Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Soccer Fan's Primer

I was having lunch the other day with someone who asked me the question: "What can I read and what can I watch that will give me more information on soccer and fan culture around the world?" Here's a short list of some books and movies that I recommend for the budding the soccer fan. Books I've Read and Recommend:

  • Fever Pitch (Nick Hornby) - This was the first soccer book I ever read and the one that truly introduced me to the passion of soccer fandom. FP is Nick Hornby's memoir of his lifelong obsession with Arsenal Football Club. Hornby is an excellent writer (one of my favorites these days) and the way he tells the story of his life by which Arsenal match occurred that week really resonated with me.
  • My Favourite Year (edited by Nick Hornby) - obviously inspired by Fever Pitch, My Favourite Year is a collection of short essays by European football writers recounting their most memorable year of supporting their local or international side. Each one of the essays is someone's own personal Fever Pitch. The main reason I recommend this book for the budding soccer fan is it truly delves into the local nature of soccer as well as the whole promotion/relegation structure which is foreign to most American sports fan.
  • Miracle of Castel di Sangro (Joe McGinniss) - Established American author McGinniss spends an entire season chronicling the trials and tribulations of the tiny calcio team from Castel di Sangro who somehow miraculous have won promotion to Serie B (the Italian second division). Again, this book gives tremendous insight to the local nature of soccer and how much the success and failures of the local team reflect on the community at large. (Available at Wake Co. Library)
  • Shit Ground, No Fans (Jim Bremner) - The hymnal of the terraces, SGNF is a collection of songs and chants from British supporters, organized by club or national team. The book does a great job of capturing the wit and passion of supporters that makes soccer such a fun sport to experience in person.
  • Captain For Life (John Harkes) - This is the autobiography of the first American to score in the famed Wembley Stadium and a pivotal figure in both the genesis of MLS and the mid-90's revival of the US National Team. The book gives fans a good look at the contemporary era of the US's international soccer scene. Harkes' unceremonious dismissal from his "Captain For Life" position with the US National Team when he was dumped by coach Steve Sampson in the run-up to World Cup '98 is widely attributed by many as the straw that broke the camel's back for a horrible team spirit that lead the US to finish dead last at the 98 Finals. In this book, Harkes tells his side of that story as well as recounts his early career in England in which he (along with Kasey Keller) really paved the way for future Americans like Brian McBride, Brad Friedel, and Tim Howard to succeed in England's top flight leagues. The story of the day Keller's Millwall supporters chased them from the field is worth the price of the entire book.
  • The Rough Guide to English Football / European Football: A Fan's Handbook - Two books compiled by the famous Rough Guide travel book company give detailed historical backgrounds on many of the clubs in England and Europe and lends practical advice for fans making a pilgrimmage to see football played in its native environment.
  • Ultra Nippon (Jonathan Birchall) - BBC Tokyo reporter Birchall follows the development of the J-League during the run up to the 2002 World Cup. It is a very interesting study of Japanese society as the book looks at how the Japanese adopted many elements of South American and European football traditions and molded a professional league which was undeniably Japanese in nature.
Books On My Reading List That Sound Promising: Films I've Seen and Recommend:
  • Green Street Hooligans (Now playing in limited release) - An excellent film set in the ultra-violent culture of English football firms which explores a lonely man's desire to belong to a group, even if it flies in the face of everything he believes. (My full review)
  • Goal! (USA release May 12th) - One of the best shot soccer movies I've seen (capturing the action is always the problem in sports films) follows a young Mexican-American immigrant as he gets a chance to make a name for himself in the English Premier League. Fans of the English Premier League are going to love this film. (My full review)
  • A Shot at Glory (DVD@Netflix) - An enjoyable film starring Robert Duvall and Scottish Footballer Ally McCoist as the the manager of Kilnockie, a small Scottish second division side, and it's improbable shot at glory if they can knock off Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Cup. (Bonus Trivia: Claudio Reyna played for Rangers during the filming of this movie and is creditted as one of the Rangers players appearing in the movie, although I don't recall seeing him in the final cut of the film).
  • Phörpa (aka The Cup) - An inspiring film about Tibetan refugees living in exile at monastery in India who refuse to let the contemplative, reverent spirit of their surroundings dampen their World Cup Fever. Their quest to figure out a way to watch the Final of France '98 absolutely captures the passion of soccer perfectly.
  • Victory (DVD@Netflix) - Dampened only slightly by the poor soccer skills of Sylvester Stallone as goalkeeper, this film stars some of the greatest soccer players of all time (Pelé, Moore, Ardiles, to name a few) as a group of WWII Prisoners of War who play a friendly (I use the word loosely) against their German captors in occupied France.
  • Our Way / Journey to Germany - Two documentary DVDs produced US Soccer which give a behind-the-scenes look at the USA's run through World Cup 2002 and their 2006 qualifying campaign, respectively. This is a great primer to bring a new US soccer fan up to speed with the present national team.
  • The Other Final - A documentary detailing a match played between Montserrat and Bhutan, who at the time were the two lowest ranked teams in FIFA's International Rankings, played on the same day as the 2002 World Cup Final in Tokyo. The film is an interesting exploration of how sport bonds communities together and how it breaks down cultural barriers between folks who share only the common language of football.
Films on My Watch List That Sound Promising: I'd love to hear your recommendations for further reading/viewing or your reviews of any of these selections in the comments section.

-- Jarrett @ 2/05/2006 09:14:00 AM


At 2/06/2006 02:42:00 PM, Blogger Jarrett said...

A few other suggestions from the TriSoccerFan List:

* How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer
* Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
* ABC: Ajax Barcelona Cruyff by Fritz Barend et al.
* National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer by Stefan Szymanski and Andrew Zimbalist

At 2/08/2006 10:01:00 AM, Anonymous Joe McGinniss said...

As one of the authors mentioned by Jarrett, and noting his reading list, I would say he's got a great treat in store: SOCCER IN SUN AND SHADOW
by Eduardo Galeano is far and away the best soccer book I've ever read. Pure poetry by the extraordinary Uruguayan writer. It captures the essence of the game's hold over so many millions around the world.

At 2/08/2006 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Jarrett said...


Soccer in Sun and Shadow is on my list because of the opening quote in your book. It describes me perfectly!



Post a Comment

<< Home