Part travelogue, part mediation on the Italian national character, and part football memoir, Englishman Parks' diary of his season with the fans of Hellas Verona is a muddled but generally enjoyable hodgepodge of anecdotes and musings. A lifelong football fan, twenty year resident of Italy, and fluent speaker of Italian, Parks is an ably accredited guide to the myriad mysteries and intrigues of Italian professional football. His method was to attach himself to the hardcore fans of his local club and go to every home and away game in search of... well, something...
In doing so, Parks excels at recreating emotional highs and lows and retelling specific anecdotes experienced over the course of the season. However, by attaching himself to these fans, he places himself in the uncomfortable position of riding along with some of Italy's most racist fans. He tries to deal with this a number of ways, from placing them in a broader context of a nation absorbing large numbers of refugees, to attempting to show that the racist cheers actually represent a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy brought about by sensationalist journalism. Neither approach is very credible and it's a shame that Parks kind of dances around it. More insightful is his analysis of the fans as self-appointed pariahs/Davids, sort of a mix of "Nobody likes us, and we don't care" and "It's us against the world."
As the season progresses, and Parks travels around Italy, one gets a very keen sense of the deep regionalism that exists in Italy. From politics to chanted terrace insults, there's a prominent theme of disdain for the "other". Other overall themes are lacking, as might be expected from a book written on the fly, but for the careful reader, there are some strong bits where he gets into corruption both in football and Italian society, or his meditation on the psyche of the referee. Another fun aspect to the book is that it contains a plethora of vile Italian insults and terrace chants, which are often quite hilarious.
One thing that is a bit off about it, is that is only obliquely references Joe McGinniss' excellent book The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro, in which McGinniss also recounts a year following an Italian. It's a shame, 'cause the two books take quite different approaches (McGinniss is an outsider to soccer, can't speak Italian, and follows the team from within), making them rather complimentary. On the whole, I found McGinniss' more enjoyable, and more likely to appeal to the general reader, although neither author is very good at describing action on the pitch. In any event, both paint a picture of league riddled with corruption, game fixing, and bribery, which begs the question of why anyone would bother caring deeply about it?