Friday, October 20, 2006


Glanville on Target

Long after I began reading (and enjoying) Brian Glanville’s regular column in World Soccer magazine, I discovered that he was also a respected novelist. Not surprisingly, some of his fictional work is concerned with football, his lifelong passion; recently, I’ve read a most enjoyable short novel of his, with the unambiguous title Target Man.

Loosely based on the career of the controversial Giorgio Chinaglia, the book details a turbulent year in the life of Tony Cardinale, an Italian-born, English-raised striker who has been plucked from the obscurity of the English lower leagues to play in Serie A. Glanville’s fictional club, Alba, bears more than a passing resemblance to Lazio.

We follow Cardinale as he becomes a star with his new team, clashes with the coach, falls in love with the club president’s daughter, and seeks to reconcile his family’s simple values with the playboy lifestyle he finds himself beholden to.

There are a number of engaging sub-plots, the most touching of which involves a humble, hardworking young midfielder whose career is ruined by his pig-headed coach’s insistence on his playing despite a serious injury. A very familiar tale for long-term followers of European football.

What amused me particularly was that the offhand corruption, suspicious practices and empty rhetoric described in the book echoed the detail of the recent “Moggiopoli” scandal in Italy perfectly. Reading Glanville’s dry descriptions of relations between clubs and referees – often through mysterious intermediaries – I was instantly reminded of some of the telephone transcripts doing the rounds when the scandal broke in May.

Glanville’s Cardinale is a man both valued and despised in Italy for his “English” qualities; he is strong and good in the air, we read, but technically poor. He has to deal with cynical defenders, dishonest journalists and all the predictable cultural shocks, and, in the book’s climactic scene, it all drives him to one of the rashest acts a footballer can commit.

To give away any more would be unfair, but never fear: all ends happily enough.

Good football fiction is surprisingly rare, with most writers rarely straying from the obvious clichés. The hero scores the winner in the cup final, and is hoisted on the shoulders of his team-mates, who carry him over to his father, with whom he has recently reconciled – you know the deal.

Target Man is refreshingly free of such commonplaces, and its gently ironic tone is tinged with a real affection for perhaps the most football-mad country in the world, and all the human frailties displayed by its players, administrators and fans. Well worth a read.

Thanks for this Mike. I like a good read and I'll look out for Target Man.
Cheers Hamish, hope you can find it! I got it from Fisher Library, but there wouldn't be many copies around for sale any more (it was released in 1978, and there was only one edition as far as I know).
If you can find a copy then I can recommend "Goalkeepers are different" by Glanville as well. I read it as a child and it was wonderful.
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