With Following the Ball, Todd Cleveland incorporates labor, sport, diasporic, and imperial history to examine the extraordinary experiences of African football players from Portugal's African colonies as they relocated to the metropole from 1949 until the conclusion of the colonial era in 1975. The backdrop was Portugal's increasingly embattled Estado Novo regime, and its attendant use of the players as propaganda to communicate the supposed unity of the metropole and the colonies.
Cleveland zeroes in on the ways that players, such as the great Eusbio, creatively exploited opportunities generated by shifts in the political and occupational landscapes in the waning decades of Portugal's empire. Drawing on interviews with the players themselves, he shows how they often assumed roles as social and cultural intermediaries and counters reductive histories that have depicted footballers as mere colonial pawns.
To reconstruct these players' transnational histories, the narrative traces their lives from the informal soccer spaces in colonial Africa to the manicured pitches of Europe, while simultaneously focusing on their off-the-field challenges and successes. By examining this multi-continental space in a single analytical field, the book unearths structural and experiential consistencies and contrasts, and illuminates the components and processes of empire.
Todd Cleveland is an assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of Stones of Contention and Diamonds in the Rough, as well numerous book chapters and articles on the history of diamond mining and on soccer within the former Portuguese empire in Africa. He has been a Fulbright scholar in both Angola and Ghana.
"The great impact that this book will have is not only to look at colonialism through soccer and the experiences of African players in various Portuguese colonial contexts, but-more significantly-to refocus discussions of colonialism and cultural practices on the local and colonized."
Roger Kittleson, author of The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil
"Cleveland guides the reader to not only follow the journeys of these men, but through his analysis of their movements, to gain new awareness of the historical conditions that characterized the places of departure and the places of arrival."
Nuno Domingos, author of Football and Colonialism: Body and Popular Culture in Urban Mozambique