Soccer Against the Enemy is a book which chronicles the impact that society has upon soccer, and soccer upon society in various countries throughout the world. The author, Simon Kuper, is a Dutch born writer who has been around the world of soccer for most of his life and has written for numerous publications in Europe. The problem for Kuper is that he wrote this book towards the beginning of his career, and there are a few sections of this book where this becomes obvious. The fact that Kuper was a 23 year old traveling the world on an extremely limited budget gives him some excuse for this, and makes it a distraction that isn't too noticeable.
Along with these rough parts, the full title; Soccer Against the Enemy: How the World's Most Popular Sport Starts and Fuels Revolutions and Keeps Dictators in Power, is somewhat misleading. The majority of this book is not focused on this specific statement. Rather, the author spends time examining why soccer culture is the way it is in different countries. He spends time within some chapters addressing dictators and revolutions, notably the section on African soccer, and spends time on it in the Argentina chapter, but for many others, he seemingly ignores politics, or at least politics as we think of them in the traditional sense.
With that said, Kuper does very well in his examination of why soccer is played the way it is. His look into African soccer really gives an insight into what life is like there. He shows the absolute dictatorial rule that many people suffer under, and how soccer can become the one true expression of how people feel. This startling insight can catch the reader off guard.
Kuper looks at all sorts of aspects in the world of soccer. His journey spans five continents and over twenty countries. He talks to politicians, generals, coaches, and players to get a full view of everyones perspective on the game. This perspective is added to by the breadth of teams which he involves himself with. From Barcelona, to Dynamo Kiev, to the United States National Team, Kuper goes everywhere and talks to so many players that the reader really gets a full view of what soccer is throughout the world. The only thing that eclipses Kuper's breadth of teams, is the variety of countries he visits, including but not limited to, Russia, Croatia, South Africa, Cameroon, and Argentina. Kuper's goal is to give perspective from throughout the world, and he succeeds in this.
Kuper's segment on the Celtic v. Rangers rivalry is among the best in the book. It really shows the intensity and history behind the rivalry. This section alone defines the passion that soccer fans around the world have. However, the best section of the book was the add on chapter for the American version. This chapter, entitled Global Game, Global Jihad, details the impact that the game of soccer has on developing Middle Eastern countries in conjunction with radical Islam. It isn't a controversial chapter, just a statement of facts that helps details how soccer has turned so political in that part of the world.
When reading this book it is sometimes slightly confusing as to where exactly the author is trying to go. There are times where the big picture gets lost in the details, but once finished with the chapter everything tends to fall into place. I would suggest this book for a soccer fan of every level. It really gives a good look into why things are the way that they are in certain countries. The look at mafia ties in Eastern Europe, religious convictions, geographical and ethnic divisions, and the plight of third world countries to be noticed reveal stories that are usually kept under wraps in the soccer world. Kuper does a great job explaining these stories, and provides great information that can only come from first hand accounts like his.