Red Wine and Arepas: How football is becoming Venezuela’s religion
A guest piece from Jordan Florit, who talks to The Football Brief about his upcoming book, Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion…
There is no short answer for why I decided to write a book on Venezuelan football but I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided to.
I was chatting to a friend on Twitter, Dominic, a Venezuelan American living in Wisconsin. We had been in contact since I had an article published in March by These Football Times.
I had interviewed the New York Red Bulls and Venezuelan U20 midfielder Cristian Cásseres Jr, and Dominic retweeted the piece and commented with a bit of praise preceding a slight criticism. It was fair enough.
My intention was to leave politics out of the article as best I could; I was in control of what I wrote but should Cásseres Jr or Carlos Tarache, the other interviewee and CEO of Solovenex, happen to bring it into the equation, I wasn’t about to censor it. Neither happened. Instead, as it is prone and entitled to do, life intervened.
The interview was pitched, written, approved, and scheduled for publish. Then Venezuela played Argentina in a friendly in Madrid.
A few days later, I was in the audience for Sky’s ‘Comedians Watching Football with Friends’ for England’s victory over Montenegro. When I left the studio, I opened up Twitter to check the other results. Venezuela were playing again, this time against Catalunya.
As an unofficial friendly, live commentary was harder to find but I had tracked it down through Catalunya’s Twitter account. I had two primary concerns for the game: as a Southampton fan, I was interested in how Oriol Romeu had got on and as the author of a now delayed article on La Vinotinto’s future – the nickname of the Venezuelan national team – I wanted to know if head coach Rafael Dudamel was still in post.
The future, by default, is unknown, but the piece I had written wasn’t focused on the immediate days or weeks; it was looking towards the Copa América in two and a half months and beyond.
As I said, though, life got in between. After their 3-1 win over Argentina, only their second in 25 outings against their fellow South Americans, Dudamel put his position up for review.
Before the victory, Dudamel and the national team received opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s ambassador to Spain, Antonio Ecarri. Despite the manager telling Ecarri that any photos or videos of the meeting were not for publication, during the game Guaidó used his social media to upload quantities of both.
“We have been living through very complicated times,” Dudamel said in his post-match conference. “We respectfully received the visit of the ambassador, just as we have received the ambassador of President Maduro [in the past]. Today was denigrating, it’s unfortunate how they have acted.” He accused Guaidó of “politicising” the visit and as a result ended his post-match conference by stating,” I will put my role up for review.”
It was far from the first time opportunistic politicians have attempted to piggyback the successes of a national team, but for a country in the midst of an existential struggle, where football has been one of the only beacons of hope, to have lost it to governmental feuding would have been a crime against the sport. Fortunately, that is not how it played out. The FVF restated their support for Dudamel and he remained in post. If he had upset the FVF seniors, his good work over the past decade, managing through the youth ranks to the senior team, had banked him some goodwill.
Unlike Dudamel’s assertion of Guaidó’s behaviour, I really didn’t want to politicise my piece, and in my efforts not to, I’d skimmed the topic instead of devoting too much of the word count to it. I didn’t think I should leave it out, but I didn’t want to dwell on it.
“Juan Guaidó’s attempt to self-declare as president failed to materialise into anything other than a week of bizarre headlines,” I wrote in under twenty words. I didn’t intend to be lazy, I just – for once – wanted to leave politics out of it whilst acknowledging the fact it had clawed its way into the game once more. Dominic pulled me up on it and he was right to do so. I’m eternally grateful because it led to some great discussion and a new friend: “football friends,” as the Inbetweeners might mock. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.
I should have trusted myself a little. I’ve followed Venezuelan politics for seven years now and in that time I’ve read dozens of books on the subject and was even offered a writing and copy-editing role for a news network out there. In April one of my oldest friends messaged me to ask me to explain the situation in Venezuela to him; a month earlier he had asked me when I was going to write my book. He wasn’t referring to what is now the work in progress “Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion”, he was just asking in general – among my friends dating back fifteen years or so, as well as my family, it’s been an assumption that I would one day author one.
I have always wanted to do so, but I was never going to force it: it would either happen or it wouldn’t. If an idea or topic impassioned me enough, I would take on the challenge, otherwise it would remain a pipe dream. Less than two months later, I messaged Dominic. “I’m going to write a book on Venezuelan football,” I stated with all the confidence of someone who was still awake at gone 1am. I have always found the best ideas come late at night, but this, subconsciously, had been a long time in the making, hiding just under the mundanity of everyday life.
Since then, I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into this project; even to the extent of a kitchen argument with my wife. She could not understand why I would take this on, on top of a full-time job, the writing I already do, and being a father to my six-month-old daughter. “You know I’ve always wanted to write, you know to author a book is a dream of mine, and you know I am passionate about this.”
She thought it would be a fleeting idea that would die out, not something I’d begin to throw hours into day in, day out. Now she’s just jealous that I’ll be going to Venezuela without her – a country she’s always wanted to visit, having grown up with a girl from Caracas as her best friend.
My aim for the book is to use football as the lens to examine and explore contemporary Venezuelan society. I want to provide a different narrative for readers, a way to learn about the country through the medium of football rather than the ubiquitous presence of pro and anti-government literature.
I don’t aim to change the conversation on Venezuela by writing the book, I aim to add to it, to give a different topic of conversation. I have already arranged interviews with a number of players, from Copa América squad members Luis Mago and Rafael Romo, to long-serving domestic league players and former internationals David McIntosh and Franklin Lucena, as well as a star of the Venezuelan Women’s team Verónica Herrera.
The book is being written with the blessing and assistance of the executive president of the Venezuelan Premier League Rúben Villavicencio, who has already and will continue being a great support in facilitating meetings and interviews, as well as being a fountain of knowledge, completely immersed in the domestic game. I could continue to list the players, managers, officials, journalists, and fans who will be part of this project, but I will instead assure you they are plentiful and encourage you to contact me if you would like to know more.
Exclusive and limited first-run copies of the book will be available to pre-order between August 1st and September 4th through crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and will include multiple features unique to those who back the project in this way. I would love to make this project a reality and those who support it are vital in bringing it to life.