Book Review: The Game of Our Lives
The Game of our Lives by David Goldblatt
Published by Penguin
The Game of Our Lives scooped the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award and deservedly so — for this is an all-encompassing overview of the socio-cultural background to British football over the past few decades. In this, it presents a far fuller picture than David Goldblatt’s previous Futebol Nation, released to coincide with the Brazilian World Cup in 2014. The author is clearly far more deeply immersed in the subject matter and his enthusiasm and natural fervour for the sport in the UK makes for a more effortless volume altogether.
In many ways, the book constitutes a kind of ‘applied sociology’ of football with many of the topics you would find on a typical university curriculum in sociology — Race, Gender, Community — afforded their own sections — and only Criminology not afforded a central place, that branch of the discipline having somewhat outgrown its motherlode in recent years. As an academic based at LA’s Pitzer College, this may well have been what Goldblatt had in mind when writing the book — and the format certainly works brilliantly.
Particularly good is the chapter on Race — a real tour de force that takes the reader through the history of football’s relationship with ethnicity, stopping short before Malky Mackay’s Cardiff City emails. Goldblatt will certainly have been little surprised when he heard of that incident and his view is that racism is still afforded too much forgiveness in the game — the way that Harry Redknapp, Alan Pardew and others have spoken out in attempted defence of Mackay, the latter on Graham Hunter’s otherwise rightly popular series of Big Interview podcasts, is enough evidence of that.
Also good is a refresher on football governance and Terry-Thomas’s description of an ‘absolute shower’ springs to mind when the names of Graham Kelly, Brian Barwick, Mark Palios and company are mentioned. That the FA, subsisting in musty Lancaster Gate with a staff of 5 just a few years before the Premier League blew everything into the stratosphere is telling and one does feel sorry for the way time caught up with them — World Cup bids look even more futile than they did at the time, the old school tie sense of entitlement truly wince-inducing.
Adam Crozier is one FA head who comes out of the book well — slightly surprisingly given Goldblatt’s tendency to stand up for the little man and to be hostile to commercial interests. The author isn’t hard to characterise as the trendy sociology professor that he is but there is still balance and a realisation that the game must move forward. The book, despite how it has been advertised in some quarters, is very far from being a chronicle of the Premier League — indeed, it’s the detail on the lower reaches of the English game that often provides the more enjoyable passages.
So, any book that recalls the dust-up between Wolves’ mascot Wolfie and one of Bristol City’s ‘Three LIttle Pigs’ will always get my vote while there is a snappy section on football finance which sees Goldblatt rightly refuse to over reach himself, perhaps saving up material for a next effort. That so many of the topics in this book are ones that have been central to The Two Unfortunates’ mission statement over our 7 years of operation was always going to leave me nodding in agreement as I read — I was delighted to see Ian King’s peerless Two Hundred Percent, our own regular contributor Susan Gardiner gain mention in the bibliography while a terrific section on football’s regions is an echo of much that we have expounded upon.
There are a few errors — the spelling of ‘Madejski’ as ‘Madjeski’ and characterisation of the eponymous stadium as the ‘Mad House’ rather than the more accurate ‘Mad Stad’ are two while Andy Goram is depicted on a tour of the fiercely nationalist Falls Road in Belfast (one presumes it must have been the Shankhill). But these are minor quibbles — in all, it’s a heady blend of excellent scholarship, fine writing and passion — a hundred times better than Ian Ridley’s There’s a Golden Sky which attempted to cover similar ground. Still relatively youthful, Goldblatt has established himself as the main chronicler of the sociological side of the sport and one waits eagerly for his next efforts.