Monday, November 13, 2006

Book Review: The World's Game

Book Review: Bill Murray, The World's Game - A History of Soccer, University of Illinois Press, 1996.

Before I get to the book I am going to be typically and completely distracted. Really, I probably should be blogging about Miron Bleiberg's resignation. Just briefly, Miron might have made mistakes, but he managed in my view to snatch a personal and spiritual victory from the clutches of failure. Football, as I say probably far too much, is a spiritual battle, every step of the way. When I watched Craig Foster interview Ange Postecoglou on SBS on Sunday afternoon, I saw a failure far worse than losing a footie match. Bleiberg has avoided this, and has not only maintained his integrity and the admiration of his friends and fans, but he has quite possibly, with apparent selflessness, given the Roar precisely the correct message to make a further go of it this season.

Meanwhile, if the players in Roar are anything like myself, they will look confidently to Farina, because Miron said so, and I still trust him. I hope they employ Farina over the other applicants, because of this vote of confidence from the single best authority on the matter, and also because Farina is a Queenslander.

Now, I'm supposed to be reviewing a book...

Bill Murray's book is in an academic tradition and, without meaning to patronise anyone, will just not be easy to read for the casual reader. The first couple of chapters, dealing with the origins of the various codes in England and the politics between them, was a bit of a wade for me frankly, and a couple of times I could have just put the book down and moved onto another football biography.

But once I was into it and used to the style of prose, it got me. In brief it is a detailed, referenced account of football's colonisation of the planet from its inception up to the World Cup in the USA in 1994. Clearly it was written with the post-Cup US audience in mind, as despite its global sweep it is structured (or at least briefly topped and tailed) around this event. Frankly I'm glad I've read a couple of football biographies first, as I found it helpful as the narrative progressed to have some familiarity with the organisations and players involved, so I do not recommend it as a first football book. But I do, in the final analysis very heartilly, recommend it.

The 20th Century was a truly tumultous, infinitely interesting and dangerous time. I've read heaps about the 20th Century incidentally, as before being a football tragic I was an unashamed history and politics tragic. I'm broadly familiar with the 20th Century's wars, revolutions, political ruptures, economic upsets and social carnage. The history of football is a layer of this history of which I knew nothing six months ago, and truly, the whole thing now makes more sense.

Bill Murray is obliged to background us in politics along the way to make sense of the development of football. Governments latch on to football, totalitarian governments the most, and exploit it for political gain. Players struggle to maintain their rights over their own skills and effort in the face of profit-hungry individuals and organisations. Wars are postponed for the sake of big matches. Stadiums are built to win elections. A fundamental coal-face for the universal struggle against racism is in international (and increasingly club-level) football. Murray accounts this for us, in a scholarly, matter-of-fact way.

I used to see Rock and Roll as a great social force for change. I'm quite serious and I'm not just talking of California in the 60s. It was a big part of the youth rebellion in the Eastern Bloc in the late 80s and is today a big part of any hope at the grass-roots in Islamic-fundamentalist states like Iran. But now I firmly have a partner for music, and it is football.

Inside the sports stadiums, however, fans found one of the few areas where they could voice their discontent with the regime. Signs that the regime might be softening can be found in a decree of 1994 that allows women to attend soccer matches.
The example is from Iran, but truly there are examples parallel to this throughout this history of soccer, in South America especially where dictators have had to contend with the overwhelming popularity of football, requiring it politically whilst having to tolerate the profound de-alienating mobilisation of society that goes with it. Fascinating stuff, and Murray does it proper justice.

That's enough of a taste for anyone who might be tempted to read the book for themselves. This afternoon on the train from work I completed the book, reading the bibliographical essay, which has opened my eyes to what's available for me to read. I do mean to review - or more accurately make some comment upon - every football book I read, and I have a few (Les Murray's and Pele's biographies, as well as Football for Dummies) on the backburner. Meanwhile I've just started Andrew Jenning's Foul! We are getting to the nitty gritty!

Cheers, and good night.



Blogger john said...

Thank Hamish I'll have a read

One Fantastic Goal by Trevor Thompson is worth a read. Provides useful history of the players we watch every week that are now in their 30s - like when Zdrilric and Milicic scored 40 goals between them for Sydney United. Also, highlights how many times football has fallen over in Australia after much fan fare and 're-birth'.

Did you know Stuart Mclaren saved soccer in Qld when Sydney and Melbourne had decided it wasn't viable up here.

Plus Shoot out by Ross Solly looks at the under belly of the various senate and other enquiries into Australian Football.

November 13, 2006 9:42 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks John. As I've noted before, I will kost certainly prioritise books recommended to me by commentors, subject of course to me finding them!

So far my list of recommendations is:

Nick Hornby's, Fever Pitch, A season in Verona by Tim Parks, and your own recommendation, One Fantastic Goal by Trevor Thompson.

You ask, Did you know Stuart Mclaren saved soccer in Qld when Sydney and Melbourne had decided it wasn't viable up here?

Only since this morning when I read it in the Full 90 that I picked up on Saturday night.

Have you got a link for the Ross Solly story?

November 13, 2006 9:54 pm  
Blogger Hamish said...

Sorry John, I misunderstood. Must be time for bed. I'll keep an eye out also for Ross Solly's Shoot Out.

November 13, 2006 10:20 pm  

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