Reviews

'Home and Away' Is an Even-Handed and Stunning Portrayal of a Bona-Fide Love of the Beautiful Game

Dave Bidini takes a bit of an unexpected detour into a little heard or written about worldwide soccer tournament that consists of players who are, believe it or not, homeless.


Home and Away: One Writer's Inspiring Experience at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer

Publisher: Skyhorse
Length: 192 pages
Author: Dave Bidini
Price: $22.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2011-07
Amazon

Toronto’s Dave Bidini is best known in Canada for being the guitarist for the delightfully out-there decades-long alternative rock group the Rheostatics, but in recent years he has made incredible strides as an author of non-fiction tomes, as well. He’s written a few books about the rock 'n' roll lifestyle – most notably, On a Cold Road, which is a must-read for anyone looking for a serious dissertation into the life of the Canadian rock musician.

He's also become a keen chronicler of the sports world, having penned such books as Tropic of Hockey, which was named one of the Top 100 Canadian Books of All-Time by publisher McClelland and Stewart, as well as Baseballissimo, a 2004 book about his experiences playing baseball in Italy, which is currently being made into a feature film. With his latest sports-related book, however, Bidini takes a bit of an unexpected detour into a little heard about or written about worldwide soccer tournament that consists of players who are, believe it or not, homeless.

Home and Away: One Writer’s Inspiring Experience at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer, which was originally published in Canada in 2010 under a slightly modified sub-title, is Bidini’s chronicle of his time with the Canadian homeless soccer team at the 2008 Homeless World Cup of Soccer held in Australia. If you’ve never heard of this tournament, believe me, you’re not the only one. As Bidini himself notes about two-thirds of the way through this fairly compact volume (which runs less than 200 pages), “The only televised tournament game was the event’s final, which was aired on one of the local cable access stations. And local beat writers stayed away in droves, reporting only on the event’s opening day and its conclusion.” It seems that homeless street soccer is something very few people want to touch with a ten-foot pole, so Bidini’s excursion into this fascinating sporting event is a much-needed and mostly exhilarating slice of acute observation.

To provide a little bit of background on the event, the Homeless World Cup began after Mel Young and Harald Schmied – a Scotsman and an Austrian – came up with the concept after attending a street newspaper conference in 2002, as they believed they could realise awareness about homelessness through the vehicle of soccer. In 2003, 18 countries wound up competing in the first matches in Graz, Austria. By 2008, a number of major sponsors such as Vodafone, UEFA, and Nike were supporting the tournament, alongside obtaining testimonials from the likes of Ringo Starr, Desmond Tutu and soccer stars Didier Drogba and Sir Alex Ferguson.

That year as well, 56 teams and more than 600 players were expected to attend, making it the biggest tournament of its type altogether. All of the players who qualify must be more or less living on the streets of their respective countries, and players can only play in the tournament during one particular year (so if they played in 2008, they could never compete again in 2009, 2010 and so on) – which seems to be a means of ensuring that as many homeless people can benefit from travelling to a foreign country and being part of something much larger than themselves.

However, as one could imagine, there's a great deal of behind the scenes paperwork that needs to be done to bring in destitute people into a country – getting some of these players past Customs to their respective destination can be a challenge, particularly if they have a criminal record – and, at least as far as the Canadian team went, hundreds of hours in volunteer resources as well as thousands of dollars in government funding goes into making travelling to this tournament a reality. In addition to this, some of the players – once they’ve set foot in the host country – immediately focus on seeking asylum status as opposed to playing the game, particularly if they hail from war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, which makes the very concept of this competition a thorny political one at best. All of these elements would, by themselves, make for compelling reading, but Home and Away is much more than that.

Bidini is interested in the sociological makeup of the teams that pit against each other in the spirit of a competitive but compassionate game. In short, he tells the stories behind the backgrounds of these players, coaches and managers, some of whom have come from abject poverty and horribly abusive situations, while others struggle with addiction or mental health issues. It's these stories that form the heart of the book, and make for a thoughtful and engrossing read. If anything can be taken away from Home and Away, beyond the beautiful sense of camaraderie between teammates under somewhat trying circumstances, is that it hammers home that anyone could be one of these players, and that we’re all but just a paycheque or two away from being on the streets ourselves.

This is underscored by the cast of characters that Bidini introduces who make up the nucleus of the 2008 Team Canada. Notably, there’s 18-year-old Krystal, a runaway from Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood who wanders the streets holding onto a picture of her grandmother before being taken in by her brother – and evolves into one of the tournament’s best female players. There’s also the 45-year-old Billy, who actually was a professional player for teams such as the North York Rockets before succumbing to a nasty OxyContin addiction. Jerry is an aging seat cushion salesman who’d become abandoned by his family while chasing down an elusive patent (and happens to daydream about making dildos with basketball and soccer balls in place of a penis’ head) and then there’s a 24-year-old Moroccan immigrant asked to be called Juventus because, as this person notes to the author, “There are some things that neither you, nor anyone else, can know.”

There are also engrossing stories about past players, as well as those who didn’t make the final cut for 2008 Canada squad, such as one player who used a plane flight to an overseas tournament in 2007 to go cold turkey on methadone, spending the entire eight-hour plane ride in cold sweats beside his manager, who had no clue as to what was going on. There was another incident with a player who locked himself in the plane’s bathroom due to the voices he was hearing in his head, but was gradually coaxed out and went on to to play well in the tournament – only to never be heard from again once he returned home to Canada. Bidini’s style is strictly reportage, and he is non-judgemental when it comes to his subjects, just simply allowing them to unspool their own narratives at their own length, which only impacts the redemption that they will find on the soccer pitch.

If there are any penalties or red flags to be found with Home and Away, they are that in past Bidini books, the author more or less writes from a participant observational standpoint – being more or less immersed in the sports he’s covering. Here, he’s essentially relegated to the sidelines as a passive observer, so there's at least one notable place in the text where he ascribes his teenage years of dope-smoking and alcohol bingeing and tries to overlay it over the people that he’s writing about. It just doesn’t work very well.

In addition, while Home and Away is a complete and comprehensive look at the sport of street soccer in that Bidini interviews competitors from rival nations – which is meant to illustrate that, even though the Canadians might have it pretty bad in their respective background circumstances, there are people with much worse impoverished life-or-death backgrounds out there – it does take a little bit away from the narrative of the so-called “home” team that Bidini is covering. This causes the book to have a little bit of a lopsided focus.

Still, these are fairly minor pain points, and overall Home and Away is a lively and important read, and sheds a spotlight on a seemingly under appreciated sporting event that one could easily cast away as merely quirky. The book is not only about the importance of bonding to a universal game such as soccer, it's about humanity’s desire to triumph and rise above some very dodgy circumstances.

Readers will be swept away by Bidini’s lean and cutting prose, and come to a greater understanding and respect for those people you see out on the street around the homeless shelter or begging for change. Before this book, Bidini was an exceptional writer who just happened to be a semi-famous musician. With Home and Away though, Bidini has moved beyond just being a chronicler of all things sports-related, and has captured lightning in a bottle with an even-handed and stunning portrayal of a bona-fide love of a game, played by those who literally have their very own lives and dignity on the line. For that, Home and Away is a must-read for those who want to see how a game is played by the much less fortunate, and believe me, Bidini’s book is a testament to the belief that anyone – no matter their background or lot in life – can score goals that are both personal and competitive with the very best of the best playing in a FIFA World Cup match.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image