Friday, August 28, 2009

Guest Post: Random Musings on Soccer Lit Part 1

I've asked one of the most well read guys I know, Chris Shaffer, who is the team manager for Rocket City United, to do a post on some of the "soccer books" that he's read. Now, if you know Chris, you'll know that he does not have a loss for words. So, I've had to break up his list into a few parts. Here is part one of Chris's list.

When Ryan asked if I would do a piece on soccer-related books, I told him that after I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading. As it turns out, I had already read enough soccer-related literature beforehand to at least contribute something. The following is in no way intended to be comprehensive and is not listed or ranked in any particular order. As some of these books are no longer in my possession (you know who you are, beneficiaries of my book-loving largess), I cannot attest to the accuracy of anything I thought I might remember from any specific book.

I did not include a number of books I have read for obvious reasons. Some examples: ghostwritten player biographies, some written while the player is still active. This is all garbage and self-serving tripe, “all England need is me at captain and Terry Venables back as manager and the World Cup is ours,” well you get the idea. Also excluded, books written for American audiences serving up ridiculous platitudes about, say, explaining the world through a sport. My apologies if my mixed use of soccer/football is confusing.

A Season with Verona: Travels around Italy in Search of Illusion, National Character and…Goals, Tim Parks

Parks, an Englishman and university professor in Verona, brings excellent writing and informed perceptions as he covers a Serie A season with the club he supports, Hellas (yes, as in Hellenic or Greek) Verona, the giallo-blue. But Chris, Chievo is the team from Verona in Serie A, right? Well, they are now, but a decade or more ago they were suburban outsiders and Hellas was THE club of the city that provides the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliette.” Parks chronicles both parochialism, the north/south divide, out of control tifosi and the even worse away-game police, as Hellas takes to the road with its hard-core supporters (tifosi) in tow. Among the many cogent points Parks makes, his conspiracy theory that the powers that be in Italian football want to see Hellas Verona out of Serie A and Chievo elevated as the replacement might ring hollow in other contexts. This, however, is Calcio Italiano, where real conspiracies occur with alarming regularity.

Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, Tony Hawks

In the tradition of English Travel Lit, see, for example, Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush for perhaps the finest example of this, Tony Hawk predicates his intrepid tale on a bet with friend made while England are playing Moldova (who? being the idea here) in a World Cup Qualifier. Hawk claims he can beat every Moldovan national team player in a tennis match. Hijinks in decaying former Soviet Republic ensue. Hawk, unfortunately, is no Eric Newby, and subtle, dry wit is often foregone for puerile efforts at humor. As a man who still finds sophomoric scatological humor funny, however, I laughed a lot.

The Rough Guide to European Football: A Fans Handbook, Simon Evans and Peterjon Cresswell

Designed specifically as a travel guide for soccer tourism in continental Europe, its primary audience being British, The Rough Guide makes surprisingly interesting reading, even if one has no travel plans any time soon. On the practical side, the book touches on subjects like the safest, quickest means of getting to and from every major stadium in every major nation in Europe. Tourist meccas like Moldova are not included. Of particular use is the foreign language phrase guide, providing the traveler with the means to buy two tickets and two beers in almost every language in Europe. Brilliant! Of more general interest, the book provides historical context for the game on a country-by-country basis, tackles promotion/relegation protocols in each league as well as the nature of national cup competitions in its ‘Up for the Cup’ segments. One caveat: the book can become dated, as my most recent copy has, what with Leeds United listed under EPL Champions’ League participants.

Chris covers three more books in Part 2.

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