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Behind the Curtain: Travels in Football in Eastern Europe Hardcover – 17 Feb 2006

29 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; First Edition edition (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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 904,483 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


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 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 story of football in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert Francis on 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hanson on 7 Oct. 2009
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. M. R. Wassell on 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By haunted on 29 April 2010
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 Europe.
At first a dream task of travelling and writing about the beautiful game, it quickly emerges that football is just a background to systematic problems still faced in a reality hidden until recently behind Europe's Iron Curtain. And its legacy, it seems, continues.
Some fixed league titles, apparatchik officials, local gangsters - it is often a crime story based in football surroundings where magic moments of the game's beauty erupted only few times over the past hundred years, like with the Aranycsapat for Hungarians or Wembley '73 for Poles.
In a reality with no place for romantics, the picture of fans still deeply-rooted, obsessed with their past and unable to look forward and move on emerges from "Behind the Curtain". It is a story of past glory and slow rotting in a world where a globalised game crosses and absorbs mostly forgotten and at best dusted football communities in despair for some positivity.
It also, however paradoxically it could be, supports the argument that clubs, despite all, are immortal. Intriguingly, a bookmark I was using when reading this book, was a ticket from a recent AFC Wimbledon-Aldershot match, two of recent phoenixes in the English football. And there are many similar stories across Central-Eastern Europe, too. Changing names, towns, histories but always providing a central point for local communities. Despite getting smaller and smaller, more marginalised, many of these clubs ("brands", as they are often called in modern business) are still somehow important.
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