Left Foot Forward – Garry Nelson

The sheer amount of dull football autobiographies on the market is staggering, and most are beyond bland and utterly predictable.  Nelson’s effort is different as he never attained the millions or star status, and the book is much the better for that.

A journeyman professional, Nelson played for lower league teams throughout his career but is appreciative of his position in sport, and the wider context of life. He’s aware that he is living a dream many never come close to achieving.

Told in a diary format over a whole year (the 94/95 season), the author finds himself in a precarious position, at the tail end of his career. He isn’t expected to be a first team start, his contract runs out at the end of the year, injuries are a worry, and younger players are challenging for his position.

The fans applauding  the neat one-two, the snap shot going close from twenty-odd yards, don’t stop to consider the man who on a bad night, thinking his first-class career is almost at its end, lies awake at night worrying about his mortgage.

As carpools are set up to get to training and to save the player’s petrol costs , the weighing up of the risks of declaring themselves fit too early after an injury is an all too real and worrying problem, and the wider problems of the sport are discussed, this is a fascinating look back at a sport which has changed so much off the pitch whilst remaining relatively unchanged on it. Continue reading “Left Foot Forward – Garry Nelson”

Bringing Book the Good Times

I’m finally back from a wonderful Christmas and New Year in England, and after fighting through the obligatory jet lag, as well as other demands, I finally find time to catch you up on things.

The most important being the books I managed to haul back over with me, which is a veritable, eclectic feast of words, split nicely between books to reread and new tomes to explore…

Continue reading “Bringing Book the Good Times”

23 Sweet FAs – Andy Sloan

51LY55fxBkL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_A student joke became reality when Andy Sloan embarked with his football table on a footballing odyssey which would see him shaking hands with the Iranian national team and sitting down for the World Cup final with footballing legend Pele.

Having drawn a route on a world map and written to the football associations of the 23 countries through which the line of travel passed, Andy set out with the intention of getting the table onto the pitches of the great stadiums of each country and interacting with the local people through the common currency of football.

Bursting with enthusiasm, football histories and fascinating trivia 23 Sweet FAs proves that cultural differences is no barrier when it comes to the beautiful game.

I know I recently wrote a football/travel book review but I felt the need to add another so quickly as it felt like a breath of fresh air, not only for celebrating the game but also because it has a certain zest for life which is infectious and makes the book highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Right from page one, Sloan’s passion for football shines through, his madcap adventure, which he quantifies as the inherent Britishness of doing something adventurous for absolutely no reason reinforces the idea that through the shared love of the global game, it can transcend not only language differences but also cultural barriers.  Over and over again through the pages there is a sense of togetherness, of a local language and for a global family.  That may sound a little glib but beyond the differences in politics and religion and so forth, all it takes is a simple set of rules and a round ball to encourage togetherness.

The innocence of the idea tp walk into the national HQ’s of football associations and play a game on the table, together with the responses, or lack thereof from the FAs really does underline how distant the sport has become from the fans that support it, especially in Europe, it’s a strange setup, keeping the loyal masses away from a shared love. The table is an attempt to cut through the bureaucracy and seriousness (some may argue that that is professionalism) and bring the sport back to those who just love the entertainment factor in its pure form. Continue reading “23 Sweet FAs – Andy Sloan”

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss

Castel-Maine-XXXXIn the summer of 1996, in a tiny, impoverished town deep in the remote heart of southern Italy, a sporting miracle took place.  The footballers of Castel di Sangro (population: 5000) won promotion to Serie B, the division directly below the most glamorous league in world football.  In little more than a decade, the team had risen from the lowest depths of regional amateur football to within touching distance of Baggio and Batistuta.

Feeling something of a football curio himself – an American who understood and loved the game – Joe Mcginniss followed their fortunes throughout their first remarkable season in the big time.  Populated by characters only the passionate, frenetic, absurd world of sport can produce, The Miracle of Castel di Sangro dramatically reveals football’s limitless potential for magic, wonder and improbable romance.

For those of you not into football don’t leave just yet, for this book is an opportunity to not only learn the basic rules of the game but also to experience the magical side of the game, those rare, special moments when teams move beyond what is expected of them and provide the jaded public with some romance and an underdog to cheer for.

To misuse the sporting cliché, this was a book of two halves, on the one hand the reader will get to follow a small team as they fight to survive in a notoriously competitive league and on the other you have the author’s voice which didn’t take very long to annoy me.

when picking the book up, I was slightly bothered by the line in the blurb that seemingly assured us that although the author was American, he understood the game.  I know this book was written in the year of Major League Soccer’s inaugural season but it seems a little worrying that the publisher has to go to lengths to assure us the author knows what he’s on about, surely the quality of the writing should speak for itself?

Football fans are a passionate breed and McGinniss certainly seems passionate, although his short list of games watched before embarking on the project isn’t impressive, it is pleasant to hear the story about how somebody fell in love with the sport.  Unfortunately as the book progresses he seems to think he has an innate understanding of the game and of the team, even having the temerity to ask the manager why he doesn’t play with a second striker or a certain formation. Continue reading “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss”

Field (Mill) of Dreams

I decided to renew my solitary quest to ‘do things’ at the weekend and this time I went to the first football match of the season.  Naturally as any football fan will tell you, it’s a time of hope, new players in, youngsters brought through to the squad and all is good.  It’s a time of confidence where a positive spin can be put on most things and thoughts of a good season seem realistic, in short it’s a window in which to hope before the inevitable disappointments.

The Saturday weather was glorious helping make it the perfect way to kick off he season and coupled with the sexy new passing style that we have adopted gave the day an added anticipation, I savoured that group feeling like the smell of freshly cut grass or the scent of the first barbecue of the summer.  I started making copious notes on my phone as I have forgotten my notebook and I sadly found that I had lost everything between the stadium and home, another reason why books are better, strangely all my poor attempts at photography came back home unscathed.

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Thumb bombing on the festivities as fans slowly start to arrive in replica shirts that mirror the Summer’s day.

Topically for this post, it was announced last week that Field Mill (to give the stadium its proper name not the name of a sponsor One Call we now have) is the oldest professional football ground in the world, being used since 1861 and is second only to Sandy Gate Road (in Sheffield) as the oldest football ground on the planet by a year.  With such heritage coupled with the traditional feeling of hope, it would have been rude not to come and experience the atmosphere again, something I haven’t done for a few years. Continue reading “Field (Mill) of Dreams”

Eyeballs

EyJust a short review today, as there isn’t that much to say about this type of book. Due my unpredictability, this 300th post is not the high drama one I’m sure you all anticipated…that will be the 400th one where I will attempt something unexpected and probably embarrassing.

Some people excel with language and thought, some leave you flabbergasted and that is why we can be thankful for books like this that disconcert and amuse in equal measures.

Those self-sacrificing readers of Private Eye magazine never miss an opportunity to send in contributions (especially when a small fee could be involved) that will amuse. Published within are a selection from a couple established columns and a smattering of never before published examples.

What the reader gets is a light-hearted read, well more of a book to dip into really, something for the coffee table and to amuse friends in a more placid moment of whatever it is you happen to be doing.

Dumb Britain is a column that has been running since 1997 and showcases the worrying extent of some people’s grasp on knowledge and common sense guesses when taking part in quiz shows.  Commentatorballs highlights the humorous slips of the tongue on live TV and Radio by newsreaders, sports personalities and Politicians etc.

Sometimes the Dumb Britain entries can seem a little too sneery and I agree with that to a certain extent but that is possibly because the compilers and the audience are perhaps more educated.  This is a minor point though as there are many examples of the surreal in some of the answers given.
Continue reading “Eyeballs”

Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics – Jonathan Wilson

510zkI4wWDLFrom the heated pub debate to moving the salt and pepper across the dining table, discussions about football are part of modern life.  Here Jonathan Wilson shows how tactics spread around the world:  how the South Americans shrugged off colonial order to add their own finesse to the people’s game;  how the Europeans harnessed individual technique into a team structure.  Gradually a marauding five up front became inverted, to the point where one up front is not uncommon.  Inverting the Pyramid is not only a fascinating account of changing football tactics, but also a gripping read for anyone interested in the sport.

My inner geek was thoroughly satisfied by this book, I often find myself straddling the fine line of observance, between the abstract and reality when it comes to the shape of football teams.  I sometimes think I look a little too deeply into a lot of things but this book encourages the studying of the minutiae of player position in relation to each other.

Part of football’s enduring fascination is that it is a holistic game, that the slightest change in one part of the pitch can have unexpected and radical  effects elsewhere.

As well as being a who’s who of some of the most famous and innovative coaches and players of the sport of foots, it is also a fascinating and stimulating look at the diffusion of ideas and subsequent changing of the game throughout different cultures.  In this global world it is interesting to show how ideas seeped through into the fabric of nations, when only the best stuck, unlike the viral videos and such of today.

Football is art, a much used political device and also a decent look at how cultures approach life, imprinting in onto the way they play the game.  You can learn a lot from a country by its play, whether it is the aesthetically pleasing…or Greece.  The structure of the book moves forward from the beginnings of the sport, making it easy to pick your prefered subject matter.  There are digressions but this structure allows you to navigate to areas and names of interest. Is this one more for the fan?  Admittedly it is…but that’s not to say that there isn’t something for everybody, Continue reading “Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics – Jonathan Wilson”