Today’s Star columnist, Jethro Soutar - Football the common tongue

Jethro Soutar
Jethro Soutar
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How many South Americans have played for Sheffield United or Wednesday?

The one that didn’t is probably the best known, but Sheffield United nearly signing Diego Maradona only goes to show that with football and Latin America, fact is stranger than fiction.

That was the premise behind The Football Crónicas, a collection of short stories from Latin America that take football as their theme. Most of the pieces are journalistic, factual and true, but they are told as stories, a format known as the crónica in Latin America. Football is at the forefront of portraits of former World Cup winners Ghiggia and Romário – but in the background of others, a means to explore social issues: a prison team in the bottom rung of the Argentine Football League playing games behind bars; the Bolivian town that kidnapped its own team in protest at government policy; a transvestite team in Colombia; a team of Quechua women in skirts and bowler hats in Peru; Chilean hooligans on a 60-hour trip to Buenos Aires; a season of park football in a Latino immigrant league in New York. None of these stories were previously available in English.

Becoming a translator couldn’t have been further from my mind when I took my first Spanish class at King Edward VII school in 1990. The same goes for Ruth Clarke, one of the book’s co-translators, who took hers at the same school five years later. We, like most people, didn’t have the slightest notion what a translator did. Sure, we swap foreign words for English ones, but football is a good example of why it’s never quite as straightforward as that: imagine how something like ‘he beat the keeper with a lovely chip’ might come out wrong if translated word-for-word.

I co-edited and co-published the book, running a crowdfunding campaign to finance it all. The book is not-for-profit and proceeds go to The Bottletop Foundation, a UK-based organisation that helps young people in Brazil. We’ll be talking about this and more at Off the Shelf on Sunday, at 7.30pm at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union.

As for how many South Americans have played for Sheffield United or Wednesday, I make it eight, but we can discuss that on Sunday too.