“The 7 Questions” is a new sports questionnaire — the Eephus way of catching a snapshot of the fan’s life. From writers to artists and beyond, we bring you answers every Monday(ish) morning.
Today, we get the answers from David Goldblatt, the author of the new book The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, as well as The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer and Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer. He writes for the Times Literary Supplement and the Guardian and has taught the sociology of sport at Bristol University, the International Center for Sports History and Culture, and Pitzer College in Los Angeles.
1. When was the last time sports made you cry?
With joy, laughter, despair, or sorrow? FIFA’s 2015 congress and Sepp Blatter’s in and out routine was pretty good entertainment, though nothing really matches him dancing at the FIFA congress in 2014 on the eve of the Brazil World Cup. Brazil’s 7-1 disintegration is surely in there somewhere. John Terry slipping over and missing that Champions League penalty was sweet. Acts of violence, racism, sexism, and homophoboia, as Marvin Gaye said “make me wanna holler some time and throw up both my hands.”
2. What’s your most treasured piece of sports apparel or memorabilia?
A fabulous art nouveau influenced poster from the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, nothing in world football’s canon of art comes close. An official ashtray from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when such a thing was possible. A ticket from a Chelsea-Sunderland game I went to in 2006 to remind me how arid and alienating commercialized sport can be. A really useless gas mask I wore while attending the demonstrations in 2014 in Rio during the final of the Confederations Cup.
3. Competed in any sports lately, at any level?
These days I’m excelling at saunas, steam rooms, and swimming. Over the last few years I’ve tried my hand at handball (great fun in a wholesome and very Scandinavian way); fencing (unbelievably tough and demanding); clay pigeon shooting (not unpleasant but I’m really not a gun kind of person); cricket (where I discovered my natural position is commentator).
4. What’s your desert island sports movie or book?
Something that will help me get off the island. I can’t begin to say how appalling the thought of permanent isolation in a centuries old literary cliche appears to me. I mean really, maybe I should take an autobiography of some of the great long distance swimmers for inspirational purposes. Failing that something really long like Don Delillo’s Underworld.
5. What do you like to eat and drink while you watch sports?
Let’s get our priorities in order here. First things first, there needs to be nicotine. Smokeable if possible, chewing gum if necessary. Having established base camp I would, all things being equal, prefer to be smoking some really good organic sativa weed from northern California. In the case of watching baseball this is absolutely essential, though as I discovered with a group of old professors at an Angels-Cubs game in Anaheim, a few magic watermelon candies will do the trick too. As to food and drink it depends where we are and what is possible. In England and the U.S. I think the best policy at most sporting events is to go hungry rather than eat what passes for food. Where possible proper espresso coffee. Italy, particularly the trucks outside the San Siro are stupendous. No alcohol ever.
6. What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to watch or attend a game?
I was covering the Cairo derby between Al Ahly and Zamalek in 2009 only to discover that the authorities had cancelled our accreditation. We got into the stadium through the good offices of the Al Ahly ultras who lifted me and my 15 stone producer over the turnstiles and then lobbed us over a series of nine foot high security fences. We then spent the game evading the plain clothes police officers. A two thousand mile round trip from Cape Town to Bloemfontein during the 2010 World Cup across the vast Karoo desert to watch England capitulate to Germany 4-1 in the round of sixteen, and I lost all the really good durban poison.
7. Ever caught a foul ball?
No, the best I can manage is that I once appeared for a few seconds on the big screen at a Kings game in Sacramento and managed to hold a countenance of stony indifference before the director moved on.