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Behind the Curtain: Travels in Football in Eastern Europe [Hardcover]

Jonathan Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Feb 2006
From the pock-marked streets of Sarajevo, where turning up for training involved dodging snipers' bullets, to the crumbling splendour of Budapest's Bozsik Stadium, where the likes of Puskas and Kocsis masterminded the fall of England, the landscape of Eastern Europe has changed immeasurably since the fall of communism. Jonathan Wilson has travelled extensively behind the old Iron Curtain, viewing life beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall through the lens of football. Where once the state controlled teams of the Eastern bloc passed their way with crisp efficiency -- a sort of communist version of total football -- to considerable success on the European and international stages, today the beautiful game in the East has been opened up to the free market, and throughout the region a sense of chaos pervades. The threat of totalitarian interference no longer remains; but in its place mafia control is generally accompanied with a crippling lack of funds. As a teenager Jonathan Wilson holidayed in the former Yugoslavia; as a young journalist for onefootball.com and the Financial Times his obsession with the region took root. Here, in Behind the Curtain, he covers a vast amount of ground: he goes in search of the spirit of the Aranycsapat, Hungary's 'Golden Squad' of the early fifties, charts the disintegration of the footballing superpower that was the former Yugoslavia, follows a sorry tale of corruption, mismanagement and Armenian cognac through the Caucasuses, reopens the case of Russia's greatest footballer, Eduard Streltsov, and talks to Jan Tomaszewski about an autumn night at Wembley in 1973. In terms of travel writing and sports writing, Behind the Curtain has a canvas as wide as, and is a worthy successor to, Football Against the Enemy.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (17 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752869078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752869070
  • Product Dimensions: 22.2 x 14.7 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 256,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Wilson is the Football Correspondent of the Financial Times and author of the critically acclaimed 'Behind the Curtain: Football in Eastern Europe' and 'Inverting the Pyramid'. Coming in time for the 2010 World Cup is 'The Anatomy of England', an in-depth look at ten crucial games that shaped England.

Product Description

Review

'A blissful book, lovingly and stylishly written' (Edward Pearce DAILY TELEGRAPH)

'This fascinating and perceptive travelogue includes a fine collection of anecdotes too colourful for fiction' (SUNDAY TIMES)

'[a] terrifc book' (Henry Winter DAILY TELEGRAPH)

'Epic... Wilson writes captivatingly with humour...anyone with an interest in eastern European sport will be consulting this book for years to come.' (David Winner FINANCIAL TIMES)

'Football is centred squarely within a fascinating socio-political context... There is plenty of humour too' (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

'Compelling... he [Wilson] succeeds in going well beyond the lurid headlines, skilfully interweaving his own travel notes with forays into politics, culture and history.' (FOUR FOUR TWO)

'There's everything you needed to know about football and plenty that you didn't... wittily observed travel writing.' (WHEN SATURDAY COMES)

'In this part-travelogue, part history Jonathan Wilson captures the contemporary chaos of the region drawing in figures as diverse and noteworthy as Hungary's 1950s star Ferenc Puskas and Arkan, the murderous Serbian paramilitary.' (OBSERVER SPORTS MONTHLY)

'Wilson knows an immense amount about eastern European football and has crammed a lot into 300 pages. He writes well and has a lot of good stories' (Josh Lacey GUARDIAN)

'[an] intriguing, entertaining history-cum-sports travelogue. ****' (METRO)

'Jonathan Wilson brilliantly plugs the gaps in our knowledge...an observant and witty guide to life in Eastern Europe.' (WATERSTONES BOOKS QUARTERLY)

'His lively prose captures the chaos of a region in the grip of racism, violence and organised crime, whilst retaining a warm affection for the people.' (EVENING HERALD (Ireland))

'As absorbing as any post-war spy thriller' (SUNDAY LIFE (Northern Ireland))

'Engrossing and funny travelogue-cum-social history.' (GLASGOW EVENING TIMES)

'Absorbing... Wilson is adept at using football as a microcosm of the post-Communist East as he reveals how totalitarian regimes have given way to Mafia control and curruption.' (BRIGHTON EVENING ARGUS)

'Pitched somewhere between Bill Bryson and John Le Carre, Wilson's narrative twists from neon-lit boom town of Donetsk to the crumbling splendour of Budapest's Bozsik Stadium... Wilson has a novelist's eye for detail and suspense' (WESTERN DAILY MAIL)

Book Description

The fascinating story of football in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and informative 31 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback
As a regular traveller and visitor to Eastern Europe, and having taken in quite a few games in the process, I found this book most interesting and would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the region as a whole.

Minor criticisms would include the strange omission of Czech Republic/Slovakia and the Baltic states, and there is the distinct impression that this book should be viewed more as an introduction to the issues at stake rather than act as a definitive guide.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Wilson (who cannot be much more than 30, judging from some subtle dating in the text) clearly has excellent knowledge and experience of the area (with the possible exception of the Caucausus region, which seems to have been more of a flying visit) and hence this book should be required reading for any football and travel enthusiast who dares to look further than the dreaded Premiership for their sporting thrills.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Read 9 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback
This is a well researched, very interesting account of football in many Eastern European countries. Each chapter is well worth reading and personally, I have learnt a great deal about football in countries which get 1 or 2 lines a year in the British sporting press.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abkhazia to Zagreb 7 Oct 2009
By Hanson
Format:Paperback
A terrific read full of great anecdotes and fascinating insights into the history of football in eastern Europe before & after the fall of communism in the region. If I have one critcism it's that the stories of some of the countries can be a little repetitive - the decline of Poland, Hungary & Romania as footballing powers all occured for essentially the same reason - lack of money. No Abramovich-type sugar daddies came along to replace the patronage & protection the big clubs in these countries used to receive from powerful figures in the Soviet political/military regimes, so their domestic leagues became a shambles rife with corruption, and any talented youngsters were sold abroad to the highest bidder ASAP. Having said that, there's plenty here to praise; the power-shift from Dynamo Kyiv to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukraine, and the ongoing intrigues between the oligarchs of modern Russia are all tales well told, but for me the best section of the book concerns the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The story of how Serbia-Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina & Croatia have tried (and very often failed) to come to terms with themselves and each other as independent entities provides by far the most fascinating and moving chapters of the book.
Jonathan Wilson's previous book (the superb 'Inverting the Pyramid') had a much broader range, but 'Behind the Curtain' reads like a much more personal work and is all the more engaging for it. An excellent read - thouroughly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By haunted
Format:Paperback
Jonathon Wilson has written an interesting overview of the current state of football in Eastern Europe. He worked for a football website and developed a lot of contacts in former Iron Curtain countries. He has used these contacts to help him arrange interviews in the various countries.

Wilson is a self-confessed football nerd (like myself) whose particular interest in Eastern European teams began on family holidays in Slovenia. Back in those days Eastern European clubs were invariably described in the build up to European competition ties as "crack" outfits, whatever that meant.

The book has a chapter for each country, or former country in the case of Yugoslavia. A visit by Wilson to the country is described as well as any matches he attended and interviews he did. A brief history of football both during and post Communism in each country is given. He talks to, or quotes some familiar football personalities such as Hagi and Bilic and many of them have very interesting things to say about football and their countries. Naturally football and history are intertwined, as the way the seismic changes in these societies affected clubs and the national team is described.

One can detect at times a hankering for the certainty of the old days although corruption and match fixing are a feature of both eras. There are plenty of anecdotes about dodgy refereeing decisions and not so benevolent dictators influencing results.

I would have some gripes with the author. For example why were former East Germany and former Czechoslovakia omitted while the Caucasus republics are included?

Overall though this is an interesting and well written book that will appeal to both the casual football supporter and someone with a bit more knowledge of European football.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intruiging view on a novel subject 18 April 2006
Format:Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book which is well written and takes the perceptive reader on a journey through eastern Europe with football acting as the Hitchhikers guide. Don't be lulled into thinking that this is simply a book about football in Eastern Europe - it is a book about people, politics, corruption and tragedy, with a great deal of humour, and empathy for the citizens of the nations that have emerged from Communist control.

I am not an avid football fan but have spent time in these areas and this book captures brilliantly the struggles of the new nations to find their own identity and deal with their past, whilst telling me all I could ever need to know about the old system and the way that football represented the microcosms of the communist lifestyle.

If you want to know about the great sides of the Communist era this book gives you what you need to know. If you fancy owning an eastern European football club (and I get the impression that it is quite easy to do this), this book is for you. If you want an interesting and thoughtful insight into an unexpecteed subject, this book is for you. Thoroughly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Really excellent for anybody interested in either the history of football or eastern Europe.Very good on Georgia ,Hungary,Poland and Yugoslavia
Published 10 days ago by idleshark
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book and interesting throughout
The author has clearly spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe and writes in a honest fashion throughout. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Reviewer
4.0 out of 5 stars Still fascinating and relevant
Although published some time ago now, and in football a few years can seem like decades in other ways of life, Wilson's research and the stories within still retain interest. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr David F Pickup
4.0 out of 5 stars Football, crime and corruption
Rather than yet another football travel book, it is a story of corruption, crime and mismanagement that reflect the way how football has been run in Central and Eastern... Read more
Published 15 months ago by RobertBlaszczak
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and full of fascinating stories
As a big fan of football at all levels, I've long enjoyed Wilson's newspaper articles - he's an intelligent and insightful writer that covers a wide range of topics and somehow... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mr. J. A. Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars As per ususal - J.Wilson does a fantastic job
The amount of research done into this book is unreal - the number of interviews and help from pro's is just fantastic to see. Read more
Published 19 months ago by J Davies
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting. Very interesting.
This is an engaging, well-written book. The author is obviously pretty passionate about his subject, particularly early 90s Red Star Belgrade. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Mr. J. Norris
5.0 out of 5 stars excellence
A great dlight to be able to read about football form a completely different area of the continent. Great to see how differently things are don 'behind the iron curtain'
Published on 17 April 2012 by Mally
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting stories, but........
Fair play to Mr. Wilson for putting in the leg-work and going to places to make discoveries that we, the faint-hearted, would fain to travel to, however...

... Read more
Published on 10 May 2011 by Alice Cribbins
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid, but not desperately revealing
There's a growing selection of books looking at the history of football in various countries, such as "Football Against the Enemy" and "Brilliant Orange". Read more
Published on 14 April 2011 by Matthew Smith
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