Well, I thought I’d save part 2 of the Football Podcasts article for another day, and instead recommend some top notch football-related reading material. A lot of my reading these days does seem to encapsulate non-fiction football-related stuff, so thought I should pass on those books I really enjoyed.
“The Miracle of Castel di Sangro” by Joe McGinniss
If you have only six pounds of Amazon vouchers at your disposal, and are determined to purchase a football tome, get this one. A fairly unpromising premise gives lie to an amazingly personal, almost bi-polar account of one man following a Serie B side for a season.
McGinniss introduces himself as an American journalist, who has recently, primarily due to USA 1994 (this is set in the Italian 1996-97 season) discovered a love for “calcio” he previously never knew of. He had read of a small Italian side called Castel di Sangro Calcio, who, hailing from a town with a population of 5,000 (Castel di Sangro, indeed), had reached the ridiculously dizzy heights of Serie B. McGinniss states early on that he turned down a biography of OJ Simpson in order to write this book. I for one am immensely glad that he did.
McGinniss’s approach is a very personal one – he embeds himself into the lives of the team, the management and (despite their best efforts to put him off) the owners (who as can be seen throughout the book, don’t entirely have the club’s best interests at heart…), and from thereon it reads almost like a thriller rather than a factual account of the life of a football team. He shares their tragedies and their successes in equal measure, the utterly farcical situations the team find themselves in throughout the season, and even becomes a bit of a footballing aficionado by the end of the book where, suffice to say, things turn a little unsavoury. In all an excellent account of a season against the odds.
Tor! by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger
There are a number of great football books (some of which I’ll come onto below) which take a country’s footballing history and smash it into 400-odd pages of fact and intrigue. “Tor!” is the German take on things, and quite a tale it is too. “Tor!” is German for goal, and the book itself is a rarity in this “series” of books in that it’s written by a citizen of the country being written about. To my mind, this only improves “Tor!” as we are spared cliches about Teutonic efficiency and humourlessness and instead treated to a tremendous analytical account of the history of the game in Germany.
One thing which will strike the reader about this book more than anything is that German football, until the early 1960s, had no great organisation to it, and was for much of the twentieth century something of an amateur sport, each league season culminating in an almost Superbowl-esque one match play-off for the German title.
The book takes us through the early history of German football, into the Nazi era, then into the split between West and East, (particularly focusing on West Germany’s success in the 1954 World Cup against astounding odds) and finishing with the reunification of the country, and the re-integration of the East German sides and players. It is this clear historical context throughout, as well as Hesse-Lichtenberger’s refreshing frankness on much of his country’s play, which makes this an excellent read.
Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
What I want to do, publisher of mine book, is to write about the history of football tactics and formations. Difficult one to sell, one might have thought, but there is no doubt that Jonathan Wilson makes a pretty dry subject almost very interesting.
Part of what makes Inverting the Pyramid as good as it is is the context Wilson places the many random combinations of digits in. 2-3-5 is used to conjure up the halcyon days of the game; the shift to the “catenaccio” model of Helenio Herrera and co gives lie to a description of the man himself, and the lengths to which he was prepared to go for his sides. Footballing geniuses who one may never have heard of, such as Valeri Lobanovski and Bela Guttmann are given prime space for their tactical innovations; even Graham Taylor’s introduction of the pressing game at Watford is given a prime spot in one of the later sections of the book.
Wilson’s book is not so much about the merits or demerits of any particular formation, though he does go into this detail; rather the manner in which they changed, and often in which they were forced to change given the development of the game. In all a somewhat fascinating if a little dry tale of the development of a vital facet of the game.
More to follow, but next up is an EPL preview.