Of football as literary material and of "culture of collective effort"

It is no coincidence that the date with which it starts We were never happier (Tusquets) is a famous quote by Albert Camus about football. "Everything I know with greater certainty about the morals and obligations of men I owe to football," said the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature, a football player in his youth in Algeria and an ethical and democratic benchmark. This attitude of the French writer clearly hangs over the last book by Carlos Marzal (Valencia, 1961), a poet awarded the National Prize for Literature, among others, who mixes here genres ranging from memoirs to reporting, from short story to story. chronic, and always with a poetic breath of love and friendship. And all this revolving around the world of football in its many facets and in its infinite aspects and with a tone of reflective literature of an author who stops to meditate, who founded his career as a poet here (Heavy metals, out of me ...) with that of narrator (The realms of chance) or that of a newspaper columnist.

Marzal fits into that minority of writers who love football and claim it as literary material compared to a majority of Spanish intellectuals who despise football. "It is true", comments the Valencian writer in a conversation with elDiario.es, "that many intellectuals hate this sport and continue to consider it a kind of opium of the people. The causes of this attitude point to a simplistic identification of football with Francoism or Either to false prejudices on the subject or perhaps to the fact that they have not played with a ball in their childhood. I think that no one is immune after experiencing the illusion that soccer awakens in children and, in fact, it is a hobby that prints character. to affirm that soccer is not of the right or of the left, it is played by rich people and poor people and attracts crowds on five continents. Therefore, I claim that it can become a very attractive subject for literature. " Also a player in his youth, Carlos Marzal has accompanied his young son to games, training sessions and trips for years in such a way that this father-child relationship, with football as mortar, is among the ingredients of this original book structured in short chapters, in short and entertaining stories. "I am a writer without a plan and I discover the text as I write it," he says.

So what values ​​can the often maligned football teach kids today? Marzal does not hesitate in the answer because somehow We were never happier is geared towards answering that question. "Soccer is an authentic school of life", manifests Marzal appealing to Camus, "which teaches discipline, also culture of collective effort, which relativizes success and failure and encourages people to live in the present, to enjoy the pleasure of the game". However, the author is not naive when he also highlights the dark sides of the most popular sport. With a touch of nostalgia for the practice of soccer that his generation saw a few decades ago, less commercialized and more playful than today, Marzal believes that that time has passed into history. "Now," he clarifies, "I continue to bet on the quarries of players, on teams that promote the progression of the club's boys. On the other hand, I condemn any form of violence in stadiums, although it should be clarified that violent episodes represent a percentage irrelevant in football if we take into account the thousands of matches that are played daily around the world. Furthermore, football can have a cathartic function, to purge our demons ".

Marzal admits that the relationship between football and literature still maintains a gender gap today, since only a few Spanish authors, like the recently deceased Almudena Grandes or the young Elena Medel, have shown interest in this sport or have included it as a theme in their works. "It is true," Marzal points out, "that the rise of women's football, the increasing influx of fans to the stadiums, or the increased presence of female sports information journalists have not translated into literary creation by female writers. So, it seems It is indisputable that until now only men have used football as literary material. But things will change. Sure. "

Marzal's interest in soccer follows in the wake of novelists, poets and essayists who for half a century have turned their passion for the ball into literature. In Spain stand out, in the first row, names such as the essayist Vicente Verdú, author of a reference text such as Myths, rites and symbols of football; the novelist and journalist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, a confessed culé and author of books such as Soccer, a religion in search of a God; or Ramiro Pinilla, who signed the story That unforgettable age. But many others have ventured, to a greater or lesser extent, into that football world such as Javier Marías, Julio Llamazares, Manuel Rivas and even classics such as Miguel Delibes or José Luis Sampedro. They are all included, for example, in Football stories, a collective book published in 1995 and coordinated by Jorge Valdano, where, by the way, only one woman collaborated: Rosa Regás.

"If we extend the payroll of football writers to Latin America," says Diego Barcala, director of Líbero magazine and an expert on the subject, "we also find first-division authors such as Uruguayans Eduardo Galeano and Mario Benedetti, Mexican Juan Villoro or the Argentine Osvaldo Soriano. It should be remembered that for many Latin Americans, football is an identity factor for their country, their city and even their neighborhood. This identity factor is also present in authors such as Vázquez Montalbán and his connection with Barça. ". Although Barcala explains that the use of football as the plot of a novel or an essay is not very frequent, he goes on to point out that in recent times we are witnessing an editorial saturation of the subject in the form of biographies of players, comics, illustrated books and the genre self-help. At the head of a singular magazine like Líbero, which runs quarterly and focuses on the relationship between football and literature, cinema or history, Diego Barcala criticizes those who despise popular culture from an elitist position. "I want to remember", he comments, "as a significant example that Almudena Grandes, a faithful follower of Atlético de Madrid, always complained that the left suffered from great myopia by not recognizing the values ​​of the couplet or football. They are elitist and biased views because these types of popular cultural manifestations are universal and transversal. There was football with Alfonso XIII, with the Republic, with the Franco regime and with democracy. "


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