on 30 November 2011
Jonathan Wilson's renowned ability to dissect tactics, players and managers and boil them all down to their constituent parts is very much to the fore in The Anatomy of England, which I'd go so far as to say ought to be essential reading for fans of the English game. Like other reviewers, when we get into what in fact turns out to be more than ten games throughout the chapters (as important matches that surrounded the key ones are interpreted also), there is a lot of description of play that doesn't altogether seem necessary at times. But who can doubt that Wilson's video/DVD remote hasn't been getting a hammering because, amongst the many delights here, he reminds us of games we thought we knew (and fair few we didn't!) but which really turned on a specific moment of magic/luck/disaster etc that then shaped the collective memory of England at the time. That England weren't particularly great in the early stages of the 1966 World Cup, or that the Argentina game that year wasn't nearly as brutal as it's often remembered to be; that England were close to dreadful for parts of the 1990 tournament; that McAllister missed a penalty for Scotland in Euro 96 moments before Gascoigne's wonder goal; all of these moments are not there to remind the reader that we misremember the past for our own convenience so much as they are to construct a longer history of hope, expectation and punctured ambition. And that is the really beneficial aspect of a "serious" book about football like this one. First, it isn't always so serious as to neglect the humour and pathos of the game (much of it here involving Gascoigne!), and second Wilson enforces that point that we as fans, critics, and commentators have been round this set of houses many times before in our pleading with the national team to, just for once, get its act together. Wilson asserts that the so-called "golden age" of English football had calls for change and involved the castigation of players just as much as the Robson/Taylor/Eriksson/McClaren years had and the Capello reign continues to do. It's a smart idea for a book, it's for the most part terrifically well-assembled (especially the early games which are in many ways the most interesting)and it seriously says something about the national psyche, and not just in relation to football. Recommended.
on 4 June 2015
Wilson discusses ten football matches in the history of England, between 1929 and 2007 (4 wins, 6 losses, one of which came after a penalty shoot-out). They are not necessarily their best or most successful matches (e.g., from the 1966 World Cup it includes the match against Argentina rather than the final) but they are illustrative or crucial in one way or another. It seems their 4-1 win over the Netherlands in Euro96 may have been their best match of the past 4-5 decades (the Dutch will rather remember their crucial group-stage win in Euro88). The chapters contain a lot of background details and history surrounding each game. Only one chapter (the Euro72 quarter-final first leg home game against Germany) is tough to read as it contains a very long play-by-play account of what happened on the pitch (better to watch the game on YouTube than to read about for pages and pages and pages). On the whole an interesting read, though.
on 7 November 2013
Football books I've ever read. Far more accessible than 'Pyramid' and a very clever way to analyse the performance of England over the years- look at the actual matches and ignore conventional wisdom and conjecture.
I must admit I found the descriptions of the games I actually remember (1982 onwards) to be the more interesting but that's just me.
Wilson has gone for an interesting selection of games, not necessarily the obvious ones.
Anyone who has a interest in this history of the national team should enjoy this, although some may be put off by his rather intellectual and anylitical approach to the game...if they're used to reading nothing but Daily Star match reports.
Jonathan Wilson's brilliantly entertaining book takes England's history as an international football team right back to the beginning - a game against Scotland in Partick, 1872 - and tells the story of how England became the vehicle for all our hopes and sorrows in international competition. You thought that it was a modern phenomenon for the England team to be criticised for being too much about individuals, not playing enough together, and not understanding the free-flowing continental passing game...? Think again...
The book particularly focuses on ten specific matches, beginning with England's first international defeat, against Spain in 1929. This structure really gives a focus to the material and lets you get your head round the details of each era of England players. The first two matches are known only from newspaper reports, but the last eight Wilson has watched over and over on DVD and his knowledge of the games really comes across well.
Wilson explains with great analytical force the technicalities of games and tactics, making you feel smarter than when you started reading, like a good science writer. But at the same time he has a wonderful eye for the telling detail, evoking longdead personalities; and a great dry sense of humour. I honestly can't recommend this book enough, masterful AND entertaining - how often does that happen? The PERFECT read while waiting impatiently for yet more World Cup highs and lows.
on 27 December 2010
Insightful and entertaining. If you've enjoyed Wilson's articles in the Guardian or his previous book, Inverting the Pyramid, you will like this.
It could though have been even better - some of the descriptions of key phases in matches (X slipped the ball to Y, who checked back and found Z on the right, etc) are hard to visualise, and the inclusion of some diagrammes would have assisted understanding. Wilson is famous for unravelling the mysteries of tactics, formations, etc (again, some diagrammes would enhance this aspect further) but is also good with character vignettes (e.g. on Alf Ramsey, Graham Taylor, Paul Gascoigne). I look forward to future books and hope he can build on his very considerable achievements thus far.