Book Review: Falling for Football
Falling for Football edited by Adam Bushby and Rob MacDonald
Published by Ockley Books
Falling for Football is a highly significant book and not just because of the way it expertly conjures up why we fall for the sport, its tribulations and tensions, its vitality and emotion, in the first place. It is also noteworthy for the service editors Adam Bushby and Rob MacDonald have performed in gathering together 44 specially commissioned contributions, the obvious work that has gone in to harrying people to meet deadlines, the support of the people at Ockley Books and the fact that this is a venture in almost all cases entered into in people’s spare time.
For you could identify the bookkeepers, bench technicians and bank clerks of the average FA Cup First Round Saturday with the legion of writers called upon to contribute to this marvellous book – a health check of the footballing blogosphere roughly five years in (while acknowledging that some of those included have been plugging away longer and some would eschew the label of ‘blogger’) and rich proof of the talent involved – a book that can be placed alongside that timeless classic My Favourite Year and one that is not one jot diminished by the fact that for most, football writing is not the day job.
Many of the pioneers are present and correct: Ian King of Two Hundred Percent, three of the editors of In Bed with Maradona in Chris Nee, Ryan Keaney and David Hartrick (the latter already a published author), Richard Whittall, Stuart Fuller, Greg Theoharis – the list goes on and that reflects my eagerness to get tucked into the book as soon as it landed on my doorstep last week. Humbled too that the editors felt contributions from both myself and fellow Unfortunate Lloyd as well as erstwhile collaborator David Bevan, head honcho of the sadly now defunct The Seventy Two, a site whose rich archive of posts is now embedded within our own, were worthy of inclusion.
The content is deeply personal with clubs represented ranging from Queen of the South to Argentina; from the fictional Barnstoneworth United to Milan. There is also a healthy smattering of the cult – the Bulgaria of Letchkov, Balakov and Sirakov, the Croatia of Šuker, Boban and Prosinečki, Roger Milla, Alexi Lalas and Brian Deane.
The 1990s loom larger than a retrospective of singles from Northern Uproar and Sleeper – although thankfully to a tune of much higher quality – and this reflects the age band of the majority of the contributors. Yet only one – Hartrick – stresses the importance of playing over watching even if most would probably concur with that feeling, dodgy knees and groins notwithstanding. It’s also often a televisual reminiscence, made necessary by a range of factors and not just geography.
For the book packs its biggest punch in the poignancy of some of the tales. When Jamie Cutteridge informs us that the pivotal game in his chapter – a 3-2 win for Aston Villa over Arsenal – coincided with the death of his brother, it stops the reader in his tracks; Richard Bellis tells of a burgeoning love of Chester City while caring for a disabled brother and John Dobson speaks of a father who battled with curvature of the spine to take his son to the football. These chapters are clustered in the middle part of the book and pack a real punch, engendering a fierce pride in the importance of the game we love.
Another outstanding piece is James Young’s on Linfield – an exposé of the sectarian universe as applied to the round ball game published in a week which saw manager Roy Coyle chalk up a thirty first trophy for the Belfast team. As Young recounts:
The songs, which were exclusively about how Roman Catholics (Fenians, in the parlance of the day) were a bad lot, and how great something called The Sash and some battle that took place in 1690 were, and other such gibberish, because Linfield were the best Protestants in the world and everyone else was Catholic and therefore to be despised, even Glentoran, who were generally all Protestants too, except they weren’t as good at being Protestants as Linfield, or something…
From that, it will be clear that this is not a book of cosy reminiscence about Game Boys and Tamagotchis.
Overall, the book is a terrific step in establishing a further print base for football bloggers and one that features almost entirely new material after the impressive anthologies brought to us by In Bed With Maradona and Pitch Invasion. Production wise, it’s a relatively restrained affair compared to the sumptuousness of IBWM: The First Two Years allowing the content to take centre stage, although nevertheless expertly designed by Michael Atkinson (cover) and Two Unfortunates designer Mick Kinlan (internal lay out) while the only possible improvement would be the addition of a contributor list and set of biographies. Impact can often be a challenge for print authors given the immediacy of online feedback via twitter and comments sections, but the book as physical artefact remains unbettered as a piece of technology. This, therefore, is something of a landmark.