Life’s a Pitch

The Passions of the Press Box

Michael Calvin (editor), 2012, Integr8 Books
http://www.amazon.com/Lifes-Pitch-Michael-Calvin/dp/0956698115

Weymouth FC, Leeds United, Portsmouth, Fulham, Montpellier, Derby County, Crystal Palace, Sunderland. When soccer journalists would follow their heart, you would read headlines about teams you hardly hear a word about today. In “Life’s a Pitch” journalist from the BT soccer webpage teamed up to tell the stories they cannot write about most of the time, because of their personal attachment to the clubs and players involved. They tell about the one season or the one successful run a team had for a short time when it raised out of mediocrity, they talk about brilliant players who always were undervalued, players who will always be remembered for one goal they made and players who lost the support of the fans completely. If someone, not a soccer fan himself, reads the stories they might wonder why the events described have lead to such an attachment with the clubs or soccer itself. These are no songs about heroes or Champion League wins, these are mostly stories of constant disappointment, except for this one glorious season in the past. Soccer fans can relate to that and know that going with a team through hard times will strengthen the bond with a club as much as championship wins. Getting excited every summer about the new players and the positive news from the training camps, followed by the disappointment in fall, when you know this season will be just as bad as the last one, that is what it means to be a real fan. It is the failures which make a team attractive, too. Being the underdog probably relates to as many people’s life as the wish of being a winner. And sometimes if this underdog feelings fades, because the club becomes too successful, the fans might even turn their back, quite the same as the good weather fans of the Top 3,  because they cannot relate to it anymore. This underdog feeling is prominent in most of the stories in the book and allows you to understand why clubs have supporters even when they never did win anything.
The book kept me thinking about my own club and how I got attached to it. I did not really have the one event or game which did it for me. My interest in soccer and in Dynamo Dresden started when my uncle bought me my first weekly soccer newspaper and the special edition for the 1984/1985 season with all the teams in it. Since then I regularly read about soccer and up to this day I consume soccer majorly through reading news about it than watching it live or on TV. The late eighties and early nineties were the high times of the club I was able to follow, when they played in the European Cup and later after the reunion in the Bundesliga. That all ended 1995 when they dropped to the third league and then some years later even to the fourth. For a decade one disappointment followed another and they debt from the times in the Bundesliga where weighing heavy on the club, until it was at least able to come back to the second league. It is still a long road to old glories and I think the best they probably can achieve is to be an underdog in the Bundesliga but today a third league championship is as much as worth as a first league championship was in the past and the passion about following every game of the club, hasn’t changed a bit.

Biography: 0/3
History: 2/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: The Blizzard Issue Ten (June 7th)

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Goal-Post Vol.2

Victorian Football

Paul Brown (editor), 2013, Superelastic Publishing
https://www.victorianfootball.co.uk/goal-post/

Quite a while ago we had the first volume of the Victorian football anthology Goal-Post in this blog. Today we take a look at the second volume. Last time a lot of articles were reports from “first games”, the first international game, the first under floodlight a.s.o. This time not so many game reports are found in the book. Instead we look more behind the scenes with articles about how a club secretary works, how the rules changed the game from a dribbling game to a passing game, a look at the hard work of the referees (not so much different from today) and how the rules of the games were formed. Even the first women’s soccer game happened in 1881 but it was as much a curiosity as the “elephantine football” which is described in another article. It would take another 100 years before women’s soccer was taken serious.
Again this book is a great source for old school soccer atmosphere and in many ways one can see, how the games has not changed over the years. The changes from dribbling to passing game seem to have happened in our time again, when the ball possession-play took over and the players who could decide a game alone due to their dribbling skills was over. Interestingly the best possession-play team of our time, Guardiola’s Barcelona, had a player like that with Messi. However, he was always just the cherry on the top, they variable in the game, when the perfect passing did not lead to gaps in the defense of the other team. He was the one who could open the defense because in one-on-one situations he we would win most of the time.( Interestingly Guardiola used more of this kind of dribblers at Bayern München. When the team was at its best they usually had two of them on their wings, like Ribery, Robben and Douglas Costa) and the game was much more focused on supporting them). Other topics which are still in the news today are the criticism of professionalism and whether the games is good or bad for young boys. It is interesting to see that professionalism was so quickly adopted in England when it took on the continent until the 20s or 30s that the fight against professionalism was finally over, as one can read in the biography of Matthias Sindelar in Austria.

For everyone who wants to see the first moving pictures of soccer to get at least a glimpse of what it looked like in the nineteenth century I can only recommend the DVD “British Pathé Presents The F.A. Cup Finals 1920-1969”, which describes the earliest cup finals verbally but then starts to show pictures of the first game footage available from the 1920s. I know it is 30-50 years later than the Victorian time but it is the closest one can get with real footage and the system they played was still the same.

Biography: 0/3
History: 3/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: Temples of the Earthbound Gods

Herbert Chapman on Football

The reflections of one of Arsenal’s greatest managers

2011, GCR Books Ltd.
http://www.amazon.com/Herbert-Chapman-Football-Reflections-Arsenals/dp/0955921139

Herbert Chapman had a long-lasting influence on English soccer with his “invention” of the WM system, which was adopted by most English teams and much longer kept than it was good for them. The book reprints a collection of newspaper articles written by Chapman which cover all aspects of soccer, whether it is tactics, how to lead a club, how players should behave or what influence the media and the public have. Although Chapman’s career as a manager took place between the first and second World War many of the views shared, seem to be timeless and if adjusted to the modern leagues would fit into a current newspaper as well. Want to know why the possession play of Barcelona and Spain never came to England? Maybe because it was old news to them:
“How different from the football of my time, when the hallmark of class was the way in which wings worked in close triangular fashion, making headway by means of six-yard passes, and taking a dozen kicks to advance as far as is often covered by two or three today. Those were supposed to be the days of science, and there was, of course, much to admire in the close work.[…] The modern style, if not quite so spectacular, undoubtedly brings quicker results, and I doubt very much whether the public would appreciate a return to the old conditions.”
Chapman’s ideas, whether it is that he gives his player’s the freedom to decide themselves how they spend their free time, or that all player’s have to participate in defense play or that he includes his players in tactical discussions all shows that he was a modern coach, not only at his times but also measuring with today’s standards.

Biography: 0/3
History: 2/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3

Next book: Das L steht für Leben (Aug 17th, German)