My heart and mind were with my team. The Uruguayan novelist Edoardo Galeano writes of the ‘melancholy I who had been we’ as the end of the match forces disengagement and the fan ‘returns to his solitude.’ But for me, in Castel di Sangro, there was no such separation. I and the team were now one all week long and – however ridiculous or even pathetic it may sound – it was that union which gave passion and meaning to my life.

Call me irresponsible. Call me juvenile, irrational, selfish, foolhardy, and neurotic. Forse cosi. Maybe so. I make no defence. I have none to offer. I could no more control my obsession than I could reverse the direction of the tides.

In a further description of the calico fanatic, Galeano refers to ‘the remains of the shipwreck that once passed for his mind.’ In most instances their words went unspoken, but it was evident that this was all they saw when those who had known me best looked in my direction now. How little sense they had of the richness of the life I led as a stranger in a strange land.”


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