Sunday, July 22, 2012

Political football: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and sports mysteries

When FC Barcelona's Jordi Alba scored the second goal in Spain's demolition of Italy at the Euro 2012 soccer championships earlier this month, and Andrés Iniesta, who also plays for Barcelona, was named the tournament's best player, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's friends, relatives, and readers must have smiled.

The late Barcelona-born crime writer was a huge fan of the soccer team, so huge that the FC Barcelona Foundation has sponsored a journalism award in his name since 2004. (Crime fiction readers may be more impressed that Andrea Camilleri named his protagonist Salvo Montalbano in homage to Vázquez Montalbán, possibly for the Spanish author's love of food as well as for his politics.)

Off Side, a 1989 novel first translated into English in 2000 and now reissued by Melville House, has protagonist Pepe Carvalho called in to protect FC Barcelona's newly signed English center forward against a death threat. (That probably dates the book because these days, English football is long on money but apparently short on world-class home-grown players. Top continental footballers are likelier to sign with English clubs than vice versa.)

Vázquez Montalbán was a sharp observer of the high and the low, and my favorite bit so far is of the high, namely of the Barcelona team's chairman at the news conference where the English star's signing is announced:
"He had been on the point of becoming, variously, a minister in the Spanish government, a councillor in the autonomous government of Catalonia, and mayor of Barcelona. At sixty years of age he had suddenly discovered tiredness, and a feat that this tiredness would cause him to disappear from the public stage that he had occupied continuously ever since he had become the great white hope of the progressive business community under Franco."
***
While commuting home to my copy of Off Side, I browsed Murder in the Raw (also published as Ring Around the Rosa (1955) by William Campbell Gault, which begins thus:
"THERE IS AN OLD GRIDIRON WHEEZE that states a guard is only a fullback with his brains knocked out. I have met some rather bright guards and some extremely stupid fullbacks, but what is a fact measured against the generality? I’d played a few years of guard, myself, the more prominent years with the Rams and made a lot of friends in Los Angeles. So it figured that when the boys began to clobber me, Los Angeles was the logical place to open up a business."
Since fate has me reading about football on both sides of the Atlantic, I'll ask what your favorite crime novels set in the world of sports are. That may be tricky, at least for readers of American crime fiction. Sports was once a popular category of pulp fiction, alongside crime, military, romance, and adventure, but no longer. So, your alternate question: When did sports lose favor as a crime-fiction category, and why?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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31 Comments:

Blogger verymessi said...

Thanks for this post, Peter. Being a huge fan of Barcelona,asyou can tell from my user name, I did not know of any mysteries that dealt with a sports theme. I will certainly look for the Montalban books.

Politics is also a great interest of mine. When I am not reading noir and such, I read political books and try to stay as active as i can in various political actions.

If you like football/soccer fan, I recommend highly "Football in Sun and Shadow" by the great South American author Edwardo Galeano who mostly writes on political matters. His "Open Veins of Latin America.."is one the most important book ever written on western colonialism / imperialism.

"Football..." is a terrific book. Beautifully writing on the beautiful game.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Also Spain Italy in the final of Euro 2012, not Germany. Germany would have lost also.

Sorry if this posts twice..seem to be having some computer problems. Don't think my first post went through.

July 22, 2012  
Anonymous proper manky said...

That should be "... demolition of Italy ..."

There's an old book called The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble. I think there's also a follow-up title, but I only read the first one a long time ago. Don't remember it as a great one, but for the mix of soccer and mystery it was passable.

Best general "book" on soccer is The Soccer War by Rysard Kapuscinski about the 1969 political conflict between Honduras and El Salvador. The book is actually a collecting of essays and this is the only one involving soccer but is the best one.

Somewhat related: We have a soccer injury to thank for Harry Hole. Jo Nesbø used to play soccer for Norwegian Premier League team Molde before blowing out his knees ending his dream to eventually play for Tottenham Hotspurs.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

verymessi – a very cool name.

Thanks for the recommendation. I’m only casual fan of soccer/football, but I believe Galeano has been recommended to me before. Also, in 2003, I saw Barcelona and Manchester United play a friendly here in Philadelphia. Ronaldinho made a stunning, thread-the-needle pass that led to a goal and Man U won on the strength of two goals by Galeano;s countryman Diego Forlan.

If you’re interested in noir an politics, you may well like Vázquez Montalbán, Dominique Manotti, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Leonardo Sciascia, Jean-Claude Izzo, and Andrea Camilleri. If you’ve read them, you know how food they are. If you haven’t, you have much good reading ahead.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Manky: Is “Manky” short for “Mancunian”? If so, you’ll be happy with the result of the friendly I mentioned above. Man U beat FC Barcelona, 3-1.

A former colleague of mine is a big Arsenal fan. I should ask him is he knows about The Arsenal Stadium Mystery – or recommend the book to him. And many thanks for the Ryszard Kapuscinski recommendation. I also knew Nesbø had played soccer, but I didn’t know he played on as high a level as Norway’s Premier League. Thanks again.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks to you both for pointing out my error about the losing team. I should have remembered that Italy was the losing team, if only because of a funny remark that someone made before the game: One thing is sure, that the Italian team will be crying after the game whether it wins or loses.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Manky: Of course, you won't be happy if you support Manchester City.

July 22, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I haven't read Declan Hughes, but I remember being in a bookshop and browsing one of his books, I forget the name, which opened with a shooting during a League of Ireland match at Tolka Park.

I went to what you would call High School almost within spitting distance of Tolka Park. And the familiarity of the setting had me bored to tears after just a couple of paragraphs. Crime fiction is, to quote a phrase, more fun away from home.

I'll take your word that sport is no longer a popular category of pulp fiction, but if a humble commenter may ask the questions, what are the great pulp fiction sport/s stories?

By the way, manky is slang (Scottish, I think) for dirty.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks in re "manky." I remember you had cited the Declan Hughes examples when discussion turned to crime fiction set close to one's home.

I don't remember any great pulp romance, military, or aviation stories either, but I know that magazines once published them, along with pulp sports. Crime (and romance) are probably the only categories of pulp fiction that survived the pulp era in a big way.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

manky [ˈmæŋkɪ]
adj mankier, mankiest Slang
1. worthless, rotten, or in bad taste
2. dirty, filthy, or bad
[via Polari from Italian mancare to be lacking]

July 22, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Peter,

Thanks for your recommendations. Sciascia was already on my list from one of your earlier posts.

Yes, Ronaldinho was great for Barca for a few years. Too much night life and the fear he would be a bad influence on Messi lead to Barcelona getting rid of him, and Forlan is was a terrific player who never fit in with ManU for whatever reason.

Really enjoy your blog!

July 22, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I remember you had cited the Declan Hughes examples when discussion turned to crime fiction set close to one's home

I'm always appalled at my own lapses of memory. I'm glad I'm not the only one who suffers from such things. I remember reading about a guy who had the most distinct recollection of listening to a baseball game when he was a child and remembering it being interrupted by a newsflash about the bombing of Peral Harbor, only to realise decades later that the Pearl Harbor bombing took place in December and there are no professional baseball games in December.

Strange thing, memory. I'd swear I've never mentioned Declan Hughes before. At least, that's what my memory tells me. I wouldn't bet any money on it, though.

Manky may be Scottish in origin, but it's fairly common here in Ireland, too.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Verymessi, I'm no expert on world football, but it sure seems to me that top players never stay with one club very long.

I saw some spectacular football in that friendly, perhaps because the players could relax and show off. Forlan scored a goal on a diving header, there was Ronaldinho's pass, and Ruud van Nistelrooi willed himself poast two defenders for another spectacular goal.

Thanks for the kind words. (Earlier editions of Off Side, by the way, feature jerseys with Barca colors on the cover. I have been to Barcelona, but I say no soccer there.)

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, earlier this week I edited a story that included a woman's recollection of doing something in 1960 that the U.S. Constitution would not have permitted her to do until 1971.

You may have forgotten mentionin Hughes because you had only browsed the book.

Of course, I could be misremembering, too.

July 22, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I just checked, Peter. As ever, you are correct. I did make a similiar comment about Hughes's book just last January (Google never lies). Bloody hell! I shall have to have a proper maintainance job done on my memory cells. Be back just as soon as that's done.

July 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your tempestuous -- not to say occasionally cranky -- rhetoric makes your comments easy to remember.

July 22, 2012  
Anonymous proper manky said...

Yes, the definition for manky is correct. But, fwiw, “proper manky” is an expression found in John Lanchester’s excellent novel Capital, meaning something close to the right kind of dirty, not cleaned up or tarted up.

July 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You mean, genuinely dirty, not just rich boys slumming it on a Saturday night?

July 23, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Hi Peter,

Just wanted to let you know i ordered "Off Side." Will be top of my pile when it arrives.

Did a little checking on Montalban...

It seems like he was member of or at least sympathetic to the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT, who were kind of the intellectual heart of the Spanish Revolution until it was destroyed by both left and right.. Montalban also spent 4 years in one of Franco's prisons for his support of a miners strike. So even before I have read one of his books I like him already!

Thanks

July 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome. I knew Montalban has been jailed for years for supporting a miners' stroke, but I did not know that his group had enemies on the left as well as the right. That makes him even more interesting.

Thanks, and enjoy the book.

July 24, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

HI Again Peter,

Well the Spanish Revolution/Civil war-I use both terms since both were going on at the same time-is a complicated affair...I cant go into it obviously, but a very good and easy to find history is Orwells "Homage to Catalonia."

There are other books better than Orwells but you have to look in really hardcore leftist anarchist bookstores to find them and there are not too many of those around!! AKpress has published a lot on the topic if you are interested.

I was referring to the Revolution being being destroyed by both left and right not so much Montalban, since when he went to jail the fascists were firmly in power,

Anyway, will post a review on amazon after I read Off Side and let you know when I do. Thanks again!

July 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It might not be a bad idea to refresh my memory and read Homage to Catalonia again, for the first time in years -- and to return to Spain and another visit to Guernica.

July 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read some of what Eduardo Galeano thought of how commecialization had harmed soccer. Perhaps Montalban might not have been so thrilled after all about Barcelona's money-fueled success after all.

July 24, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Well I don't know how it can be avoided in this day and age.

One of the reasons I like Barca as much-besides the beautiful style of play- as i do is that they do rely heavily on the youth system to develop many of their players...Xavi, Pedro, Puyol, Iniesta, Valdez, Fabergas, Pique, Busquets, and the greatest of the all, Messi, all came out of the Barcelona youth training facility La masia.

But yes, Barca like any other club doles out the big money to get top flight talent..Sometimes it has worked great like with David Villa, or been a bust with Zlatan Ibrahimovich who I thought would be a bust since I felt his style would not mesh well with Barca. It did not and he was gone after one year.

But yeah, like all big time sports-and life in general-the rich get richer and the rest of us suffer the best we can.

July 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The club system in European soccer constantly amazes me, that 10-year-old kids could be part the same system as the world's greatest players. And, at least in England's league and conference system, the idea that the humblest amateur club and the Chelseas, Arsenals, and Man U's are part of one unified organization, and could, in theory, eventually wind up changing places, is almost hallucinogenic in its novelty for we North American sports fans.

One wondes how Manuel Vazquez Montalban would have reacted to the explosion of money in soccer. My guess is that he would rail against it but that love of the game would win out in a bitter but entertaining struggle.

July 25, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Hello Peter,

Here is just a quick snipet from Wikipedia on the famous May Days in Barcelona which was the final blow to the revolution..The violence and supression by the state, not Franco, of the worker take over of industry. I forgot about the film "Land and Freedom" mentioned in the link..Not that is scholarship but it gives you sense of what went on...

Again there is a lot of scholarship on the communist destruction of the revolution and Orwell wrote about in "Homage..."

There are ideological reasons for the suppresion-which mirrors Bolshevik action in Kronstadt, or say Lenin's attack against independant Soviets who voted for others besides the Bolsheviks etc...Its a long story that has roots all the way back to the battles between Bakunin and Marx in the 1st International..

Stalin also was acting in the interests of British capital when he moved to crush the revolution because he wanted to show the Brits and the west in general he could be counted on the do the right thing because he wanted an alliance against Hitler etc...Again a long complicated story..

Anyway hope that helps and again there is a ton of scholarship on this topic-the battle between anarchism and authoritarian socialism(Marxist/leninism) which goes back to marx and bakunin,and the real politik of Stalin in Spain..

Sorry for typos...writng fast from work,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona_May_Days

July 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. And no need to apologize for typos. "Correct" spelling is the bourgeoisie's way of keeping the workers down.

July 26, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Ha!! I laughed out loud at that one,Peter.

July 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, standardized spelling in English does coincide with the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment, so who knows?

Of course, I am a newspaper copy editor in America, so I am living witness to the proposition that history does reverse itself sometimes.

July 26, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

I learned on another blog i visit that I have been miss spelling Spain when referring to the National Team.

The correct spelling is Sparca!!

July 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Eight players on a 23-man squad? Visca España!

July 28, 2012  

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