For George Vecsey, former sports correspondent of The New York Times, a lifetime’s fascination with the Football World Cup was born when he saw the official film of the 1966 edition (scripted by legendary football journalist Brian Glanville) in which England triumphed over Germany in a bitter contest most remembered for Geoff Hurst’s controversial goal. Vecsey, who until then had an outsider’s view of the sport, was drawn in by the artistry of players such as Pele and Eusebio, the passion of football fans and the final conflict between England and Germany played at a time when memories of World War II were still fresh.
In his book Eight World Cups: My Journey Through The Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer, Vecsey narrates his experiences of covering World Cups from 1980 to 2010. He recounts the key encounters, the successes and failures of the stars, the controversies on and off the field, the political shenanigans of FIFA, the highlights that reaffirm the faith of fans as well as the unique atmosphere that each host nation brings to the show. In short, everything that you can look forward to in Brazil this year.
Vecsey also chronicles the mixed fortunes of the U.S. men’s team that began spectacularly with a victory over England in the 1950 World Cup and the U.S. women’s team that has considerably more success.
Franklin Foer, another American journalist, has a different approach to the game. In his now classic How Soccer Explains The World, he discusses how in a globalised world, people use soccer to express and achieve local social, political and economic aspirations. He explores the roots of football hooliganism which in its worse form, laid the foundation for ethnic cleansing during the break-up of Yugoslavia while the bitter Celtic-Rangers rivalry fuels an economy, which benefits both groups. The chapters on corruption in Brazil, Nigerian players in the Ukraine and the women soccer fans of Iran read like master classes on the origins of current events.
For statistician Chris Anderson and behavioural scientist David Sally, soccer is a game to be broken down into numbers and analysed to predict trends that can assist team strategy. In The Numbers Game, the authors showcase their results such as the fact that corners are not as productive as fans believe; there’s a steady decline in the number of goals scored over the years, though this has reached a plateau now due to the balance achieved between offensive and defensive techniques; teams need to concentrate more on their weak players rather than their stars; the correct time to make substitutions depending on whether you are winning or losing and the real role of managers. But perhaps their most interesting finding from the maze of big data is that the element of luck plays a much larger role in soccer than in most other sports.
The numbers have little meaning for Uruguayan journalist, historian and novelist Eduardo Galeano and the author of probably the most unconventional and entertaining histories of the sport — Soccer in Sun and Shadow. For Galeano, the game is both theatre and war and its magic is coloured by comic and tragic moments. While following a chronological order from ancient times, Galeano in poetic vignettes, tells the story of its great players and the outstanding moments on the field. Through these pages, discover Ramon Unzaga, the inventor of the bicycle kick, the great goal keeper Ricardo Zamora who liked his cognac and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, the role of soccer in the lives of Albert Camus and Che Guevara, the Russian team that played to win against the Nazis even though they were under orders to lose or face execution, the Soccer War between the Honduras and El Salvador, the truce between Nigeria and Biafra to see Pele play and much more.
While Galeano is a self confessed ‘Beggar for good soccer’, ready to appreciate any team that plays well, for Nick Hornby bestselling author of About a Boy and High Fidelity, the fortunes of English Premier League club, Arsenal, matter more than everything else. Fever Pitch is his often hilarious memoir of this obsession where, for the most part, the action on the ground is a source of agony and occasional ecstasy as his team manages to lose more often than win. The book is not just an account of an obsession but also about identity, growing up, relationships and the unique traditions of the British Soccer Fan.
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