Dear reader, welcome to my new series of football book reviews. Thank you so much to everyone who recommended football books to me on social media.
I am focussing in particular on books detailing the fan experience. You know I enjoy* going on the road with Blackpool and, not being able to do that at the moment owing to lockdown, I figure that going on adventures on the page is the next best thing.
*perhaps ‘enjoy’ is too strong a word for this season’s experiences…
This week I have mainly been travelling across Italy with Tim Parks in A Season With Verona. The book charts Tim’s travels following Hellas Verona for every game of the 2000/01 season.
The opening chapter transports the reader on a 500+ mile coach journey to Bari, which frankly left me thinking maybe Portsmouth away wasn’t such a bad trip after all! Onboard the fans were chanting and not allowing fellow passengers to sleep – which of course happens over here, too. I did, however, chuckle at the image of the Italian fans drinking limoncello on the coach! Parks later contrasts the fans’ matchday experience with that of the players.
Parks perfectly sums up one side-effect of getting to know players as human beings. This was something I noticed from my time working as Match Secretary at Chasetown:
The detail of the away trips, the characters (who all have nicknames) and the inventive if offensive chants really help to set the scene. I was particularly amused by the taunting of the Vicenza fans, who are known as ‘cat eaters.’
There are strong cultural references throughout the book, as we learn what was in the news in Italy at the time, from racism to the forthcoming election. Many neat parallels are drawn between the news and the football. This is a cleverly-written book written by an obvious intellectual. I felt there was perhaps a little too much Italian scattered through the opening chapter, which I found difficult to follow, but it does help to set the scene and this settles down as the book progresses.
Parks often references the advantages of being in the heart of a crowd watching a match versus watching on television and sums this up beautifully.
Reading this book evoked many memories from years gone by – including when friends brought a new partner to the match for the first time and how we would judge them by how comfortably they slotted into the football family.
The below quote resonates very strongly with me. Someone once said to me: “I love Blackpool Football Club. But I couldn’t live it the way you do.”
There’s even a cheeky reference or two in this book to Blackpool, where the author lived as a child.
On finishing the book, I feel like I have a good feel for what being a football fan was like in Italy at that time. The racism, violence and corruption was shocking but that was real life and I wonder just how much things have changed in Italy over the last 20 years – and how widespread these things are in football worldwide.
Please do keep your football book recommendations coming! I propose to read and review one a week. You will see above I have already picked my book for next week. Why not read along too so you can comment on my review next week. We can be a virtual football book club!
Don’t forget you can also read about my awaydays with Blackpool from the 2019/20 season right here.
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