Book Review: Red Wine & Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion by Jordan Florit

Even before turning over one single page this is a book that demands attention due to the dazzling and eye-catching cover design, intriguing title and eye-watering size.

On picking up this mighty tome of 492 pages, readers are greeted with a cover featuring the colours of the Venezuelan flag – yellow, blue and red, wrapping around the book, enhanced by a graphic of the men’s national team line-up adorning the front and that of the women’s team on the back.

In terms of the title and sub-title, author Jordan Florit has been clever in creating an analogy, with the red wine and arepas, able to be seen as the sacraments (the blood and body of Christ), as football look to becomes the new religion in the country, overtaking baseball as the national game, whilst being seen as a beacon of hope of what is perceived globally to be a troubled nation. Further information to be gleaned from the title, which become apparent in the book, is that the Venezuelan national football team is nicknamed La Vinotinto, translated as red wine, due to the colour of their shirts, with arepas, a snack made from cornmeal stuffed with various filings. Again the title is working to give the reader a pointer to what is to come in that the book is both about football and a flavour of the country of Venezuela itself.

Florit acknowledges in an interview for the Morning Star (for the full story click here), that in order “do such a complex country and society justice would require me to immerse myself fully in its ways of life and to learn its unique idiosyncrasies…I knew I would have to travel to Venezuela and visit as much of its football heartlands as possible.”

The author enjoyed considerable success in gaining access to a number of key personalities within the game, such as, Richard Paez, who managed the men’s national team between 2001 and 2007, leading La Vinotinto to their best period to date on the international stage. Additionally, interviews take place with Venezuela’s version of Sir Alex Ferguson, Noel Sanvicente and  Adelis Chavez, brother of the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the current president of Zamora Futbol Club. It is a measure of Florit’s journalistic nose and nouse, that he is able to get this access to these people and so many others and partly the generosity and willingness of so many involved in the sport and beyond in wanting to share their stories with “the Englishman”.

Football, whether this be on the streets, the men’s or women’s game, is undoubtedly the main thrust of the book, and in exploring the game, its clubs, players, fans, owners, journalists and administrators alike, Florit is able to gain an insight on the country itself. So as the author travels the country, the reader is treated to aspects of Venezuela’s history, its culture, political struggles and the people and society. In doing so, Florit is conscious of the issues in the country and the contradictions that those he meets sometimes cause him. Whilst it is shocking to read of the hyperinflation suffered in Venezuela, the shortages in utilities such as electricity, petrol and water, the political problems and the ever brooding presence of the National Guard, none of this is ever portrayed in an overdramatic or sensationalist manner, instead, it is presented as part of the struggles of the people.

However, this is not to say that the book is without its lighter moments, as there are a number of amusing incidents that occur during Florit’s time in this part of South America, including comical journeys in less than pristine taxi’s around the winding and potholed roads. There is also a joy and pride which shines through from the pages in the identity of being Venezuelan and the part that football has played in this.

Florit has undoubtedly been successful in producing a significant insight into Venezuela and its people and his exploration is complemented at the end of the book, with twelve Selected Works (or essays), which provide further reinforcement and look at the psyche of the República Bolivariana de Venezuela and its people and the game that is “becoming Venezuela’s religion”.

(JAF Publishing. August 2020. 492 pages)


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