The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century by David Goldblatt - review by Joseph Owen

Joseph Owen

Net Losses

The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century


Macmillan 676pp £25 order from our bookshop

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa was supposed to herald a fresh dawn for African football. When winger Siphiwe Tshabalala scored for the hosts against Mexico in the opening match, the commentator Peter Drury encapsulated the moment for a UK audience: ‘Goal Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa! Goal for all of Africa!’ The promise of a truly global game seemed fulfilled. ‘Rejoice,’ Drury exclaimed, as a line of yellow-shirted players danced by the corner flag in coordinated celebration.

Football appeared to be entering a meritocratic era in which traditionally weaker nations could compete with the established powers. South Africa had become a symbol for other developing countries, showing the benefits of economic expansion and national unity. Seen like this, the beautiful game seemed a force for good: colonial residue could be effaced, ethnic discrimination and segregation forgotten. The fact that Mexico subsequently equalised and South Africa exited at the group stage was a mere footnote.

Yet to consider the 2010 World Cup as evidence of African football’s burgeoning health and broader social capital would be a mistake. The spectacle – the cacophony of vuvuzelas, the stadium-based Pentecostal choirs – diverted viewers from the reality. African football was suffering – and it still is.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

East of the Wardrobe

Follow Literary Review on Twitter