Book Review: The A to Z of Football Hates
The A to Z of Football Hates by Richard C. Foster
Published by Amberley Publishing
A list will always get people talking and it’s not just online that Tops 10s and A to Zs are endlessly regurgitated and refashioned. There is a healthy appetite for such exercises in book form — from the offensive/amusing likes of Crap Towns, through the mildly diverting Is it me or is everything shit? through to the downright diabolical Fifty People who buggered up Britain, there’s an effort to suit all tastes and to cover all topics.
It was inevitable that someone would pop up to chronicle their footballing pet peeves sooner rather than later and enter Richard Foster and his lovingly compiled litany of dislikes in The A to Z of Football Hates – a fan of long standing, Foster has been active on social media and via a regularly updated website in drawing up his list, but includes many examples from before the internet age, providing a comprehensive guide to all that is bad about the game.
It’s a light hearted project for much of its length — as another reviewer Susan Gardiner has noted, Foster seems to positively revel in many of the objects of his ‘hatred’ — the sections on haircuts, film, music and kits display a real delight in denigrating the appalling and the ridiculous — I attempted in a recent 4 part series to chart the history of football and music and Foster is less forgiving in analysing their interrelationship — but if the first strains of Glen and Chris’s Diamond Lights leave us running for the hills, who doesn’t enjoy discussing the sheer awfulness?
Worthy objects of opprobrium which I found myself screaming ‘yes, yes, yes’ to include the pointlessness of possession statistics early on in televised games; footballing u-turns (in the week that Frank Lampard performed perhaps the most shocking example of these on record); David Beckham’s number 23 shirt as paean to Michael Jordan; the wearing of change kits for no good reason (Norwich City at Reading in December is a recent example); rumourmongers and ‘plastics’. On the latter breed of supporter, Foster has this to say:
One of the sure signs of being a plastic is the most deplorable habit ever witnessed within a public space. The frightening sight of inane waving and excessive smiling if the camera ever happens to spot them is enough to make the stomach churn. It is the sort of behaviour that may just be acceptable at a One Direction concert, but never in a football ground
Another seemingly soft target is club mascots but as so often through the book, a seemingly flippant dislike is often shown to be part of a deeper, more serious problem. Of course nobody could quibble with youngsters accompanying their heroes on to the pitch but the cost for the privilege at most clubs is a true example of the venality of the sport.
This underlying seriousness does provide impetus for a number of important chapters that deal with really flagrant problems — stadium naming rights and the abuses of football ownership are rightly included and skilfully dissected while the presence of the letter Q in the alphabet provides Foster with the opportunity to skewer Qatar 2022. Nor is the criticism restricted to the ridiculousness of holding the World Cup in a country with little footballing tradition in 40 degree heat — Qatari disdain for gay rights and the number of construction deaths in building the stadia are correctly highlighted.
That Foster skilfully treads a line between humour and tragedy is impressive and this is in no little way down to his skill as a writer — people who deploy giant foam hands ‘should be hung, drawn and quartered’ while the pomposity of the Champions League theme tune can be summed up by the fact ‘that BBC 5 Live Commentator Alan Green finds this inspiring’. Nor is the book a throwaway batch of half-baked impressions formed from Vine or Youtube — so often throughout the book, I found myself asking the question, ‘but what about…?’ only for Foster to oblige with the information in the very next paragraph.
As will always be the case with such books, I found much to disagree with Foster on in terms of his selections — but aside from admitting a liking for Portsmouth’s bookshop owning fan John Westwood (in a chapter entitled simply ‘Bell’), I won’t bore you with my quibbles when yours will almost certainly be different from mine. The most pertinent section of the book, however, comes in a vignette from Pat Nevin; others including contributions from ex-Wimbledon man Stuart Castledine, Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox (amusing on squad number eccentricities) and Paul Weller’s ex-pal Paolo Hewitt.
The subject of Nevin’s ire is quite simply footballing hatred itself — as a young Celtic fan who experimented with switching to Hibs, he simply has no time for detested rivalries, sectarian or otherwise — and as the purveyor of an avowedly non-partisan blog, I am fulsome in my support for him on this, as is Foster.
Many of the examples date from recent times and there is an inevitable whiff of the ‘Against Modern Football’ project — it’s clear that FIFA, the Premier League and the general financialization and marketization of the game are at the root of many of the games ills and Foster pulls no punches.
But the example of Burnley and Stoke concocting a goalless draw in 1898 illustrates that many of the problems have been with us a long time and this is far from a set of inchoate ramblings. Yes — ‘hates’ is occasionally a bit strong, ‘pet peeves’ might have been more accurate — and I’d like to have seen more space for shepherding the ball out of play and Wonga (mentioned but probably deserving of a chapter level entry) — but this is an enjoyable sprint through the issues that endanger our enjoyment of and commitment to the sport.