Saturday, July 28, 2007


Foot-Lit, Part 1

Hamish over at Football Down Under recently compiled a useful list of football books which he has either enjoyed, purchased or tried to track down.

I’ve done a few book reviews on this site, but Hamish’s diligence has spurred me to provide a more lengthy list of books which have either broadened my knowledge of the game, or simply given me hours of enjoyment.

Herewith, then, my own top five:

1. Brian Glanville, The Story of the World Cup

This is, above all, the book that encouraged me to write about the game (even if my efforts read like a stilted ramble compared with Glanville’s magnificent prose). Glanville has a unique gift for bringing the game to life, and his depictions of individual games, goals, players and managers are little gems of sports writing. Consider this, his description of the celebrations that followed Brazil’s victory in the 1970 final:

The Brazilian jubilation afterwards was as spectacular and memorable as anything one had seen on the field: a joyful, dancing invasion of fans milling around their victorious players, pulling off their bright yellow shirts and hoisting them, bare to the waist, on to their shoulders. In this exuberance, this unconfined delight, one seemed to see a reflection of the way Brazil had played; and played was, indeed, the word. For all their dedication, all their passion, they and their country had somehow managed to remain aware that football was, after all, a game; something to be enjoyed.

It will make sense to cricket fans if I say that Glanville is, for my money, the Neville Cardus of football (without the pretension).

It is a failing of many English-language accounts of the World Cup that they focus mainly on the fortunes of England and the other home nations. Although Glanville’s book is guilty of this to a small extent, he is very comprehensive in his scope, giving generous accounts of World Cup surprise packages such as the North Koreans of 1966 and the Tunisians of 1978.

Now 74, Glanville updates his magnum opus after every tournament, but as the years pass some inaccuracies do creep in (there are a few significant factual errors in his account of the 2002 tournament, for instance). The well-thumbed edition I own was purchased briefly before the 1998 tournament in France, but I’ve consulted subsequent editions avidly for his impressions of the later instalments.

I was overjoyed to get the chance to meet Glanville in Germany last year, and on my telling him how much I’d enjoyed the book, he complained that his publishers had left out plenty of amusing material related to the earlier tournaments. Indeed, the chapters dealing with the pre-war World Cups are surprisingly short; apparently, the publishers decided that events that far back would be of little interest to the average reader. A pity.

In Part 2: a look at the game closer to home.

Excellent stuff Mike. If Glanville's book is one which, "book that encouraged (you) to write about the game," we all owe it a debt, and I'll be looking out for it.

I know you've reviewed Jennings' Foul!, but if you've reviewed any other books can you give me the links to them? I suppose I'm too lazy to trawl through all your archives.
A shame about the publishers editing of the book (I have read it).

Personally its not the well known stories, even with Glanville's spin on it that are the most interesting, but the less known ones.
Hi Hamish,

...I know you've reviewed Jennings' Foul!, but if you've reviewed any other books can you give me the links to them?...

Can't remember them all off the top of my head unfortunately; I did one on another Glanville book, "Target Man" (I think you might have commented on that one), one on Phil Ball's book about Spanish football (that was earlier this month IIRC), and perhaps one or two others.
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