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Just For Kicks

Just For KicksJonathan Wilson, professor of English and director of the Center for Humanities at Tufts, shares his passion for soccer as the 2010 World Cup Tournament comes to an end.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.08.10] After a month of goals, intense competition and the cacophony of vuvuzelas, the 2010 World Cup will end in a final match between the Netherlands and Spain on July 11.

Among the many soccer fans in the grip of the month-long tournament is Jonathan Wilson, a professor of English and director of the Center for Humanities, whose passion for European football spans five decades.

Wilson now blogs about soccer on, an online publication co-founded by his son, Adam (A'04), the site's deputy editor. But his first foray into soccer writing came in 1994, when the World Cup was held in the U.S.

"At the time, I was writing quite a bit for the New Yorker. I proposed they let me cover the World Cup, and they did," Wilson says. "I got to travel all over the place and go to all the games. It was fantastic." He also appeared on NPR's "On Point," discussing the tourney with Tom Ashbrook.

A native of England, Wilson says his column for The Faster Times started out focusing mostly on the English premier league, but his blogging has really picked up since the World Cup began in June.

Aside from writing about soccer, Wilson says he spent many years playing and coaching the sport before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"My wife says, 'All you do is watch soccer,' and I say, 'Well, it is my job,' " he says with a laugh.

E-News caught up with Wilson to discuss take on this year's World Cup.

What are some of your general thoughts about this year's World Cup?

It's been a very interesting World Cup partly because of the early dominance by the South American teams, and the demise of a number of formerly considered powerful European countries, mainly England, Italy and France, all of which have gone down in ignominious and sometimes humiliating defeat. Of course the Europeans reasserted themselves in the end.

The other main controversy of this World Cup has been the failure of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) to allow the use of goal line technology to determine whether there was a goal or not-for example, the disastrous decisions involving the goals denied to both the U.S. and England, where in the latter case the ball landed three feet over the line and they were still denied the goal. It seems as if only now FIFA is considering the use of technology due to refereeing controversies in this World Cup.

How do you feel about Team USA's performance, from the outset until their exit on June 26?

Well, first off, I don't understand why they are called "Team USA"-none of the other teams is called "Team" whatever. Aren't the others teams? No one talks about Team Argentina or Team Uruguay. I find that bizarre.

I thought the U.S. played above itself. They don't really have a superstar, unless you count Tim Howard, the goalie, and Landon Donovan is a talented and adequate player. I thought they played really hard and really well, but I think it is wrong to think at this point that they are going to be a world force in soccer. They don't have enough world-class players. But they made a terrific effort, and I thought they played better than England, and all credit to them. It would be a mistake for anyone to be disappointed in their performance. They did about as well as they could do, and they did really well.

Many residents of Medford and Somerville are natives of Brazil, Portugal and Italy. What do you think the local impact of the World Cup has been?

One of the things I discovered in 1994 was that when I went around the country, it was a fantastic atmosphere inside the stadium, but once you got out you wouldn't know that the World Cup was in progress. It is slightly different and even better now-the TV ratings are up, and that has been fantastic and a real boon for soccer in the United States.

I am sure there is huge excitement among the different local communities. The truth is, though, no matter how much immigrants love America, when it comes to soccer, they are going to root for the country that they came from. I'm a case in point. I have been here for far more than half my life, and I still root for England, just as I am sure a lot of people in Somerville are rooting for Brazil. This has always been a problem for the U.S., that they don't get home support.

Have there been any intersections between your passion for soccer and your life in academia?

There is an intersection in a sense: Martha Whiting, who is the coach of the women's soccer team, was my student many years ago, and I am in touch with her. I don't hide my allegiances, and more and more as students have gone abroad, especially to London for the semester, they come back supporting a local English soccer team shirt. And I have had incidents in the past with people wearing Arsenal [Football Club] shirts, the team that I hate, just to annoy me. They get a C automatically!

Apart from that, I teach a course on memoirs, and on a couple of occasions I have taught Nick Hornby's memoir "Fever Pitch," which is based around soccer. So there is definitely some intersection, though it's not very stricking.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the vuvuzelas, the plastic horns fans blow at the World Cup in South Africa. Your thoughts?

I don't mind them. They seem to me very joyful expression of South African pleasure, and I find it kind of exciting. I also like to hear the crowd sing when they get in voice. At least the vuvuzelas are not some kind of forced entertainment like we have here, like video screens yelling "Defense!" At least in South Africa it is actual human beings blowing the trumpets.

So who are you rooting for in the final match?

I think at this stage I am rooting for whichever team plays the most beautiful soccer that I can really get behind. I think Spain will win; their midfield is superb.

Interview by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.
Photography by Joanie Tobin, University Photography.


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