Friday, August 24, 2007

Now My Brain Hurts, too

Three books to tell you about.

The first is When Saturday Comes: the Half-decent Football Book. Now, I bow to no one in my admiration of the monthly magazine the folks at WSC put out. But this book is painful - and not simply because of its dictionary-like weight and format. I'm not entirely sure what they were thinking when they published it as it can only harm their reputation.

What's it like? Imagine taking about 20 issues of their magazine, concentrating all the bits that make them sound like humourless anorak-wearing little Englanders who would like nothing more than to bring the game back to its pre-Taylor report glories, and concentrate them in one book. Ok, now arrange the titled offerings in alphabetical order. That's this book. Personally, I'd have far preferred a WSC book made up of the bits they left out; notably their excellent but too-short foreign coverage. Unless you have some sort of chronic illness which requires you to have potted histories of 100-odd English and Scottish clubs close at hand, there is no reason to buy it.

There is even less reason to buy the book Casuals, by Phil Thornton. I would crap on this book from a great height but it's far too easy and really I'm the one who needs my head examined for ever having thought it worth perusing. The conceit of this book - are you ready for this? - is that there are actually people in the world who care deeply enough about the relationship between regional English youth cultures, football hooliganism and the evolution of fashion (English fashion, let me hasten to add) to actually read over 270 pages of mostly oral history on the subject from "those who were there", including "celebrity" interviewee Peter Hooton of the late and not-terribly lamented band The Farm.

Terrace culture is at least potentially an interesting subject. This book - which devotes an incredible amount of space to detailing the years in which mullets replaced mushrooms, Armani replaced Fila and Reeboks began rivalling Adidas - does not even begin to scratch the surface of this subject in an intelligent way.

Let me be perfectly clear: this book is not worth reading. It is worth incinerating. If you need to emigrate to avoid reading it, do so. My eyes bled and bits of my lower cerebellum crawled out my ear as I foolishly read the book cover-to-cover (I'm stubborn that way) in search of something with at least a passing resemblance to meaning or insight about football. The best I could come up with is that being a terrace regular - particularly those who make it a habit to go to away games - is a far more narcissistic pastime than is commonly thought.

The third book is David Wangerin's Soccer in a Football World, which is published by WSC. Unlike the other two, this one is most definitely worth a look. It is a little bit plodding in places (I think I now know more about internecine warfare between rival US soccer federations in the 1920s than any person strictly should), but it provides some great long-term perspective on the growth of football in America - and especially why particular regions in New England and the Midwest (e.g. Kansas City) became football hotbeds. For those who think the sport began with the arrival of the NASL (an impression one could easily get by reading Gavin Newsham's Once in a Lifetime), this is a great antidote. I'd write more about it, but CultureofSoccer has already written a far better and far longer review than I could, so just go read it here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The WSC book is definitely a disappointment, though occasionally worth dipping into when searching for some absurdly arcane fact. And I shall refrain from ordering Casuals, then, thanks for the warning.

The Wangerin book is indeed excellent, I agree with your thoughts entirely. Is that now out in North America too, do you know? It's really a shame if it still isn't.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Antonio G said...

As far as I know, it's still only available in the UK. I think I got my copy by renewing my WSC subscription a few months ago, which was a great 2-for-1!

5:04 PM  

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