Book Review: The Illustrated History of Football

Posted by on Jun 5, 2017 in Book Review | No Comments
Book Review: The Illustrated History of Football

The Illustrated History of Football
by David Squires
Published by Century
2017

First of all, something of an admission – I don’t really do cartoons. Ever since my first week at university and the promise of a ‘Graphic Novel’ option as part of my English Literature degree, I ran an almost literal mile and hid in a store cupboard with a well-thumbed copy of Vanity Fair – the Thackeray novel, not the magazine.

Fast forward thirty years and I still haven’t got the bug. Too many wizards, too many spacemen – I’ll take Judge Jeffreys over Judge Dredd any day while I’ve set foot only once in my local comic store, the in all ways estimable Inky Fingers.

But I’m a football nut and the praise for David Squires’ The Illustrated History of Football has been so insistent, so cacophonous that, I had to at least stump up the money to form an opinion. Add to that, an interview with the ever reliable Second Captains podcast that revealed Squires to be an all-round good egg and I had to take the plunge.

And my word, I’m glad I did. This is an absolute landmark of football literature – worthy of the same status as Football Grounds of Europe , Inverting the Pyramid and All Played Out . This is not least because of the mind boggling amount of work involved – all the more prodigious given that Squires is a regular provider of comic strips for The Guardian.

Each set of illustrations is accompanied by a written blurb from Squires, amusingly written and often scabrous in their satire. For this is a genuinely funny book – the sight of Zammo and Ro-land from Grange Hill in a chapter about Diego Maradona’s drug taking was a laugh out loud episode, while Ally MacLeod’s antics before Argentina 78 are all the more amusing for being based almost entirely on fact.

Squires starts with cavemen and ends with Jamie Vardy so there is a continuity to the narrative. Particularly appealing are the many anachronisms. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, David Luiz and Theresa May are catapulted back in time and while there is a playfulness to all this, the continuity of a game besmirched by greed and corruption is fully highlighted. FIFA do not escape lightly.

For this is very much the view of the responsible football fan – one who abhors violence, racism and marketing – representative of the When Saturday Comes readership that forms such an important bulwark against the excesses of the commercial side of the game. If you don’t like that, then, in the words of Owen Jones on a recent edition of The Guardian ’s Politics podcast, then there are plenty of other places in the media where your views will be well catered for.

The selections of topics to cover are very well chosen – Squires avoids anglocentrism in the main while World Cups are particularly lovingly covered. Nor are the early days of organised football ignored – this is a book to place alongside but also to contrast with another recent fine effort – Preston North End: the Rise of the Invincibles by Michael Barrett and David Sque, a volume which we hope to review in these pages soon.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 48 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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