Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

2012’s literary Christmas tree formation

Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman reveals the football books any fan would welcome as an addition to their bookshelf this Christmas

November 20, 2012
7 min read

Twenty years on from the 1992 publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch it might be assumed that there wouldn’t be any subjects football-wise remaining to write a half-decent book about. It is true there’s a lot of dross, personally I avoid almost all ghost-written player biographies like the plague, and the ‘Hornbyesque’ diary of a season/lifetime has been mostly done to death. But there’s also enough fine writers, some new, some vintage, to still provide a literary sparkle to writing about the Game.

Jimmy Burns’ unauthorised biography of Maradona was one of the stand-out books that helped define the new football writing. His latest, La Roja maintains his exceptionally high standards as a football writer, detailing the cultural and social context from which the Spanish team has emerged as World and European champions, arguably the finest national team ever. Of course Spanish club sides aren’t bad either, though domestically La Liga is dominated by just two teams (sound familiar?). Richard Fitzpatrick’s El Clasico provides a superlative explanation of what the Barcelona vs Real Madrid rivalry represents on, and off, the pitch.

At home the biggest story of the year was Man City’s ending of their own years of hurt, in City’s case numbering 44 seasons since last winning the league championship. The finest investigative sports journalist working in the British media is without much doubt David Conn who also happens to be a long-suffering City Fan. His book Richer than God manages to combine quite brilliantly a tribute to all that his club has achieved while at the same time unravelling how the super wealthy owners are a major part of all that is wrong with football today. A hugely insightful and opinionated commentary on the modern game has also been written by an anonymous top-flight player, I Am The Secret Footballer. Almost every topic covered from inside the dressing room, no culprits named though which makes for a well-informed guessing game!

Against Mod£rn Football has been the T-shirted manifesto of Philosophy Football pretty much from our start back in 1994. Of course loudly declaring that football isn’t what it used to be can sometimes descend into a conservative nostalgia. This isn’t something you could accuse Duncan Hamilton of, author of the powerfully evocative memoir The Footballer Who Could Fly. A multi-award winner for his sports writing, Hamilton in his latest book traces the reasons why under the influence of his father he first became a football fan, and what the sharing of their passion taught him about family, masculinity and community. An entirely different take on football’s evolution is provided by Gavin Mortimer’s innovative A History of Football in 100 Objects. Taking the format of Neil MacGregor’s hugely popular TV series, and book A History of the World in 100 Object Mortimer provides a richly original account of the game’s past, present and future without letting the quirkiness of the format get in the way of the interesting facts he expertly uncovers.

In the late 1980s a wave of football fanzines appeared. They were the space where an emergent movement of fandom developed ideas, insights and hopes towards a better game. Few if any of those ideals have survived the commercialised onslaught that the Premiership was to become but that doesn’t mean they don’t remain in the corners of almost every club support. Changes in publishing technology have meant that most of these voices have now gravitated to websites, blogs and twitter feeds. Dig around and the imagination and commitment that once framed the fanzine movement can still be found online. Amongst the best of the new football writing is to be located at In Bed with Maradona and the good news for those whose reading habits remain pre Web 2.0 is that the best of their articles, features and essays have now been compiled into a book, In Bed With Maradona : The First Two Years. The do-it-yourself maxim remains unchanged, the quality unbounded. But one gripe, why is it that the authors are almost exclusively male? Football is framed by its masculinity, in my book that is one of the limitations to the game any new writing should be challenging, not reproducing.

A splendidly alternative tale of football is recorded in Freedom through Football. Founded in 1992, Bristol’s Eaton Cowboys and Cowgirls are punk-footballers who have not only built a truly community club in their native city but also travelled to Mexico, La and Palestine to spread the internationalist word of football for change. Truly inspiring and testament to what the Game, at its best, can become. An entirely different tale of football’s potential is beautifully told by Anthony Clavane in his brilliantly titled Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?. Season 2011-12 was one when the cause of anti-racism in football took a few steps backwards, and to date there’s not much sign of the furore disappearing. In contrast Anthony Clavane’s remarkable book describes how football helped provide Britain’s immigrant Jewish community with an early basis for organising, forming an identity, strengthening their cause both for representation in their own right but to connect with host communities and organisations too. Superbly written, it is a story largely hidden from history. In their different ways it could also be told as a tale of football in the Asian, African, Chinese, Eastern European and other migrant communities who have organised around football in a similar way. In discovering this history we learn not only something about football, but of ourselves too. The perfect combination for a good read about the Game.

An eclectic line-up to shamefacedly suit those who have an inclination not just to check the scoreline, but the meaning of football too. Whilst wishing for six points over the Christmas period may be a forlorn hope for most, with a selection of these reads stuffed in your stocking the read on the bus, train or car home may at least spread some of that fabled seasonal comfort and joy.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, Philosophy Football.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero


4