If you're into European or world soccer, and are looking to choose a team to support, but you don't know much at all about the socio-political situations surrounding each team... and you care at all about history, or at least you care at all about the perceptions of those around you who *know* the history of these teams... Then you need to get a copy of Franklin Foer's HOW SOCCER EXPLAINS THE WORLD and read it cover to cover.
I wish I had before I chose the teams I'd follow!
Operating mostly on ignorance and what little I gathered from watching Setanta and FSC, reading a few FOUR FOUR TWO magazines and surfing the Web, I somewhat arbitrarily decided I liked the following clubs, among others: Chelsea (England), Real Madrid (Spain), Inter Milan (Italy), and Rangers (Scotland). Likewise I decided I did *not* like, among others, Barcelona.
Now that I have read most of Foer's book, I feel sort of foolish.
Because now I am mostly convinced that I should support Barcelona and hate Real Madrid... that I should stay as far away from Rangers (and Celtic, too, for that matter) as possible... and that I never, ever should have chosen Chelsea as my favorite club of all.
And this is not just because of Foer arguing in favor of his personal preferences--though he does, to a degree. It's because of the *history* of these clubs that he lays out in very clear and persuasive fashion.
England: Chelsea, as it turns out, were long the favored team of English neo-Nazis and crazy fascist bastards. Their squads of savage hooligans (such as the Chelsea Headhunters) left the other English teams' hooligans in the dust. The only saving grace for me is that this seems to have receded in recent years, and of course today the club is owned by a Russian Jew. So maybe I can keep my Chelsea jerseys and continue to support the Blues in good conscience, anyway.
Scotland: Rangers and Celtic, who were both appealing to me as a (part) Scotsman, turn out to have hordes of crazy fanatics on both sides, singing about being "up to their knees" in each other's blood and chanting horrendous things about the Pope, for example. After reading the chapter on Rangers and Celtic, my revulsion at their religious conflict was such that I want nothing to do with either of these Scottish league powers.
Italy: I'm not sure about Inter Milan, but Foer lays out a clear case that I did better choosing them than going with either of the more popular sides in Italy. Juventus essentially is owned by the Fiat car company and has been involved in corrupt government manipulation for decades. AC Milan has served mainly as a political platform for the apparently very corrupt Italian premier (Berlusconi). Neither comes off very well in the book.
Spain: And finally, and possibly worst of all, Real Madrid and Barcelona. I chose Real Madrid last year as my Liga team after watching replays of the previous season on Gol TV and watching them chase down Barcelona and win the title on the last day. They played with panache and their defense included the captain of the World Cup champions, Fabio Cannavaro--and Italy is my (non-US) national team. So I got a Madrid Cannavaro jersey.
First there's the history. Turns out that Madrid were the team of Franco and the Castillian fascists, while Barcelona have always been more sophisticated and cosmopolitan. Barca's team colors come from the French Revolutionary flag. By contrast, Madrid seems extremely unsavory. Yikes. Strike one on Madrid!
Also turns out that Madrid are the Yankees and Barcelona are the Red Sox. And since I'm an Auburn (not Alabama) fan and a Red Sox (not Yankees) fan, and thus tend to associate myself with the more "underdog" team in a rivalry... clearly I had no business going with Madrid. Strike two on Madrid.
And finally, Barcelona is the only side in Europe to not sell the front of their jerseys for money-- when they finally put something on the front, it was UNICEF. Now that's cool. They're cosmopolitan and proudly Catalan, but not violently so (unlike, say, the Basques). They have a team museum but it's filled with art, not just shoes and soccer balls and trophies. In fact, during the Spanish Civil War, Franco's guys bombed the Barcelona museum to destroy Barca's trophies. Strike three on Madrid!
I won't drop Chelsea, and Inter survived this book intact, but I won't be buying that Rangers jersey now... and the Madrid jersey may go in the trash. Certainly I'm switching to Barca and getting one of their red and blue jerseys asap.