8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2005
The first season spent in the dizzy heights of Serie B, in their entire history, by Castel Di Sangro is shared by American writer Joe McGinniss in this fascinating book.
McGinniss spends the entire 1996/97 season in the small hamlet of Castel Di Sangro. It's calcio (football to you and me, maybe soccer to the author) club is at the very heart of this remarkable tale of survival. The author gets so close to the team though that the book is about far more than football. Lies, deception, scandal and tragedy all come to the fore whilst the footballing miracle unfolds.
In fact, so much unfolds between September 1996 and May 1997, that you will not want to do anything else but read on. The book, by and large, seems to be written with the American audience in mind, which in actual fact helps the tale have small respites for avid football followers. The season is described chronologically, which again makes the story very readable.
The only negative is that the author, despite by his own admission being new to the sport, seems to consider himself an expert in the game. Frequently he describes how he told the manager to do this or that, and seems genuinely surprised when the experienced Italian coach rebuffs his ideas.
Overall, a fascinating tale of an almost surreal season for Castel Di Sangro. Joe McGinniss is welcomed so much into the heart of the community and club, that we find out a great deal about the activities of a small Italian football club, in this intelligently written story.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2006
This is a fantastic read and literally has you sat on the edge of your seat trying to guess what will happen next. The first season of lowly Castel Di Sangro in Serie B of the Italian football league is a roller coaster ride and ends with a fantastic twist. The reviews of each league game are brilliantly written and really do have you screaming for the final whistle and a win for Castel.
The book goes into slightly too much detail about the basics of football at times but this obviously increases its target audience to those who don't know too much about the game. It really is a great read and a fascinating true story. The only blemish is the author who clearly knows little about European football and the passion which surrounds it. It is almost embarrassing at times to listen to his opinions and points of view as he is very often misguided and uninformed. Saying that, it adds a bit extra to the story as you get sucked into the politics and passion of Italian football.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I loved this book from the minute I turned over the first page. Castel di Sangro have just been promoted to the seria B and now they must fight to stay here. An american writer joins them to write about their season in quest of "la salvezza" or not being relegated to a lower division.
McGinniss really captures the italian attitude to life and football (though maybe not in that order). You can just imagine the footballers shrugging their shoulders in that italian fashion at points throughout the book as they attempt to explain italian life to the author. You are rooting for the team at the end of the season as they fight to keep their heads above water, and as the club ownership conspire against the team.
The drawback of this book is the authors self-righteousness and his belief that he could have at times picked a better team than the manager. Maybe he could, but it wasn't his place to say so. He seems to have left the small town on a really sour note that was all of his own doing. He tried to fight against the mafiosa style system in place, and lost out.
Other than that, it's a great tale, at times hilarious, not just of football, but of life.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2002
Americans and football as a rule don't mix. The 1994 World Cup, held in the USA for the first time, is remebered as much for the football as the small amount of Americans who knew that it was taking place. The American author Joe McGinnes is a wonderful exception in his passionate account of the smallest of small Italian teams playing within touching distance of the most famous league in the world.
The facts themselves are barely credible; Castel di Sangro playing in Serie B for the the first time in their history have a total population of 5,000 when most opposing spectators have 20,000 spectators at their home games. It is a footballing miracle which sould have all fnas enthralled.
McGinness is not completley swept along, his egotistical nature leads him to question everything. This leads to cringeworthy tactical discussions with the trainer Jaconi but also importantly to confronting the corruption that lurks behind this miracle. The book without doubt is the better for it
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2010
Sports stories don't come much better than Castel Di Sangro. The plucky underdog wins promotion against the odds and takes on the big boys of Italy's second division. Throw in the backdrop of a quirky Italian provincial town, financial mis-management, corruption, some truly crazy publicity stunts, drug deals and love, sex and death and you have a heck of a tale. One can only imagine what Buzz Bissinger, John Feinstein or Michael Lewis would have molded from such rich source material.
McGinniss manages to tell the tale well enough (who could fail), but he mucks the whole thing up by sticking his own big dumb self into the middle of the story. He begins by ignoring all the advice and guidance he is offered and as a result acts like the archetypal stupid yank abroad - not only does he disregard local manners and protocols but he proudly goes out of his way to do exactly the opposite of what he is asked. Against all advice he books himself into a local flophouse and then whines about how horrible it is, acts like a naive child when invited to sit with the clubs directors and generally makes a fool of himself. Worse still - despite having an incredibly limited experience of football he fools himself into thinking that he is an expert and offers up advice to the club's manager and posts cringing critiques of the clubs owners throughout the town. He even becomes directly involved in an effort to transfer one of the clubs players to the US. He excuses the shockingly rude behavior by shrugging it off as the result of some sort of football fever. Such a pathetic excuse would sound lame from a child, from a well traveled and experienced author it beggars belief. McGinniss ends the story by throwing a massive strop and marching off into the distance having betrayed everyone whose hospitality and patience he has taken advantage of. The long suffering residents of Castel de Sangro must have been glad to see the back of him. They deserved better. A better writer may well have also exposed their warts and shortcomings, but would have probably avoided acting like such a clown while doing so.
The story was compelling, McGinniss's writing was good and kept me reading but his behavior was just awful and by celebrating it the book he ruins a great tale.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2011
If asked to nominate an episode of scarcely-believable sporting drama, most people would have little difficulty in proffering an example. The 2005 Champions League final, the second Ashes test of that same year, game six of the 2011 World Series - three events in recent times where the incredible has happened. It is not just at the pinnacle of professional sport that such moments unfold however, and The Miracle of Castel di Sangro begins in the aftermath of a less widely-renowned sporting shock.
Castel di Sangro, a town of little over 6,000 people, is not a place with a great deal of sporting pedigree. It appears to be rather unremarkable, full stop. But for a short period in the 1990s, its footballers ensured that it gained unprecedented national recognition, at least among football fans. A hitherto perennial resident of Serie C1 and below, the 1995-96 season saw the club reach Serie B, beating Ascoli on penalties. Joe McGinniss, an American with a child-like enthusiasm for the game, arrives to find the town and its team still savouring the joy of promotion, but also apprehensive at the prospect of a hard season in the second tier of Italian football.
The book tells the story of the season from beginning to end, but it is more than simply a chronicle of the team's performances. The majority of matches are dealt with in some detail, but these accounts are often much less interesting than the other aspects of the author's time in Italy. McGinniss evidently gets caught up in each game, from the unexpected victories to the heart-sinking losses, but it is the people he encounters that elevate the book from simply a blow-by-blow narration of Castel di Sangro's attempts to avoid relegation.
While McGinniss charts the club's fortunes on the pitch, his seemingly ever-improving Italian allows him to connect with the players, the manager and other individuals connected with the organisation, without the shackles of an interpreter. He is helped in this regard by the fact that the team and their manager, Osvaldo Jaconi, all eat at Marcella's, a restaurant in the town. It is quite a set of characters that sits round the table. There is Luca D'Angelo, intensely disliked by the manager because of his communism, curious as to the author's role in the Vietnam war; Gigi Prete, arrested along with his glamorous South American wife mid-way through the season in connection with cocaine smuggling; and Roberto Alberti, initially cold towards the outsider but a man whose respect for McGinniss grows.
The stories of these people, the majority of whom are lower-league journeymen who have reached the zenith of their careers, and the way in which they respond to triumph, adversity and genuine tragedy, are compelling. There is no indication as to whether the season described in this book is typical of those endured by Serie B teams at the time (one hopes not), but those who represent this particular town on the pitch have to deal with significant problems. Castel di Sangro has no stadium at the start and is forced to play its home games in the city of Chieti, over 60 miles away. When the new ground is finally constructed, the pitch is unusable. Later, one player receives treatment in a local hospital and is nearly killed after being jabbed with an unsterilised needle. Such concerns pale into insignificance, however, when compared with the death of two players in a car accident during the season. Their memories seem to act as a spur to the remainder of the squad to try their very hardest to remain in the division for at least another year.
It is not just the players with whom McGinniss converses; he and Jaconi enjoy a testy relationship. While the two get on well for long periods - indeed, the author thanks the manager for being "the finest next-door neighbour a man could ever have" - there are times when each becomes impatient, sometimes angry, with the other. Usually these arguments arise because of tactics. McGinniss chastises Jaconi for favouring a negative approach and using the wrong players; the manager responds angrily by criticising the American for trying to meddle in a sport about which he has insufficient knowledge.
The author's desire to involve himself in the the football as much as possible is probably down to his keenness for the game but it does become irksome. McGinniss is one of the least interesting characters in the book, yet at times he appears to want to be central to the story. On more than one occasion, for instance, in protest at the club's off-field affairs (he is angered by a publicity stunt pulled by president Gabriele Gravina, for example), he scribed his concerns onto flyers before distributing them around the town and sending them to notable individuals such as the mayor, some of the players and Gravina himself. His continuous questioning of Jaconi's team selections understandably irritated the manager. For all we hear of that man's stubbornness, it is a shame that his neighbour never grew to consider him so obstinate that any attempt to change his mind would prove futile.
Then there are the two men running things behind the scenes, Gravina and Signor Pietro Rezza, a man seemingly plucked from every mafia film you've ever seen, whose not-so-humble abode overlooks the town. Smoking a fat cigar and forever accompanied by bodyguards, Rezza is the man with the money and the muscle. Gravina is his son-in-law. While Castel di Sangro's footballing fate is sealed in dramatic fashion during the penultimate match, Rezza is central to the finale to both the season and the book. Consequently, McGinness's season abroad ends on a sour note (this is in no way a reflection on whether or not the team avoids relegation or not). The author's reaction to the events of the final two chapters suggest that for all his wish to get to know the club and its key individuals throughout the season, it is harder than it appears to shake off the mentality of an outsider.
McGinniss writes well and at a lively pace and the book details an frankly extraordinary season. It has clearly been produced with the American market in mind, but it is a testament to its quality that such Americanisms such as "overtime" instead of "stoppage time" or "injury time" (to give one example) do not become an annoyance. Similarly, the basic rules of the game are outlined early on in the book, but despite making sure those who know little about football, still less about Italian football, are aware of the necessary basics, McGinniss does not give the impression he looks down to his readership. The book would have benefited from the author attempting to speak to the fans - the tifosi - but sadly we never hear their take on people or events. Despite this oversight, the book is an energetic, well-written account of a small club's search for a second miracle.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2011
I have read a few reviews of this book where there is a great disappointment and irritation at the author bumbling his way into the inner sanctum of the club. But for me that is one of the more endearing aspect of this book - Castle Di Sangro is such a small place and a small club that it is very easy for Joe McGinniss, with his limited knowledge of Italian language, customs, football culture and tactics, can find himself so immersed in the goings-on of a Serie B outfit, albeit one punching well above its weight.
Maybe its the fact that he's an American with some typical sterotypical traits (a big personality, a desire to know and learn, a misguided belief that he is somehow important and deserves to be listened to, and a well-intentioned ignorant brashness) which means he keeps on poking his nose in despite numerous warnings to back off, which leads him to uncover some unpleasant truths of various types amid the generally uplifting story of a village team competing in their most exciting season ever.
I would argue that it is only someone like Joe who could have made this book possible, every other (normal) person would have taken a step back and would not have uncovered half as much of the intriguing information as he does, often by accident. I can see how it could be considered annoying to some readers that he gets involved in the events whenever possible and becomes a character in the story rather than just an observer, but at times it is the various reactions of the locals and the club staff to his clumsy interference that reveals the most about their true thoughts and opinions as they are often either so taken aback by his un-Italian manner that they let their own gaurd down, or are so obviously unhappy at him that their emotions spill over and makes for some amusing or revealing reactions.
Overall, well worth reading if you like Italy, football, unusual true stories, meddling Americans or a combination of these!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2001
McGinniss is an American, and he loves football - almost remarkable enough to write a book about in itself. He is, in fact, a fanatic, and like all fanatics, finds objectivity a little difficult. As a result, this book is full of partiality, irrationality and in the case of his dealings with the team coach, the extraordinary Jaconi, insensitivity, presumption and rudeness on an epic scale - which McGinniss admits, even if he doesn't apologise as such. And that is why this is such a great book - none of the cool detachment you might expect with an outsider's view, no careful weighing of the various viewpoints. McGinniss jumps in feet first (occasionally sticking one of those feet firmly in his mouth) and becomes shamelessly involved. He was fortunate to find a team that seemed to attract good and bad fortune on a grand scale, and leaves us with a gripping tale that is as much about "la sistema" as football. Much as you might cringe at his outbursts and hot-headed interference in local affairs, you can't help but feel for his passion for the people and the place. It wouldn't half be interesting to hear the other side though ... Great book!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 November 2000
Joe McGinniss has a great gift for allowing the emotion with which he writes to impose itself to the reader. He describes his feelings at the triumphs and disasters of Castel di Sangro with such intensity that, right from the start, you care almost as much as he does about the team's fortunes. What's more, some passages are laugh-out-loud funny.
McGinniss tells the story of his life with the people of Castel di Sangro in a passionate way, involving us totally in his occasional madness. He admits, in a rather half hearted way, his often breathtaking arrogance and insensitivity in his dealings with the football club's management, but this all adds to the spectacle of a man caught up in an experience over which he has increasingly less control.
It is astonishing, for a variety of reasons, that McGinniss was not drummed out of Castel di Sangro, and he has not shied from telling the bad with the good.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I am not sure I agree with some of the blurb that indifference to football is irrelevant to getting the best out of it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2009
I think this review will mirror most on here that have acheived 3 stars or less. As an avid follower of lower league English football (not soccer) and witness to my very own 'Miracle' as a fan of Burton Albion aswell as having Italian blood and being a rabid Juve fan, I was intrigued and excited as I picked up the book having read the premise from the blurb, not only a miracle on the scale of which we probably are yet to see in England - a town of only pop. 5000 acheiving promotion to Serie B - but a writer given the inner sanctum of being a part of this mystical story as it unfolds.
Given the access that McGinniss is privy to within the workings and everyday life of the team, this should make for a rivetting read into not only the mind and body of a lower level Italian team but also a view that allows fans of the sport to see the rumblings of such a roller coaster ride of a football season from a new and privlaged perspective that we do not get from merely following our teams. That this season was one of the greatest ever stories in Italian football virtually guarantees that the book will be a decent read, however, what potentially could - and probably should - have been the best football book ever written is spoiled, ruined and leaves you angry and unfullfilled at the end. Ironically the same reaction as the Author but for pertinently different reasons.
As noted elsewhere, McGinniss is new to the game having recently discovered it in his native America at the 1994 World Cup. Thus one can forgive his idoms of 'soccer', 'offense' and 'overtime' but his naivity, egotistical demeanour and self rightousness that, in my experience, can only be that of an American, ruin the readers experience. Whillst this may be a generelisation, it is not an untruth and his constant refferal to the ratings issued in the sports press as being the be all and end all in judging performance really shows the American love of a statistic (and true misunderstanding of the great game) which eventually grates after a while.
Indeed after a good start, where the book seems to build up and rattle along nicely, with the author starting to get a feel for the game as a fan and his writing style making it seem like you are there at times, you think you will never want to put this book down. His complex and often enlightening look into the distictly shady people behind the football club and the many tragedies and tantrums they befall it are portrayed beautifully but, unfortuntely, should be done as a narrative only, without the personal opinion of the author often taking over matters where an overview would suffice. As the authors confidence in the native tongue grows, so does his absolute inexplicable brashness and contempt for all things culturally Italian and his lack of respect borders on the absurd at times. That he, the author who only discovered the game two years previously, can think to question a coach that has taken this village team to the upper eschelons of pro football is perfectly within his remit, not on one but on many occasions (not withstanding the fact that he advises playing an attacking formation away from home to better teams on numerous occasions and any resulting 0 0 is treated by him as a failure of sorts!) is beyond a joke.
To top it all off, at the end, to someone who claims throughout the book to have a love of Italian football (or il calcio as he puts it) he belittles the enourmous acheivement of this team by acting disgusted and totally self rightous towards the end of the book. The fact that a level of corruption exists in Italy, indeed more specifically once a team is assured of their league position, 'favours' to opposing teams who are still fighting are seen as a norm (ask Gab Marcotti on that one) his overreaction may show a level of decency but also compounds his misunderstanding of the scenario and of the culture.
To put it bluntly what happened there would not have shocked any true football fan with knowledge of the inner workings of Italian football back then, and also should not be used as a matter for judging the players character or personal beliefs as they, unlike him had their hands tied. The fact that McGinniss does judge the players on this leaves a sour taste in the mouth at the end of the book, not because of the situation, more that what should have been the greatest book ever written about one of the greatest footballing stories ever, wasn't, and all because of one thing - the unfortunate misplaced self rightous opinions of the author coming across as more important than the amazing story itself.
Buy it for the legend that is CDS, then understand why it left me feeling underwhelmed.
PS. An afterthought into the warped view of McGinniss that the coach Jaconi was an idiot with no eye for a player. The following season he did indeed drop the apparantly 'goalkeeper of the century' in McGinniss' eyes Lotti, who, despite our authors keen write up and supposed footballing knowledge, didn't go on to the perceived greatness he thought, while the tactically inept and backward thinking Jaconi replaced said goalkeeper with a young lad from Milan called Carlo Cudicini. He didn't mentioned that in his afterword!