The German National Authors’ Team – Football-Playing Ambassadors
Occasionally, the odd player may be heard to yell “Who was that meant to be for??” when a pass goes awry. And when a ball slams into the post, a muttered curse might be audible: “Shit”. But given that this is a bunch of writers playing football, the whole event is surprisingly quiet.
Just like every Monday evening, the core Berlin players of the German National Authors’ Team are to be found training here on an artificial turf pitch in the centre of Germany’s capital. The warm-up is a somewhat half-hearted affair, and is soon wrapped up. A few minutes later the yellow bibs are handed out, then an eight-a-side match with small goals is played. At first the game seems to be all about defence, with little in the way of successful ball plays. As the match continues, however, a few goals are scored after all.
An hour and a half later, the players head off to the showers. It would not exactly have been obvious to a spectator that they had in fact been watching the current European Champion of National Authors’ Teams train – the team’s title ever since it won the first, and to date only, European Authors’ Cup in Unna and Dortmund in 2010. Over a post-match beer at the clubhouse, Moritz Rinke, one of Germany’s most successful contemporary playwrights and the team’s record goal-scorer, asserts that the standard of play has not fallen dramatically in the meantime: “When the players from the other cities join us, then what we are playing out there also starts to look more like football.”
Football for a more relaxed exchange
Whatever it is, it looks like a lot of fun. When the authors’ team comes onto the pitch, football really does become something that it is rarely allowed to be these days – namely “the beautiful game”. Although the “Autonama” (as the team is known for short, based on its German name Autorennationalmannschaft) of course plays against the representative authors’ teams of other countries in order to win, the overriding goal is cultural exchange. As Rinke points out, football can enable a “much more relaxed exchange than is possible during normal cultural events”. For when the writers come together on an international level, they not only play football but traditionally read from their books in the evenings.
This was also the case in May 2012 in the run-up to the professional European Football Championship, when Autonama played in Berlin, Krakow and Lviv against the national authors’ teams of the two host countries, Poland and Ukraine. The idea is to do the same again in Brazil in 2013 – plans for an authors’ world cup, to be held just before the Football World Cup proper, are currently in full swing.
Official ambassador of German football
This would be another highlight for the team which was established in 2005 – a team in which playwrights control the game from the midfield, short story writers put up a staunch defence and novelists up front do their utmost to put the ball in the back of the net. What started out as a bunch of amateurs who organized themselves into a team has now evolved to become an official ambassador of German football, supported by the German Football Association (DFB) and the Federal Foreign Office. “As football has gradually opened itself up to all areas of society since 2006”, says Rinke, “our role and importance have grown.”
Via its own cultural foundation, the DFB not only organizes and finances Autonama’s matches, explains Rinke, but “also encourages similar teams to be established in other countries too”. Thanks in part to the DFB, national authors’ teams now exist in over 20 countries. This is quite an amazing development given that only four teams – Germany, Hungary, Sweden and the Italian hosts – took part in a tournament held just seven years ago in Tuscany, an event which these days is regarded as the moment when international authors’ football was born and has long been somewhat boastfully described as the first Authors’ World Cup.
The competition is improving
The German team had been established specifically for this event at the initiative of the writer Thomas Brussig. Better-known than many of the players was the team’s coach: Hans Meyer, Bundesliga coach at Mönchengladbach, Nuremberg and Berlin. He was to be succeeded as Autonama’s head trainer by Jörg Berger, Uwe Rapolder and Dettmar Cramer.
Such highly-qualified experts have helped bring about a steady improvement in the standard of play. And this is certainly necessary, as these days some of the competing teams recruit reinforcements in the form of the odd former professional player who has taken up writing after resigning from an active career in football. One of those who plays for Autonama’s eternal rival from Sweden, for instance, is a certain Niclas Kindvall - he was the Swedish league’s top scorer, no less, and even played briefly for Hamburger SV.
Kindvall, who now works as a journalist and author of children’s books, nonetheless meets all the criteria for joining the team. Anyone wishing to play in one of the representative authors’ teams has to have published two books. As Rinke reports, however, this is a rule which is rarely if ever checked in international practice. He then glances critically across the clubhouse table, where peanuts are being munched and the odd cigarette is being smoked. Above all else, however, the players are discussing key scenes from the last training session – and the noise level is noticeably higher than previously on the pitch.
writes about sport, music and film for various media, including “taz”, “Die Zeit” and “zitty”.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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