on November 17, 2007
This is a BIG book! It covers the game from its beginings in England to the modern day, and looks at the game not only from the standard European view, but examines its evolution and effect across the globe - in South America, Africa and Asia, and to a lesser extent, North America and Australia.
Virtually everyone can take something from this book - but I'm not sure how many will read it from cover to cover. I found myself very interested in the chapters on Europe, and also was keen to read about football in South and North America. But I skipped through Asia and Africa pretty briskly - just not enough has happened there yet (from a global perspective) to keep me reading.
Goldblatt does fundamentally misunderstand the game in North America and why women's football has taken off in the USA of all places (he is obviously unaware of Title IX and its extraordinary impact on the growth of the game in the US as he never mentions it!) but seems to have a pretty good grasp of the game in Europe and South America.
Overall, the book is a well written and exhaustive study of the Beautiful Game and deserving of a place on the bookshelf of any football/soccer fan, and indeed, of anyone with a desire to understand the game better.
If you know very little about soccer's history in various nations across the world, this is a good primer. I found much of it endlessly fascinating (i.e., the fact during WWII some leagues plodded along in Europe or how FIAT's ownership of Juventus and hiring of workers from around Italy sowed the seeds for its nationwide support [or loathing], etc.) but the tying of success or failure to nations' economies or politics can be a stretch at times. After all, let's get real, Brazil and Italy are probably the two powerhouses of world soccer and their governments are most definitely unstable pretty much their entire history. The World Cup titles did not exclusively arise out of periods of political stability.
His analysis of why soccer is not #1 in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US was spot on. The section on Uruguay's early successes is must-reading for any soccer fan to understand the development of soccer in Latin America.
It is definitely a book that is hard to put down and well worth whatever you pay for it. I would say use it as a stepping off point to discover other worthy books on different leagues and nations' soccer cultures (i.e., Morbo by Phil Ball, Tor by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, Brilliant Orange by David Winner, Futebol by Alex Bellos, etc.).