Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that — so said William ‘Bill’ Shankly, the great Liverpool manager.
The Scot, though, doesn’t figure at all in Brian Glanville’s The Story of the World Cup as Scotland did not participate in the first three World Cups — even England, the birthplace of the game, decided to participate only from 1950 onwards.
Those were the days when only the U.S. and the European and South American footballing superpowers took part in the 16-team knockout tournament, a time when in the 1920s FIFA decided to break away from the Olympic movement.
It was a time when Uruguay — which famously said ‘other countries have their history, we have our football’ — made an offer most could not refuse — they agreed to foot the travel and stay expenses for all teams participating — and was awarded the right to hold the very first World Cup.
Of course, most of the European powers backed out, and Uruguay went on to win the title.
Chronicling the history of the tournament is no mean task. Glanville, with more than four decades of frontline reporting of this people sport, is perfectly placed to recount to us the highs, the lows and the plateaus of this quadrennial event.
Being a reporter for many years, the book is essentially a recounting of the early turbulence in the holding of the tournament, the pulls of the various blocs, the increased presence of teams from the Asian and African continents, it is all there.
A treasure trove of news stories, match reports and the octogenarian’s own views, this book is a handy tool, a ready reference to pick up and find out the what, the why, where and how of close to 100 years of World Cup.
Constantly revised after each World Cup, this particular edition has all the details up to the 2010 edition which Glanville describes as one that ended both with a bang and a whimper!
Glanville pulls no punches when he says that the general mediocrity of 2010 had much to do with its unwieldy size. To quote him, “It was the unlamented former FIFA president Joao Havelange who bloated the tournament from its traditional 16 countries to an unwieldy 24, a figure that was increased further by his much criticised but immovable successor, Sepp Blatter, to an excessive 32.”
Wonder then, how he will have reacted to a decidedly regional tournament like the Euro 2016 — it is, however, second only to the World Cup in terms of popularity — being expanded to a 24 team format?
He also weighs in on Blatter’s backing of the rule which forbade kicked back passes to the goalkeeper and the insistence that tackles from behind be punished with a sending off. He calls these ideas as doubtful at best, disastrous at worst.
While others may differ with Glanville’s views, what cannot be denied is his passion for the game.
What may be a bit of a letdown is Glanville’s style of writing. For those who have been readers of his regular column in The Sportstar, it shouldn’t be a problem, but to a generation brought up on hashtags and facebook status messages, the prose may make for heavy and plodding reading.
Glanville is also prone to using what the current lot may call politically incorrect way of describing players of various ethnicities.
Considering that this book is continuously revisited, it is a surprise that it hasn’t been re-edited to take care of it.
Another downside — at least according to this reviewer — is that for a sport that lends itself to many photo-ops, the book running close to 500 pages boasts of only 28 pictures.
But at the end of the day, when all calculations have been done, this might be the one book a football fan might want to keep in his library.