Paul Brown (editor), 2013, Superelastic Publishing
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.
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3
Next book: Temples of the Earthbound Gods
Paul Brown (editor), 2012, Superelastic Publishing
This anthology is a gem for everybody interested in the earliest days of soccer. Paul Brown made the effort to screen to the reporting of soccer games before the 20th century and selected articles, which are well written but which also allow to learn about the development of the game from a non-regulated wild and sometimes brutal activity in cities and schools to the “association game”. You can read about the history of soccer, how it was seen at that days, general descriptions of the game and first training advices, how the Football Association was founded, how to form a football club, the first association cup games, the first international game, the first match played by the rules now common, the first game under floodlights, how the game developed in Scotland, how the traveling of teams took place and so on. The variety of the stories was quite astonishing for me. The style, although old-fashioned, is good to read and one can see much more differences in journalism from these times to today than in the soccer game. In the 19th century journalism was far more describing and reporting, sometimes with some poetic style, sometimes with the the will to educate but always with the idea to present something new to learn for the reader. In today’s journalism the news, like scores or which players signs a contract at which club, travel so fast, history facts are readily available to everyone through Wikipedia or Internet search, that media focus on the sensation to catch their audience. If one reads game reports from before the Internet age(1980s, beginning of 90s) and compares with today’s one can see that the earlier ones have far more detail and description of atmosphere in it, whereas the current ones can, and sometimes are, written by robots.
It is nice to see now that at least some of the websites or magazines around soccer take the Victorian writing as an example and get back to the storytelling. Describing the bigger context of a current crisis or success with a detailed analysis which is deeper than what one can do on one page or bringing history back to the mind of the readers, not just by repeating endless statistical data but really telling stories, differentiates websites and magazines more from the standard ones than one might think. Examples like No Dice or 11 Freunde are out there and they stand in the tradition of the journalism described in this book.
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3
Next book: Mythos niederländischer Nachwuchsfußball (German, June 7th)
Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2012
This issue of The Blizzard had a lot of interesting topics and interviews to present. The magazine starts with several articles around the start of professional soccer in Colombia which resulted in a pirate league which was not approved by FIFA and the Colombian FA but still was a magnet for the best players on the South American continent and filled the stadiums in the country. After their way back into the arms of FIFA soccer in Colombia quickly declined. That makes me wonder why not more pirate leagues are created throughout the world, especially in countries where the soccer game is not attractive anymore for the fans under FIFA’s stringent reign, like in Africa or Eastern Europe.
The second block of articles is dedicated to soccer in England in the Victorian Age. It describes not only how soccer as a game but also the players received more and more acceptance and the game started to get portrayed in the newspapers at that time. The topic of the early days of soccer, before the official history started with the first World Cup is always very interesting to me and therefore that will not be the last time you will hear from it.
The interviews in this issue are really good, either because the interviewees are interesting characters or the questions of the journalists created a interesting conversation. Leo Beenhakker, one of the most successful globetrotter coaches can tell stories about his time as coach of Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Poland but also about the contrast of working for a clubs in Hungary vs. Real Madrid or Ajax. His answers show that it needs a lot of adaption to adjust to the local habits and culture on one hand but to have some influence at the same time to improve the status quo. I think in many cases the work of these globetrotter coaches is undervalued because usually a championship in their home countries counts more than qualifying for a world cup with a carribean team or installing some longer lasting structures for clubs or the national team in countries like Poland or Hungary.
Roberto Martinez is an interesting character as well, not only because he started to play in England when southern foreigners were still a rarity and he survived the culture shock, adapted and tried later to have some influence on how the game is played with the teams he coached. It is also interesting to hear from a coach that he values stability in the club and creating a legacy more than coaching a top ten team like Liverpool. Now, he changed his opinion one year later, going to Everton, but that might be the more stable and long-term planing club in Liverpool and therefore the right choice for him.
Another interesting character which was interviewed in this issue is Esper Baardsen, a norwegian youth international, who dropped out of professional soccer with 25, still a player for the Norwegian national team at that time. When he did not get a chance to play regularly in a first league team, he decided that a career in finance is more fulfilling for him. Not only is it unusual to a player decides so early to retire, when he still has a chance to earn money and excel, the interview also showed that even today the English soccer teams are no place for people who want to thrive and grow intellectually. His interest in something else than soccer and his will to learn more, in his case about finance and investment, was at least frowned at or in worse case he was bullied for it from other players or coaches. Maybe that is one of the reasons that the Premier League does not excel international. For success on that high level it needs more than good technical skill, it needs some intellectual skill to understand the game, to carry out complex tactical guidelines to succeed and to come up with new solutions when the standard doesn’t work anymore. Tactical excellence is missing now for years in the Premier League and it is not because of the lack of coaches who tried to bring it to the English teams. Maybe that is the reason, that Guardiola decided to go to Bayern München instead of Manchester City or Chelsea, because he found there players willing to learn from him. Quite the opposite happened when André Villas-Boas tried to teach Chelsea and Tottenham some new tactical knowledge and also Brendan Rogers and Louis Van Gaal have a hard time to teach their clubs something different than 4-4-2.
One person who went through all this and always was and still is constantly denounced for it is Arsene Wenger. With the article of Zach Slaton finally somebody appreciates the work of one of the best coaches worldwide, who is constantly underrated. Slaton shows by using similar statistics as in Soccernomics, that Wenger, even today when a Championship is far from happening, does an excellent job and over-delivers year for year based on the players he is allowed to work with. And by the way, this year it looked for some time at the end of the first round like they would drop out of the qualification for the international competitions completely and guess what, now, with eight games to go, they can still qualify for the Champions League once again. Well done, Mr. Wenger.
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3