How Football Explains the World

How Football Explains the World – (An Unlikely Theory of Globalisation)

Written by Franklin Foer

First Published in the UK by Arrow Books in 2005

This is an interesting book written by Franklin Foer, American writer and editor, who looks into the game of football in various countries and explains how he see’s it gives an insight into what is going on in the world and the character of different groups within countries.

What struck me most was that that Foer was writing obout his experience that globilisation had not changed local identity or culture well before the backlash to globalisation itself. The rise of nationalistic leaders and nostalgic politics have followed his book and perhaps his bold title of ‘How Football Explains the World’ was a very insightful predictor of the future or was the secondary title of ‘An Unlikely Theory of Globilisation’ completely off the mark.

The chapter about Nigerian footabllers being sought by clubs in the Ukraine widening out about Ukraine’s society and their football scene in general was for me was the most interesting.

A chapter on football in Iran gave the impression that there was an udercurrent through football fans that would overthrow the Islamic revolution. Hmmmm.

The British comment regarding fans of Celtic, Rangers, Chelsea and Tottenham gave me a miserable feeling of continuing intollerance and anger which I had thought had diminished. Has it just been controlled in the grounds but not on the streets or in general society.

An interesting book to gain knowledge but not one to uplift your spirits.

Life’s a Pitch

Life’s a Pitch (The passions of the Press Box)

Compiled and Edited by Michael Calvin

Published by Integr8 Books 2012

I put this book down half read because for Christmas I had been given the latest tale about John Rebus by Ian Rankin. Having read all the previous adventures I had to quickly keep up to speed and as usual I was not disappointed.

I started to rediscover this book but with little enthusiasm as I couldn’t remember much of what went before. I am one of those people who once you start a book you have to finish it. This has meant I have struggled through some poor and difficult books.

Much to my surprise I found I enjoyed the second half.

The book is a collection of selected writings of 18 leading football writers and as explained by Marc Watson in the ‘Afterword’ they were all known to him through their work for BT’s football website.

My favourite chapter ‘Egg and Chips for Two’ by David Walker explains the behind the scenes ownership and management of Leeds United’s last great period, particularly their encounters with the European elite who tried to put them down but were firmly put in their place. Some may argue but most would see the advantage of them being back in the echelons of English football.

The other chapter that fascinated me was ‘The Tony Soprano of Old Trafford’ by Rob Smyth about his love for Rot Keane which was an unusual admission because of Roy Keane’s ‘Marmite’ personality and views. It gave me more respect for the man and his ability to play football and motivate his teammates. He’s subsequent management achievements have not matched his footballing ones but this may all change with the rumours that he is in the running for the vacant Celtic Management job.

A interesting book that brought back memories of the time and shows how football changes so quickly in a decade.

The Turning Season

The Turning Season: DDR-OBERLIGA REVISITED

Written byMichael Wragg

Published by Pitch Publishing 2020

This is a great read in that it captures you in a journey back to the breaking up of the wall and frontier between the two Germany’s through the 14 football clubs that made up the then DDR-Obeliga. It then whisks you forward to tody and where those teams now fit into a unified German football system.

It is not just about football as it also charts what has happened to the towns, fans and players in the intevening years. It is sad to see that like in some British cities the de-industrialisation has meant a drift to more affluent areas and a feeling of left behind. However the left behind has some times meant new horizons or a longing for the past.

Michael Wragg gets across his own emotions in visiting the 14 grounds and the changes he sees. Of the 14 teams that were in the top East German League none are now in the top Bundeliga, 2 are in the second tier, 5 the third, 5 the fourth, 1 the sixth and 1 as low as the seventh tier. The crowds have also dwindled and the grounds have in some cases fallen away.

This book is a really easy read and when you get to the end you are sad that you have finished it, which tells me it was good.

Thank you Michael I will look out for your next journey.

Working Class Heroes

Working Class Heroes – The Story of Rayo Vallecano Madrid’s Forgotten Team

Written by Robbie Dunne

Published by Pitch Publishing2017

Robbie Dunne moved to Spain in 2016 following a Spanish girlfriend. As an avid sports fan and with an appetite to travel he found that a fascination with one of Madrid’s other teams Rayo Vallecano enabled him to immerse himself in the language and culture. He produced the book about the club that he strung together around their 2016/17 seasons games and has fashioned a career as a sports journalist.

Having been relegated the season before from La Liga there was great expectancy that they may swiftly return. On field troubles with players, three manager in the season and with a vociferous campaign against the owners it all goes badly wrong until rescued at the end.

That is the background story as Robbie tells a story of a club from Vallecas the last real Barrio in Madrid that holds on tenaciously to its working class heritage. The area was subsumed by Greater Madrid in 1950 but has resisted the gentrification that has gone on elsewhere.

Rayo Vallecano were formed in May 1929, and are known for its many ups and downs in the Spanish League system having been in La Liga a few times but mostly in the Segunda Division. It’s arguably best times were finishing 9th in the top league in the 1999/00 season qualifying for the UEFA cup through the Fair Play League. They did magnificently reaching the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup and as always with a limited budget but some inspired low price signings and loans.

Rayo’s working class credentials comes from the area but is also from a section of the fans called the Bukaneros who often display anti fascist, racism and the commercialisation of football banners and songs at games. There have also been players who have identified with the area and its working class struggle.

An example of the clubs social awareness was in 2014 when the Manager, Paco Jemez and the team hearing of the plight of a local 85 year old woman being evicted from her house clubbed together to ensure that the bailiffs did not evict her and covered her housing costs for the rest of her life.

During the time that Robbie Dunne was writing the book the Rayo management signed Roman Zozulya who lasted only one training session because of his alleged political views. I have used a piece from ‘Football Espana’ that I have highlighted in blue to explain much better than I could.

https://www.football-espana.net/

History between Rayo and Zozulya

Zozulya and Rayo Vallecano have history – the player was briefly on the books at Rayo in January 2017, when he lasted just half a training session before fans made it abundantly clear he was not welcome at the club. They attended the training session he took part in, and displayed a banner outlining that “Vallecas is no place for Nazis.” Very shortly after, the loan deal was terminated.

The fans at Rayo are proudly and strongly left-wing, and promote anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, and anti-misogynistic values. When their club signed the attacker on loan in January 2017, the idea of seeing a person they believed to harbour far-right views wear the famous red sash jersey of Rayo was simply unacceptable.

In the build-up to the announcement of the signing, fans researched the background of the player, and found an abundance of evidence that links him with the far-right paramilitary organisation Azov Battalion in his native Ukraine. There are also many photographs of the player posing with Nazi, fascist, and white supremacy symbols and figures. Shortly after the incident gained national headlines, Rayo fans published a nine-page dossier on the historical ties between Zozulya and far-right groups and organisations, to explain to the world exactly the reasons behind their rejection of this signing. For his part, Zozulya completely denies the accusation he is a Nazi, and explains his political leanings and past involvement with paramilitary organisations as solely “patriotic.”

This was a Christmas present and a good one although I found reading it at night and trying to absorb all of the Spanish names a challenge. As yet Robbie Dunne has not published a further book, I am looking out for it.

‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’

‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’ Written by Neal Heard

Published by ‘A Lovers Guide Publishing’ 2016

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This was again a Charity Shop find and what a find. Neal Heard has put together a book about football shirts that was 25 years in the making in his head. He had intended to write a book about the development and history of football shirts back to footballs inception but it has turned out to be his personal view of a subject he feels passionate about. It starts in the mid 1960’s when he explains that the viewing of football became a worldwide phenonium due to more televised games even if some were in black and white.

It is fascinating how the sports brands took over football shirts and tried for domination through changing styles, designs and the use of their own name and logo’s to further this cause. From the clubs getting income from the shirt brands came the bigger income stream of sponsorship on shirts. Football shirts have also been used to push political allegiances but the thing that came through to me was the designs that represented the times in which they were worn. Some have become iconic and hugely collectable and Neal points out that this is sometimes not due to the shirt but a specific game, season or individual.

Neal has also written a new book on shirts in 2017 and had previously published ‘Trainers’ in 2003.

Neal is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable people on football design and culture and is best described by himself on his Twitter feed.

“Brand Consultant – Pop Culture Historian – Author of: Trainers’ & ‘The Football Shirts Book – A Connoisseurs Guide’ – I’m not as boring as I make myself sound.”

To pick the best ever football shirts is all very subjective and everyone will have their own favourites often on partisan lines depending on who they support. The book made me think what my three favourites are and I have chosen the following.

No.1 Juventus 

I perhaps should have chosen Real Madrid’s all white strip of the 1960’s but to me the Juventus strip was top. This non branded, non logoed shirt states that they are Italian and the vertical stripes gave their players stature that reflected their no nonsense style of play. To me this says we are who we are.

No2 Huddersfield Town FC away kit !991/92

Huddersfield Town 1991/92 away strip is in Neal’s book. It just says to me flair, different, lets just be fun. Also worn in Disco’s of the time.

Classic Football Shirts | 1991 Huddersfield Town Old Vintage Soccer Jerseys

No 3 Aston Villa home and away kit 1993/94

Excuse me an indulgence in picking a season for my third choice Aston Villa’s 1993/94 season of which the black red and green one was my favourite. The claret and blue one will be remembered for Villa’s 3-1 League cup final win over Manchester United and the amazing semi final two legged 4-4 draw and a victory through penalties. The Villa fans at Wembley were in good spirits and put their more fancied rivals in the shade, this was brought to a higher level when they noticed Gary Shaw sitting amongst them just two rows down from me. As Gary Gary Shaw rang out he stood and waved to his adoring fans and all seemed good. Villa never looked back as the silky smooth Dalian Atkinson loped through on the right for the lead.

For me the most memorable part of the game was with the final whistle a bunch of jubilant fans went off on a Conga but with my ten year old son on one of their shoulders. My fear of how I would explain that I had lost her son to my separated wife was banished when in great spirits they returned him some minutes later.

Aston Villa 1994 Shirt | eBay
Aston Villa 1994 Away shirt | Aston Villa FC Retro Jersey | Score Draw

Great book Neal, great memories.

‘Paying on the Gate’

‘Paying on the Gate’ by Jason McKeown

Published in 2011 by Peakpublish

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With the blog named ‘payonthegate’ I couldn’t resist this book. It was not my usual charity shop find and I had to pay over the cover price to get a copy.

The book is about a schoolboy Manchester United fan who has little if no chance of ever getting a ticket for Old Trafford and by chance gets to go to Bradford City then in the championship. He is immediately smitten and embarks on a journey into the Premiership and then a quick decline to end up in league 2. This roller coaster of the clubs journey, that includes near death experiences for the clubs finances, is mirrored by Ian’s schoolboy to college, to Uni, to looking for a job, finally getting a job he enjoys, girlfriends to marriage all in a little over 10 years.

It is breathless but shows how the passion for your team grips you and determines your mood and life. It was worth paying over the odds for it and I applaud Ian’s frankness in the writing. Supporting your local team through thick and thin is certainly not boring and is more rewarding than clicking up trophy win after trophy win with a team you will never experience the physical relationship with the club.

Jason has written some of the history of the club since but again the prices seem too harsh for me so I will not follow that up. I wish Jason well and Bradford City who are now down there at the foot of League 2 with a very real danger of dropping into the National League. Their near neighbours Halifax will attest to the difficulty of getting out of that League.

Helicopter Dreams

Helicopter Dreams – the quest for the Holy Grail.

Written by Ron Ferguson, Published by Northern Books.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil’ by Ron Ferguson I looked into his other books and found two others that interested me. Firstly I read ‘The Reluctant Reformation of Clarence McGonigall’ from Steve Savage publishers 2003. This short (126 page) story about the last years of the Reverend J Clarence McGonigall MA BD in the Scottish Kirk. He rails against the church being taken over by marketing gurus who talk about customers and targets. His travails get him into trouble on lots of fronts but this grumpy, antagonistic man has a good heart and a great passion for what he believes. I won’t say more just buy the book and have a smile in a cosy chair by the fire with a wee dram.

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You will remember from my blog about ‘Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil’ that it was about Cowdenbeath FC and their disasterous season of 1992/93 when they were relegated having been promoted the year before. It was as much a social history of the club, the town, the religious and political scene and most importantly the players and people.

Well this is about the 2005/06 season which starts badly but the arrival of a manager from Finland transforms them into promotion battlers. This book is more about the games, team and past players as Ron Ferguson inducts ex players into his ‘Hall of Fame’. There is also some more local and family history. I do not want to give away the ending of the book but it’s a good read.

Reading all of the books Cowdenbeath has seeped into my conscioisness and I now have to check on their results. Perhaps one day I will visit.

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Bloody Confused!

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Written by Chuck Culpepper

Published by Broadway Books; 2008

I am normally lucky in finding a football book in Oxfam and this time in Oban.

The book was a ‘Bound Galley – Not for Resale ‘ which I had never heard of before. It turns out a ‘Bound Galley’ is the pre-publication version of an upcoming published book that is a printed, perfect bound book. The cover of the Bound Galley may be the four color cover of the book to be published. In some cases the covers are printed on color stock and contain information useful to marketing the book to reviewers, bookstore distributors and buyers. This description is taken from The Country Press Inc. Website.

However this book had been sold at least twice. Once by a Community Thrift Store for 2 dollars in the USA and then £1.49 in Oxfam.

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Perhaps the reason for it being once sold in the USA is that the book is about a successful American sports writer who had attended the most iconic sporting events in the world and comes to Britain to absorb the Premiership football scene.

Initially Chuck Culpeper visits grounds and games to decide who to follow and stumbles on Portsmouth where he sees them survive a relegation battle in April 2006.

Chuck returns the whole of the next season and where possible follows them home and away. He not only reports on the games, the stadiums and locations but also the fan base culture that is the true soul of the English game. He was also tired of the stale state of reporting and organisation of the NFL, NBA and the MLB.

He finds a league structure that has ‘relegation’ some thing very strange in his home countries sports set up where franchising of clubs is the norm. Interestingly it is this franchising that has produced the recent proposals by the American owned Premier League teams as they try to protect their investment and dictate the future structure of our senior league or a European ‘Super League’.

He picked the best modern season to support Portsmouth who battle to achieve qualification to European football. How their fans would wish to be back in that position having endured so much frustration and trauma since these heady days.

Chuck makes friend with a group of supporters and is welcomed into their world which includes attending matches with a blue bear.

This is a well written book that is easy to read and drives you on the journey and you feel the emotions that the fans go through.

If you want a Football fix in these days of no spectators this book will take you there.

Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil.

A Chronicle of Coal, Cowdenbeath and Football. Written by Ronald Ferguson, published by Famedram Publishers 1993.

While reading “Can we have our football back?’ on holiday, I researched the author which led me to a quarterly Scottish Football magazine ‘Nutmeg’ which talked about the Blue Brazil?

To my amazement in Oban Oxfam shop I found this book which is all about Cowdenbeath F.C. a la ‘The Blue Brazil’.

There are many anecdotal reasons where the name came from but although touching on it that is not what the book is about.

The book takes you on a journey through Cowdenbeath F.C’s tumultuous season of 1992-93 and how it’s fans, players, manager, owner and other board members played their part.

This is though only one aspect of this multi layered book that takes you on other journeys in the town’s history, local coal mining, the Labour party, the church, the co op, the author and some I have missed. Page 121 gives a good insight into why the Labour Party lost its hold on its congregation.

This is a great social history book and I have seen it described as a cult classic but for me it is an Icon. With so much passion and skll in Scottish Football that ouzes from the pages in this book and has been shown by Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly, ‘Hooky Leonardd to name only a few I cannot understand why they fail so dismally at a higher level. Perhaps it is held back by the administtators in the game who fined Cowdenbeath £500 at the beginning of the Second World War for not fulfilling a fixture due to a large proportion of the team signing up, an injustice that still hasn’t been rectified.

A quote from early in the book: “Myths and dreams and pies and bovil may not mean much to the sophisticated who crowd into the hospitality lounges of big clubs several minutes before the half-time whistle has even gone; but if wee clubs are squeezed out, more than football will suffer”, shows Ron Ferguson’s deep rooted feeling and concern for football.

The author now lives on Orkney where at one time was Mister of St Magnus Cathedral. Even from there he has followed his beloved Cowdenbeath despite an inhospitable ferry journey and endless road miles.

I try not to make recommendations on what to read but this is a must, you will not be disappointed and you will follow Cowdenbeaths results for ever more.

Can we have our football back?

How the Premier League is ruinning football and what we can do about it….’

Written by John Nicholson. Published by Head Publishing 2019.

This book has been touted as one of the best published in the past 12 months about football so I devoured it on my recent holiday.

It set the historical creation of the Premier League and delivered on many aspects of how it has, is and will continue to take the game from the fans and football as a whole.

The book delivered everything I expected.

The book is well written and at first it feels like John Nicholson is ranting at you to wake up and get on with some action to regain control of Football. John analyses and explains what has happened and then proposes changes that are set out to achieve a more equitable game for fans, players administrators and all teams. I could say it is a type of socialism for top flight football but that would be wrong, it is a passionate call for some equity in the game and a revolution against the all powerful monolith that the Premier League has become.

The first part of the book is ten chapters of laying bare the Premier Leagues web of marketing myths and truths that have brought us to a belief that they are all conquering and the salvation of the game. Parts two and three talk of a revolution and dreams for the future culminating with the manifesto. Finaly there is a. Manifesto of what John want at achieve which I will leave for you to find out by reading the book.

Since reading the book some of John’s predictions have come true. He says that there is a myth about the League’s global dominance and continuous revenue stream. This has been badly dented with the announcement that they have had to cancel the £564M Three year contract with PPTV in China after non payment.

Fans have also campaigned successfully for a pay per view service to be able to see their clubs specific match rather than the broadcasters match scheduled. This was in the main what was available during lockdown and fans want it to continue.

Come the next round of negotiations for TV rights the playing field will have changed and part of the revolution will be in motion.

John, a really thoughtfull and engrossing book, up the revolution.