Travels in Eastern European Football
Jonathan Wilson, 2006, Orion Publishing
When I started to follow soccer as a kid and experienced my first world cups Eastern European teams were at the top. In 1986 in Mexico, Poland and Hungary were present, although their national teams were on the downgrade. Bulgaria was also present, as well as a soviet team which was never better and a serious candidate for the title. Four years later Yugoslavia was on the rise, Romania had a brilliant team and Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union participated in the finals, too. In both World Cups only one of the teams did not make it into the next round (but also none of the teams reached the semi finals). Eastern European football was at its height. In 2014 only Russia and two Yugoslavian team (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina) participated, all failing in the first round with largely poor performances. They seem to have similar problems as the African teams. On one hand their players are stars in their clubs, many times the game is build around them, but they do not all fit together in one team. On the other hand their national leagues have such a low level that they cannot fill the gaps between the stars with sufficient quality. All in all it is a great shame that such a huge region developing so many talents every year is not able to play a bigger roll on the world stage.
In his book Jonathan Wilson describes the decay he observed in the Eastern European countries, and as in any good soccer book at the same time his stories are also a mirror image of the societies and their problems 15 years after the iron curtain opened. That corruption, nationalism and the brain drain to the west never made it possible to build up new structures and catch up with the western countries is universally true, as well as that money is distributed so unequally that monarchistic structures are immediately formed around rich people, when they decide to settle down in the area.
Nevertheless in his travel reports you will also find the love for the people and their countries in Eastern Europe and an adoration for the soccer heroes of the past and the wish that the teams with their colorful history are, at some time in the future, restored to old glory. As usual, Wilson digs up stories of players and their fates, which are long forgotten today. By doing so he makes soccer history more meaningful and therefore the reader much more appreciates the story of this sport which reaches people all over the world.
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3
Must read for: No One >> Fans of soccer history >> Soccer fans >> All readers
Next book: The Blizzard: Issue Three (Sep 27th)