April 1, 2008

Farred recounts a lifelong obsession with Liverpool football

Grant Farred is passionate and erudite -- as a scholar, certainly, and as a fan of football (the game Americans call soccer), even more so.

His allegiance is to Liverpool Football Club (L.F.C.) -- with 18 league championships and five European Cup titles, the most successful club in English football history. Wearing an L.F.C.-worthy red shirt, Farred -- a professor of English and Africana studies who joined the Cornell faculty last fall -- shared his lifelong love of his team at the Cornell Store March 28, reading from his recent memoir, "Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football" (Temple University Press).

Farred said he first became a Liverpool fan in 1970, as a boy reading the sports pages of newspapers two continents away in Cape Town.

"My Liverpool dream is not so much a distinguished one as one marked by a stream of differences," he read. "Growing up in apartheid South Africa, most of my Liverpool recollections, all my memories, my entire narrative about this English football club were born and nourished without the benefit of having seen my team play."

"This is a very proprietary relationship -- this is MY team," he added.

And he knew them intimately, even from afar. Farred extolled the merits and quirks of several Liverpool players and managers including Kevin Keegan, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, "King Kenny" Dalglish and Steven Gerrard.

His favorite was Graeme Souness, a star player from 1978-84 and L.F.C. manager from 1991-94, who went on to manage several other teams. He was known in the press as "the Iron Maiden's man" in the 1980s for supporting then-Tory leader (and later Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher, and as "Champagne Charlie" for his reputation off the pitch as a dandy and a ladies' man.

"He was a fashion plate and a man-about-town, too," Farred said. "I was inspired by him and dressed a little like him."

Farred did finally make it to Liverpool, and the poor working-class neighborhood where Anfield stadium sits, surrounded by barbed wire, reminded him of Cape Town, he said. When he was offered a chance to meet Souness in 1993, his response was, "I'm not ready to meet God."

"I've been all around the world, and I've never seen a man so intently focused," Farred said. "I understood his quiet loneliness. ... On my office door at Duke [hung] a picture of him being married in Las Vegas. Even in the midst of matrimonial bliss, Graeme has always been a man apart, seeking his own counsel."

When asked by an audience member about Liverpool's nearby rivals, "Who do you hate more, Manchester United or Everton?" Farred responded: "I have enough hatred in me for both of them." He added: "I hate goalkeepers and referees equally."

He recommended seeing Liverpool play at Anfield. "If you go, get there early, settle down and get yourself a bad tea and sausage roll," he said. "At 3:25, you see all these people march up with a flag saying 'L.F.C. Forever' and they're singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' You haven't lived 'til you've seen that."

He was also asked for advice on publishing a book. "If you make your pathologies public enough, someone might take a risk -- but you might not want to think about that," he said.

Farred's previous books also address sports in a cultural-political context, including "What's My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals" (2003), with Muhammad Ali among its four subjects; and "Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA" (2006), both available at the Cornell Store. He has contributed articles about Liverpool to scholarly journals and to a book about Manchester United; and the second half of his book "The Midfielder's Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa" (1999) examines the politics of sport and race in his native country.

"You can say I don't have much of a life," he said after the reading. "I just think it's a way to think about the world."