A Passion of Their Own

By: Juan Mesa

You could say it’s just a game. But for millions of Latin Americans, soccer is way more than that. It is fútbol: a religion, a way of life, an unfading passion.

The region that has produced the three most important players in the history of the game (Pelé, Maradona and Messi, in case you were wondering) is the place where that famous quote by Bill Shankly about soccer being much more important than life or death has arguably become truer than anywhere else.

The question is how and why did this happen. And you will find convincing answers in Golazo!, probably the most comprehensive account of the evolution and impact of the game in the subcontinent. It’s all in there, from the Mayas and Aztecs playing the bouncing ball to the rise of Messi.

In spite of its scholarly precision (the author is, after all, a historian), Golazo! is an entertaining and easy read. Campomar’s writing intersects politics, social issues and cultural elements to create a consistent narrative of the sustained evolution of the sport in a region often more known for its struggles. And so, we learn what makes the Uruguayans never give up on the field, the role some soccer players played in opposing Pinochet in Chile (the captain of the national team refused to shake his hand), or how Colombia’s armed conflict is tied to its soccer tragedies. But Golazo! also focuses on smaller stories, those unknown to the average American fútbol fan. Stories like that of Heleno de Freitas, the man who reigned in Brazil before Pelé and Garrincha, and whose list of lovers is said to have included one Eva Perón. Or that of legendary teams like Perú’s Alianza Lima, which lost its complete squad in a plane crash in 1987 and ended the season with players loaned from other clubs of the region.

As a descendant of Dr. Enrique Bueno, responsible for organizing the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, Campomar writes with the confidence of someone who learned all these stories at home. More importantly for the topic of the book, he cannot help but make a convincing case for his favorite style of soccer: the elegant and fierce one practiced in South America.

If you’re going to read one book ahead of the World Cup, it should probably be this one. Start now. There are only 37 days left until kickoff.

LOGISTICS: Golazo! by Andreas Campomar, available now

Juan Mesa is a freelance writer based in New York City. He covers soccer and Latin music. When he's not writing, you can find him watching soccer games, talking about soccer or collecting soccer memorabilia. To relax, he plays house music vinyls.