Home and Away is an underrated football book. It’s the rare football book not written by an ex-pro or football journalist. Instead, it’s two friends, two writers, Karl Ove Knansgaard and Fredrik Ekelund, corresponding during the 2014 World Cup.
Between exchanges on fatherhood, immigration, writing, feminism, and reading there’s the football, and what it means to each of them. And while these letters were sent via email, their tone brings back the days of pen-pals and ink stained stationary.
One passage in particular struck me. In an entry marked Glemmingebro, 18 June, Knansgaard intertwines Diego Maradona and Virginia Woolf’s generational talents. He concludes that unless you’ve tried over and over to play in midfield, to play the perfect pass, or control the ball under pressure, or labored for years over words and sentences and bringing characters to life, that it can be difficult to appreciate how amazing Maradona’s and Woolf’s feats are.
What is it about Maradona? Why does he merit our admiration? After all, he was only a footballer. Perhaps you have to grow up with football to understand, go through all the stages, perhaps it is not possible to understand how liberating it can be, how impossible something is if you yourself don’t physically know the ground rules, the framework and its limits? It is a little like writing. Only the person who has written a lot, really tried to form words and sentences for many years, with total dedication, can actually understand and admire the opening of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which I have chosen as an example because of the theme, because only someone who has tried themselves will be able to appreciate how extremely difficult it is to breathe life into a character as Woolf does, not only that, into a whole era, milieu and culture, and render it in such fresh, vigorous, indeed such uniquely precise terms. If you have run around the midfield for many years and hit passes to teammates, simple, unspectacular passes, if you have chested balls, laid on crosses and shot at goal, you know in yourself how magical and impossible, original and amazingly unexpected Maradona’s play was. I can’t think of anyone who has even been close.
But why admire that?
It is only football after all.
It won’t lead anywhere, change anything or create anything either, for the moment something is done it has also disappeared. Nothing lasts in football.
The counter question is why not?
It is a game. It is anti-seriousness. Anti-meaning. Anti-intellectual.
It is the kitten chasing after the ball of wool, it is the horse running alongside the fence snorting, it is the falcon gliding on the wind, it is the otter sliding down the snow-covered mountain on its back, it is that which has no meaning, it is only fun. It is a sparkle.
And no one had more of that sparkle than Maradona.