I think I’m an academic at heart. If I could afford the time and money to do it, I’d probably be going back to school multiple times for different interests and inclinations. I find the study of various ancient civilizations to be fascinating, I’d probably have gone back to study something in that arena first. Then something to do with the social sciences, anthropology, genealogy, cartography, etc. My parents can attest to the fact that as a child I could be kept quiet and seated in one spot if they gave me an atlas to peruse. Why that interested me from such a young age, I have no idea, but I still find maps, the patchwork of national borders depicted on them, and their associated cultures and identities absolutely fascinating. With that background and interest Ajax, The Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour jumped off the shelf and piqued my curiosity.
Ajax, The Dutch, The War is certainly more academic than The Miracle of Castel di Sangro but the stories recounted within it are just as enthralling, descriptive, and engaging as the sometimes unbelievable escapades expounded in McGinniss’ Italian calcio masterpiece. The book traces the presence and impact of the sport of soccer, using the Dutch club Ajax of Amsterdam as its narrator, during World War II through a Dutch lens. It examines a very Dutch philosophical and cultural question, “Were the Dutch good (goede) or bad (fout) during the war?” While the question may seem a simple answer for many of us who enjoyed our sophomore year of high school learning about World War II and all the associated battles, trials, and tribulations experienced by so many Europeans, Simon Kuper does a great job of scratching at the surface and presenting some of the grey areas in which much of the Dutch psyche about this historical era seems to dabble.
Of course Ajax produced one of the game’s greats in Johan Cruyff but were you aware that they’re also one of the most popular clubs in places like Israel? That the Dutch were collaborators with their Nazi occupiers, and the country had the second largest Nazi movement outside of Germany itself? This work expertly delves into a sensitive historical period and through the use of soccer as a storytelling guide, unearths Dutch truths, feelings, and hurt that have been suppressed for far too long. Go pick up a copy and delve a bit deeper into one of history’s most studied eras, all through the lens of the beautiful game!
My Rating….4/5 Jules Rimet Trophies (the original World Cup, before it was stolen…)
Next in the queue…
Have you picked up your copy of The Miracle of Castel di Sangro yet? Are you itching for a sabbatical to follow around your favorite football club? Have any suggestions to add to the Footy Books queue? Fire away in the comments below!
Hands clasped, we pray for olé…