How the coffee house destroyed fascism
“What’cha readin’ today?” It was Doug showing an interest in the book I’d brought with me to Callahan’s.
I showed him the greenish cover with the cartoon footballers dotted about the pitch. “It’s Jonathan Wilson’s book on history of soccer tactics,” I said. “I read it a few years ago, during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but I want to go back through it again. There was so much in the book, so many stories, so many ideas. Anyway, there’s a chapter which especially piqued my interest during my first reading.”
“Oh yeah? What’s it about?” asked Doug.
“The chapter is called ‘How Fascism Destroyed the Coffee House’ and it’s about how the point of the player-formation pyramid began its one-hundred and eighty degree reversal to stop pointing at the ‘home’ goal and to point at the ‘away’ goal.”
I could see that my explanation wasn’t very good. Obviously confused, Doug was struggling to formulate a response.
“You’re talking about where the players stand on the field?” said Doug.
“In a way,” I said. “Formations are at best a starting point, but there is some correspondence to a tactical approach encoded in the theoretical formation. Players don’t really stand on the field. Soccer is a running game, about movement. The formation suggests how the team will use space.”
“Space,” said Doug nodding.
“Back in the old days, before the 1930s, most soccer teams loaded the pitch on their attacking front, putting five players up top. But over time, some teams realized that this only led to massive amounts of space around their goal for the other team to use in their attack. Over time, more players were moved back into defense to close up the holes and to prevent the other team from scoring.”
“That makes sense,” said Doug. “But what does that have to do with fascism and coffee houses?”
“Good question,” I said. “These tactical shifts in the game came about when coffee house intellectuals in Vienna started discussing the game as if it were a topic as worthy of consideration and debate as literature and politics. That’s one of the reasons why Austria was such a powerhouse in football in the thirties.”
“These coffee house intellectuals?” said Doug.
“That’s right,” I said. “In the Anglo-Saxon world, much of the discussion took place in the pubs and so tended to be less intellectual.”
“Kind of like what we’re doing now,” said Doug.
“That’s right.” I said. “What interests me about this period is that the political situation — ”
“The rise of Hitler, you mean,” said Doug.
“Well, fascism in general, led to a suppression of all sorts of cultural institutions.”
“Like the coffee house,” said Doug.
“That’s right, but I’ll have to do more research on the subject,” I said. “I think it will an interesting topic for the new book I’m writing. I’m thinking I’ll write a chapter for my own book called ‘How the Coffee House Destroyed Fascism.’”
“Did it?” asked Doug.
“We’ll see,” I said.
“What about pubs?” asked Doug. “Can they help in the fight against fascism?”
“I’m sure they’ll play an important role. Even in the darkest times, people need beer.”
“Amen,” said Doug.