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4.7 out of 5 stars26
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 11 September 2006
In this superb, breathtaking and wonderful tour de force of a book, David Goldblatte describes the rise of soccer, from a chaotic, homosexual-tinged fest or folk ritual to its present incarnation as a macho global-entertainment industry. It's the story of players and managers, fans and owners, clubs and national teams; a chronicle of who won and who lost. So what you might say,we know all this. We do, but not told as Mr Goldblatt does. I take my hat off to him. He is no writer and instead assembles his facts, like a well trained archer. It's a book about money and power and the allure of men in shorts. And, above all, how all these men interact. It is a history which attempts to locate where the line between the realm of glorious lust and the realm of power has been crossed, that celebrates the love of the game and of players for each other. Shame on all those who condemn this. Thus the book describes and accounts for the careers of Pele and Maradona, Puskas and George Best; the histories of the Wunderteam and the incomparable Hungarians, the anti-futbol of Estudiantes de la Plata and the futbol arte of Brazil 1970. It explores the cultural meanings and political uses of football in Peron's Argentina, Adenauer's West Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union and Mussolini's Italy. It ranges from the precolonial politics of African football and its anti-gay platform - which Mr Goldblatt deplores - to the manufacturing history of the football boot; from the history of stadium architecture to the architecture of power in global football's leading institutions. It has everything. Buy it and be thankful. I am so glad I got hold of an early copy.
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2006
992 Pages on football. .....flippin heck. David Goldblatt has written an exhuastative absorbing examination of football and its impact on the world in the context of social, cultural and economic change. As well as serving as a potted history of the game , including overviews of the careers of some of the greats -Pele, Maradona ,Best, Puskas , Lampard( only joking)- it more accurately and assiduously traces the game from it's original working class roots ( or as a ill disciplined ritual) to the mass marketed global phenomenon it is today.

The author covers most of the demographic shifts in the games annals. How football can be used as a political tool -Mussolini, Stalin and the Argentinean Junta in 1978 most pertinently - and how these political machinations can lead to tragedy like the killing of Columbian defender Escobar after he scored an own goal in the World Cup finals. He charts the rise of Africa as a football power and the mass migration of African players spurred on by the success of George Weah. How the game can be used as a placebo for the masses and exploited by nefarious individuals and how the broadcasting frenzy has triggered the inequitable playing field we have today. Leading to a super breed of club gorging on the cream while the lower leagues are left to sift through the scraps.

The section on the rise of the great teams like The Hungary of the 50,s and the Brazil of the 70,s is fascinating while chapters on such prosaic items as the football boot and the architecture of Stadiums are not as dull as you would think. Goldblatt is not a massively gifted writer. You will not be dazzled by pithy turns of phrase or delightful poetic prose but he has done his research and he can put it across in a straightforward way with no pretension or pomposity.

I was left to regret the advent of football as a mega business or a corporate tool best summed by a real Madrid director who when asked why the club had not bought Ronaldino said with complete seriousness that "He is so ugly he would sink you as a brand". I take it Wayne Rooney will not be gracing the Bernabau anytime soon.
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on 25 July 2015
The ball is round is a comprehensive history of football and in my view, probably the most detailed book on the matter, encompassing global football. Whilst books such as Tor or Morbo might be more detailed on the specifics of German or Spanish football, this is an incredibly well researched book detailing the development of football globally.

As would always be the case with a book of this size, it can’t cover all aspects of world football in the detail, you might hope for, some issues of interest to individuals are only briefly discussed, whilst others are discussed in more depth. To be fair this is a huge book (998 pages) and to detail everything, would require readers to have patience of exceptional proportions.

I found this book exciting, interesting, well written and researched and truly inspiring. Detailing humourous and tragic stories with equal footing.

The book details the great characters, teams and countries in world football and also delves into sociology and the influence of football in development of trade, or dictatorships in Eastern Europe and 1970’s Argentina.

This is a book for football fans and sociologists in equal measure, it provides clear evidence of the benefits football has provided the world and the way it has created social divides also. It is thoughtful, passionate and detailed. The aspects on FIFA predate the current crisis and are honest and brutal in detailing the corruption which has been endemic and well known for years.

The book provides great stories about the invincible Hungarian Team, La Maquina in River Plate, the mighty Real Madrid of Di Stefano and Puskas and the incredible Manchester United and Liverpool teams of past ages. There are stories related to people from all continents and cultures and in referencing everything it provides aspects of interest in most chapters.
The book is brilliant and a truly awesome read, it is in my top five football history books and is probably the most detailed of any I’ve ever read.

The book is never going to cover everything but this is as close as i've ever read to an encyclopedia of football history.
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on 12 September 2006
I procured this book in advance of its official publication by begging my bookshop. i am so glad i did. it is fantastic, the best thing ever written about the beautuful game. mr goldblatt is no chump. he knows his stuff . a bit too much about 'the glamour and appeal ' of the men who play for my liking. as a person of the old school i am entitled to say that. that is the book's only fault.
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on 15 June 2007
i take issue with the previous reader who says mr goldblatt writes poorly. he is no tolstoy but he has a crisp and enjoyable style in keeping with the overall subject matter. this is a great value book. what a surprise from a man who from his photograph inside the cover looks like an old heavy metal rock guitarist! this would be a great birthday present as it can be kept and dipped into.
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on 24 September 2015
It is definitely an exhaustive account of the history of football and I take my hat off to David for the time and amount of research he must have put into this book. I do however, think a more fitting title would be a "A Global History of Football, World Politics and Football Hooliganism," as for me there is too much emphasis on the latter two categories.
It is very informative and I particularly enjoyed reading about the early beginnings of professional football in the UK and Europe. It was quite disheartening to read about the state of the game in South America and the terrible corruption that has plagued the game and as expected African football is no different.
I think David gives a fair assessment throughout and isn't afraid to point fingers where they need pointing I do however think his style is often too deep, over the top and self-indulgent as if he is trying to be too clever for his own good. Maybe that is my lack of understanding and knowledge but it spoiled an otherwise excellent read for me and I think it may be a problem for many other readers interested in the subject matter.
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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2008
First things first, this is a massive book. 978 pages long(including index), it weighs about half a hundredweight. But it does precisely what it says on the tin - it is a global history of the global sport. It starts off exploring the roots of the game, how different versions developed and eventually coalesced into the sport we know today. How the sport took off and developed in each continent, how tactics and cultures developed, the impacts of television, sponsorship and the global media environment. It ends up at the 2006 world cup, as billions of people prepare to watch, the game having shrunk the world to one set of fans.

It's very thorough, very detailed. It puts football into an historical context - showing how it can both respond to and lead wider and greater events. Crucially, it's also very very readable. It doesn't get boring (unless you don't like football, of course. In that case, it must be one of the dullest books imaginable) at all and is all very easily digested. You can read in long sittings or dip in and out.

Highly recommended. If you have strong enough wrists.
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on 3 February 2009
'The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football' by David Goldblatt is an attempt to tell the story of fooball - from it's origins in the newly burgeoning industrialised and urbanised United Kingdom in the 19th century 'spread through both the formal empire and the immense informal empire of Britain's economic and cultural connections' to the truly global spectacle it is today - but also to place the game in it's social, cultural, economic and political contexts also.

Goldblatt's book does not just tell you the history of the game - the book is replete with stories of it's great games, players and managers - but also the historical currents that have spurred and shaped the game. It is here that Goldblatt excells, like Simon Kuper and David Winner before him, he seems to understand the way football (on the field and off) both reflects and expresses deeper insights into the cultures into which the game is taken into it's heart. The sections in particular concerning Latin America are indicative of this. I feel I have learned more about Latin America from reading this book than any number of books and documentaries previously.

Goldblatt argues in the book that the game is not taken seriously by the world's academic elites despite it's stake to the claim that it is football and not Christianity or McDonald's say for the sake of example that is currently the most globally universal cultural practice, this is a book that must go some way to remedy that disjunction. 'The Ball is Round' whilst over 900 pages is a hugely entertaining as well as informative read that can be read from cover to cover or dipped into, read by the football fanatic or merely by anyone interested in history.
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on 13 June 2012
This is a monster of a book - I really can't imagine slogging through it on the Kindle, but it was a great read in actual book-form. It's probably better to dip in and out than try and take it chronologically, but there's some fascinating stuff about how the game developed and grew. Really good for anyone who likes the history of the game.
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on 3 April 2009
A back cover review of this book describes it as `the only football book that you are ever going to need'.
When I told my wife this and how keen I was to read it, she asked if I was going to dispose of a supposedly redundant library of football books that I already own. Sadly I am similar to most football enthusiasts in that I never want to part with my large collection of football trivia and photograph histories.
However, the reviewer is correct in one sense - this is the most comprehensive history of world football that I have ever seen.
It is also unique. One of Goldblatt's major criticisms of mainstream history is that football is ignored by `serious' historians. He points out that anyone writing Twentieth Century history is omitting a great social development by doing so. Historians are happy to discuss literature, theatre, and even film - so why not football? Goldblatt argues that with TV viewing figures in the billions (estimates vary, but up to a third of the planet were watching) can events like the World Cup continue to be ignored by historians?
Goldblatt has set out to rectify this omission himself by producing the first comprehensive social history of football. It is an ambitious undertaking, but one that is fully realised in this book.
You might assume that with such a large subject, the facts would be diluted and chapters could read as an overview. That is far from the truth. The author covers each development with precision and clarity. It is well referenced and the scope for further reading is vast, as you might expect. In fact, Goldblatt is so thorough that this book stands as something completely different to the usual lazy efforts of football hack journalists.
It is an entirely different genre.
Themes that are explored include the dubious origins of the world game, claims by various countries of inventing it, the first codifying of rules in the English public schools, the emergence of Scotland, the spread of football across the British Empire, reasons for the lack of a foothold in Australia and Canada, the nascent continental game, and the growth of football around the Danube. One of the most interesting chapters explores the ways that football was developed in South America, and how different social conditions (especially the lack of participation in the World Wars) led to an entirely different football culture.
Goldblatt also examines how the devastating effects of the First World War caused profound changes to football in Europe. With the removal of a whole social class who had previously regarded football as their own, the game was claimed by the working class. He shows how the movement of men in Europe led to a great mixing of classes and cultures, and `seeded' football growth where it had previously been absent.
One area of football history that is overlooked in other studies that I have read is the role of the Olympic Games in early international football. Football had a sixty year history before the first World Cup in 1930, and it is an area that is easily omitted. Goldblatt explores the game and its relationship with the Olympics, and especially amateurism. For England fanatics, it makes good reading - until l918, they were unofficial World Champions, and untouchable. I found the explanations of the Danubian football revolution more interesting, however, and the fact that by the 1920s the writing was already on the wall for England and Scotland.
If you have read his far, you probably already know the rest of the story - or you think you do. Many of the assumptions made about modern football, particularly by British fans, are just untrue. Is Hooliganism `The English Disease'? The early problems in Glasgow are comprehensively chronicled, and the author leaves the reader to do the maths - violence north of the Border preceded the 1970s issues of Millwall and Leeds by fifty years.
From the Second World War onwards the book becomes less of an education and more of a delight, and the expected heroes and villains of post-war football emerge. The really enlightening chapters are those that deal in depth with football's considerable footprint in the developing world. Africa's relationship with the beautiful game is especially intriguing. Australia's lack of participation for a major sporting nation is well explained. Asia's vast distances and cultural contrasts go a long way to explaining the slow development of the game in Tehran and Tokyo.
Each chapter brings a different insight, and many are thoroughly reinforced by sound political and social references. Goldblatt weaves the sporting and political histories of the continents together with skill and care.
One of the successes of this book is that there is so much information, but that it is not overwhelming. The author takes a recognisable era and moves from continent to continent, and within each chapter he focuses carefully on the history of each country. His reflections on events, and reasons for them, make each chapter more than just a name-check of the major players and teams.
When I had read as far as the 1950s I looked forward to reading what Goldblatt had to say about Real Madrid. I was not disappointed. With characteristic style he examined the career of the greatest of them all, Alfredo di Stefano. A memorable quote is used: "If Pele was the violins, di Stefano was the whole orchestra."
It seems a fitting way to sum up the value and quality of this book to say that it is a demanding but rewarding read. Many chapters brought a smile to my face. Many chapters were challenging - the detail of Heysel in particular was hard going for me as a Liverpool fan - but it is all part of the great history of football.
Pele was right - it is The Beautiful Game. Now we have a Beautiful Book to go with it.
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