This one’s an odd duck. Basically, the author tries to weave together a history of English soccer with a cultural history and analysis of the UK. That sounds like rather a reach, but it actually works quite well.
Some examples? Well, we start out with the idea of vigorous exercise and athletics in support of masculine Christianity in general and against masturbation in particular. Does the latter part sound a bit much? Well, Winner does a great job of marshalling his evidence and proving that hysteria about “self-pollution” was a very real thing for the Victorians.
Another chapter I particularly liked talked about Roy Keane, the tough and rather violent captain of MANU. The chapter doesn’t actually talk about Roy that much, but goes over similar characters – oddly, named Roy, Kean, or even Royal Keene and Royston Keene – that appeared in mass culture media like school stories, comics, popular novels, etc. Really fascinating. I had to look some of this stuff up just to make sure it was all real. How did he manage all that research?
The chapter I didn’t care for so much was about the relationship between English and Italian soccer. I take it the main theme was something along the lines of English power and lack of imagination vs. Italian skills and an emphasis on defense, but it was a bit hard to follow. There was also a lot of the chapter devoted to two British films I’d never seen – the Italian Job and Sleuth – which seemed a bit obscure and tangential to the argument.
Actually, this last bit throws a spotlight on something rather important about this book. I’m not sure I'd recommend this book for anyone who isn’t already pretty familiar with English soccer and English history and culture. If you are, though, it's is an absolute gem.
C'mon you Rams!