Beautiful books about the beautiful game
We’re getting ready, my daughter and I, for the Champions League final early on Thursday morning. We watched the quarter finals (two were played simultaneously) shuttling between the two TVs in our living room and bedroom in our Mumbai flat.
We watched the first semi final in a hotel room in Inverness (Scotland). The next we watched in a bar in Glasgow. Arsenal lost to Manchester United in this one; afterwards, we walked subdued in the windy night to a Chinese restaurant.
And now the final is imminent. We are both supporting Barcelona. She because it is one of her five most favourite cities in the world. And me because two Barcelona stalwarts – Messi and Henri – play/ed for two of the teams I adore: Argentina and Arsenal.
My daughter has been busy making a Barcelona FC flag – she intends to wave this to the triumphant blowing of a sort of retractable paper trumpet when the game is on. (The kickoff is at 12.15am. Aren’t you happy you aren’t our neighbour?)
I have been busy building up excitement by reading some excellent books that have football at their heart. None of these three are, I suspect, easily available in India. But it’s inappropriate to assume that all the readers of this blog live over here. And even if you do, there are always trips abroad (which is how I got these), kind friends who live overseas or amazon.co.uk.
1. The Last Game: Love, Death and Football by Jason Cowley. With the last game of the last season of the 1980s (Arsenal versus Liverpool, with Arsenal triumphing dramatically to win the League) as its marvellous, riveting set piece, Cowley offers us an elegiac, insightful exploration of the way football used to be in England, how it became the game we are so familiar with now, and why it did so. Have a look at this review.
This is expertly dovetailed with a beautifully memoir about his father – the man who introduced him to football and who died, suddenly before Cowley was yet to find his way in the world. (He has now. Previously the editor of Britain’s award-winning Observer Sport Monthly and Granta, he is now the editor of New Statesman.)
Like the best of sport books, this is as much about football as around the game; it is a fascinating study of England and a certain kind of Englishness.
2. When You Put on a Red Shirt by Keith Dewhurst: A former reporter for the Manchester Guardian, Dewhurst is a columnist, playright, screenwriter and novelist. This is his valedictory to Manchester United, and the men at the club that he loves so much. At the centre of the book are Matt Busby (the man who, decades before Sir Alex Ferguson, made Man U one of the best clubs in Europe) and his assistant, Jimmy Murphy. Funny, solid and insightful. Who can imagine now that when football resumed in England after World War I, Manchester United were relegated from the First Division?
3. The Damned United by David Peace: This one is actually a brilliant novel about Brian Clough’s dramatic and catastrophic 44-day tenure as manager of Leeds United. The film based on the book released this year, and has been as warmly received as the novel.
Have you read any good books around sport recently? And keep suggestions of ghosted biographies and trivia to yourself.