Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football Hardcover – Feb 20 2001
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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
Top Customer Reviews
Morbo is a brilliant place to start for the un-initiated and a delightful treat for those who already know the culture of the game.
Phil's writing style is easy to read and the book doesn't delve into unnecessary detail which would only confuse the average reader. This book is a must read for any La Liga enthusiast.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In Morbo, Phil Ball does a wonderful job of illustrating the cultural background to spanish soccer. And true to form, he effectively illustrates that La Liga is not only about Barcelona and Real Madrid. There is much history between these two clubs but fortunately, Ball doesn't spend all his effort on them. Instead he dives into the history of spanish soccer, starting with English miners, to the history of clubs that no one has heard of outside of Spain, like Recreativo de Huelva.
This is far more a cultural study, than it is a history of spanish soccer. Balls successfully discusses how the two paths combine, and how club support was defined more by class/politics/ and culture, than by a jersey's color. It certainly goes a long way in helping outsiders understand the level of support and the long ties people have to clubs. It is especially interesting in light of how the modern world is shaping the game.
Finally, like many sports leagues, there is history and their is myth. Ball does a service to the spanish game by not buying into the myth of some of the rivalries (Betis-Sevilla, RM-Barcelona, Athletic-everyone else). In doing so, he provides a complete and true picture of how the game has evolved on the Iberian peninsula.
For people interested in understanding how events actually shaped the game in Spain, this is a must read. There are plenty of books out there about Real Madrid and Barcelona, but there are few books that look at Spanish soccer with this depth and refreshing candor.
This is a great introduction to Spanish soccer for anyone bewildered by the Catalans rooting for Germany during the 2010 World Cup. The author, a British expat, provides the necessary lens adjustment for the outsider looking into this cultural product that now sells itself on a world market but is still dominated by deep-rooted meanings and symbols that are often imperceptible from abroad. The chapter about the national team's chronic underperformance is, of course, now seriously outdated after a European Cup and a World Cup, but the "morbo" surrounding Bilbao-Real Madrid games or Barcelona-Espanyol matches certainly isn't.
I served in the US Marines from 1972-76 in Spain so I experienced first hand the Spain of Franco and the Guardia Civil. I made friendships with several Guardia Civil and had a chance to learn their view point on El Generalisimo. At his death there was a sense of true mourning amongst the people, both locally and on TV.
It has been my experience during my life that the vast majority of journalists in the U.S. are socialists. It does not surprise me that Phil Ball is cut from this same swatch of cloth. The political commentary in this book, which represents about 25% of the text, is decidedly anti-Franco and a bit over the top. Not a problem for me, because I have done my home work and realize from which political platform Ball writes. At first it began to ruin my pleasure in reading about the history of futbol in Spain. But I agree a discussion about the effect of Franco and the war is certainly fair game. It is a matter of history. But Ball's obvious disgust of El Generalissimo, describing him and his supporters with vitriolic adjectives, accusing men who were still living at the time of his writing as murderers (with not a stitch of objective evidence) . . well that seems to be a bit much for a book about futbol. I mention this to warn an uneducated reader who buys the book to with the objective of learning about Spanish futbol, to not be sucked in with the communist propaganda interwoven throughout the book, and to draw the dark picture of Franco and his supporters, among whom was my father-in-law, as Ball and his fellow socialists want you to do. Do your own reading and research and draw your own conclusions. Remember, the war is long over, and they lost!
Therefore, for his effort, I give Ball 3 Stars for his thorough research on futbol in Spain and his ability to relay it in layman's terms. For his incorrect and biased assessment of Franco and the great salvation of Spain from Stalin and the communists, I take away -2 Stars.
BTW, for those socialists who might wonder why I am still fond of Barcelona and Cruyff, even though the city is still a separatist leaning thorn in the side of a united Spain, and Cruyff's politics are leftist socialist, I ignore those things when it comes to one of the greatest teams in the world, and in my book the greatest player I have ever had a chance to watch play the "beautiful game."
Note: After getting out of the Marine Corps in 1976 I moved back to Oklahoma and went to college. During that time I used to drive over to Tulsa and watch the Roughnecks (old NASL) play. One of my greatest memories was watching Cruyff and Johan Neeskens (former team mate of Cruyff at Barcelona and on the 1974 Dutch Masters World Cup Team, and then the Washington Diplomats) play the Tulsa Roughkecks. After the game I was able walk out on the field and walk step by step beside Cruyff as he walked to the locker room. I had a Barca team pennant in the "azul y grana" colors with photos of Cruyff, Neeskens, and the other Barca Liga champions from 1973. I asked for his autograph and he stopped in amazement, asking me in perfect English as he began to sign, where I had got it. I quickly told him my story, and he smiled and shook my hand. I have not washed that hand to this day!
Written as I sit (on vacation) at a sidewalk cafe in Rota, Spain