Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
on 25 June 2014
A football book written by a Labour MP that includes on its cover a promise of being "really fascinating" from noted literary critic Kenny Dalglish, may attract some cynicism. However, this is excellent.
Murphy's premise is that football is genuinely important as a bellweather of social and cultural moods, and that certain games have long-lasting social and political implications. These range to acting as a focal point for sectarianism (Celtic v Rangers), cultural identity (Madrid v Barcelona), or even war (El Salvador v Honduras). There are pieces about how certain games shape wider events, notably the political fall-out of England's 1970 World Cup exit and about how football can become a reminder of normality and hope in terrible situations, which include a fascinating section on the league created by inmates of Robben Island during Apartheid.
Murphy is a genuine football fan, and an interesting writer. He imposes a significant degree of his personal experience into the stories, which is not always successful, but which is relevant more often than not. He bases his accounts on significant amounts of personal research and secures interviews with those pertinent to the events described. Each game is placed in a wider context and justifies Murphy's claim to its 'importance'.
This is an ambitious and well-intentioned project, and its flaws stem from that ambition. There is an incredible breadth of subject, and (as Murphy freely admits), the majority have been covered in far more detail elsewhere. This leads to tonal inconsistencies. Sometimes there is an element of crow-barring the facts into this concept. A 1984 match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea is used as a forum for discussion about the diminishing role of racism in English football, which is, of course, an important issue, but the chapter feels like an endorsement of (Murphy's friend) Pat Nevin than the description of a seminal moment in cultural history. Likewise, the chapter about El Salvador seems confused as to how significant it feels the match was in the context of the war - was it a quirk of coincidence or a genuine tipping point? Did the 100 hour war between two tiny Central American countries 'change the world' in any event? There is a good chapter on the Hillsborough disaster, which is an excellent summary of this (disgraceful) story, but which feels more like a revision guide for someone going to a dinner party in Liverpool than adding original insight into the events. Did the games 'change the world'? Debateable, but it is a better title than "10 football matches of lasting cultural significance".
Overall, therefore, a worthwhile and interesting project, if only because it inspires the reader to seek out more detailed accounts of certain of the events described. That the central conceit - that football can be very important in a wider context - is pretty thin, should not detract from the fact that any reader will learn something and enjoy doing so.