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Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football [Hardcover]

Philip Ball
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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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


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5.0 out of 5 stars Spanish culture revealed through sport Feb. 6 2004
Format:Hardcover
Morbo is fantastic. Phil Ball, as he always seems to do in his regular columns on Spanish football, manages to capture the essence of Spanish society through the culture of the game. This is a story not only of the greats - di Stefano, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc - but of the cab driving Betis supporter of Seville and the forgotten cities and clubs of Huelva and Irun. For the American reader possessing a passion for the game with sources unknown, this opens up a culture for further exploration. It is not a complete history, nor was that ever its intent. Rather, as the title suggests, it is an eploration of morbo - the passion and rivalry of the game set against a backdrop of franco, poverty, wealth, isolation, regional pride, and most other issues that form the very foundation of Spain during the past century-plus.
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Easy, informative read Jan. 23 2014
By Shiva g
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book does a fairly good job at overviewing, from an outsider's perspective, the way in which football serves as a proxy for socio, economic and ethnic politics in Spain. No doubt there are subtleties and nuances which Phil is missing, but the book nonetheless gives an outsider a glimpse into the complex social fabric that underpins the football world in Spain. Unlike so many of the other books which have been recently written about La Liga and its clubs (e.g. books by Graham Hunter and Jimmy Burns), Phil tries to take an objective look at the scene as a whole without being biased by the cause/perspective of one particular team/ethnic group.

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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Cultural Study Jan. 15 2007
By Paul Marc Oliu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
American audiences exposed to the EPL, La Liga or any other league for that matter, often times only get to see 2 dimensions of the game. First, the emphasis on the bigger team names, and second, the game itself. What they often fail to see is the intracacy of the game behind the game - that is, the cultural elements that make soccer overseas so unique, so passionate, and often times, so beyond the grasp of comprehension to the audience that is watching on Fox Soccer Channel.

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.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of Spain Jan. 15 2006
By V. J. Peters - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book. Whereas it took Jimmy Burns of the Financial Times a whole book to wax about Barcelona, Phil Ball does it beautifully in a few pages. Morbo is a superb exploration of Spanish politics, Spanish geography, and the one thing that unites all of Spain-football. Spain is, it seems, a poor advertisement for the sort of national unity that dominated 19th. century Europe-Germany, Scotland, and Italy and later, India and China. Phil Ball's book exhibits a child-like happiness when he visits soccer stadiums in the forgotten corners of Spain. He exposes the hypocrisy of Basque politics, the long shadow of Francisco Franco in Spain and, finally, the exuberance of that Catalan city: Barcelona. This is a must-read for people who are interested not only in the cuisine of a particular peoples-Basque and Catalan- but in their vibrant history beyond the kitchen, beyond the football pitch as well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Spanish labyrinth seen through the prism of football Sept. 10 2010
By M. E. Llorens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anyone who doesn't know much about twentieth-century Spain will be surprised by this book from the first page, because it is not simply about Spanish football-soccer but about the widely divergent regional footballing traditions that converge every weekend in the stadium. The progression of chapters (Huelva, Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville) is, of course, chronological (following the founding dates of major clubs from the past and present) but also a device to ease the reader into the myriad political and cultural undercurrents that flow beneath the surface slickness of Spain's Primera Liga, which is now beamed worldwide via cable.

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but dated, study of Spanish futbol (soccer) Aug. 26 2010
By Cpt. Cords - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A great region-by-region look at soccer in Spain. Focuses on the "morbo," or impassioned rivalry, that fuels the sport. A nation divided by regional identities is united in futbol, and Ball deftly combines firsthand experiences with historical insight. His methods are interesting, such as interviewing taxi drivers throughout the city of Seville, but how he can cast judgment on the Sevilla-Betis rivalry without experiencing the derby himself? Published in 2003, the chapter on the national team is now dated following Spain's triumphs in the European Championship and World Cup. Still, a great look at Spanish culture and soccer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening July 25 2013
By C Bradley Scharf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I am a Bundesliga fan. I knew little about Spanish history, less about Spanish football. I learned a lot about both. Very informative, very entertaining
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