English writer Phil Ball has put the history of Spanish football into the context of the epomymous Morbo
. Hard to pin down in translation (though the author manfully spends a chapter trying to explain the term in its fullest sense), "morbo" encapsulates the fierce rivalry across a club scene fragmented by history, language and politics. The bitter feeling between Barcelona and Real Madrid has, of course, been well-documented elsewhere. Here that famous rivalry is only one component of a landscape of antagonism. In particular, the Basque country in the north-west and Seville in the south both provide breeding grounds for a healthy portion of "morbo", and receive Ball's attention accordingly. The narrative captures the essence of that feeling perfectly, without failing to inform on a historical basis. A splendid chapter traces the ancestry of football in Spain back to the labourers in the English-owned copper mines in Huelva, Andalucia. While Spanish club football has always had its stars, from Di Stefano to Cruyff and Butragueno through to Raul and Luis Figo today, Ball shows that there is a greater force running in its lifeblood. Yet still there remains a paradox; he analyses the historical under-achievement of the Spanish national side in major international tournaments.
The new millennium has seen excellent books focusing on football culture in Holland and France--namely Brilliant Orange and Le Foot. At a time when the stock of Spanish club football has perhaps not been higher since the heyday of Real Madrid in the late 50s and early 60s, Morbo, a triumph in the same vein, thankfully allows us to add Spain to the list. --Trevor Crowe