Sports in Books: Home and Away

January 24, 2011

Home and Away by Dave Bidini is a book about the Homeless World Cup of Soccer, which it turns out is a real thing.  It tells the tale of a group of Canadians travelling to Australia to participate in just what it sounds like, more or less.  The thing is, so many people around the world play soccer, that the Canadian side has a person with a past involving professional soccer, and they still aren’t good.  In this respect ‘the’ Team Canada and Homeless Team Canada are similar.

The book is written in the first person and Bidini participates, but he avoids being overbearing both as a side-character and a narrator, and it benefits from the sense of personal connection that this allows.  Indeed, identifying with the homeless players is the main conceit of ‘Home and Away,’ with the soccer tournament being important because it is important to them.  This gives it a different feel and narrative arc then sports books tend to have, even though the actual sports content (such as description of game play) is similar in amount.

This sports content is delivered in an unusual style, with the description often individuating and personalizing players, as opposed to the dominant convention of using description to glorify or mock, which maintains a distance reinforced by generalization.  As such ‘Home and Away’ will not inspire the reader the same way autobiographies of famous athletes overcoming their personal challenges might.  It is a story of triumphs and defeats, but with a scale more familiar to middle class people’s own experiences and so mostly foreign to our culture’s sports writing.  Trés Canadian.  It will win with Canadians, and with soccer fanatics and bleeding hearts, as well as those who are bit of both.