An incisive, scornfull, incredulous, hilarious and rivetting book. Yet a heartfelt one also, written by a genuine football fan for genuine football fans (such as myself) who feel utterly kicked in the teeth by the game they once worshipped.
Yes, it begins with the sideshow shenanigans of the paparazzi and the Wags at Baden-Baden during the 2006 tournament, and goes on to describe the desparation, hopefulness, anger and the outright eccentricities of the Capello years, culminating in the farcical performances at South Africa this year. Yet the book is so much more than this; it is also an angry expose of the damage that the cult of celebrity has done to our national game and those who play it, together with the alienation felt by those who have devoted their lives to following it. Here's a piece from chapter 3 that could have been penned from my own heart:
"In England, the old sepia model of Sir Stanley Matthews travelling to the ground on a public bus with football supporters had been replaced with an unpalatable version of a young millionaire footballer at the wheel of a Baby Bentley with tinted windows - untouchable, remote, impossibly rich and keen to avoid contact with the people who worshipped his celebrity.
AS footballers' wages went up, so did ticket prices. Even with the tens of millions earned for them by increasingly lucrative television deals, many Premier League clubs blew an unhealthy proportion of their budgets on the salaries of their superstars...........In the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, ticket prices rose and rose, and English footballl moved out of the financial reach of it's traditional working-class base.
It passed into the hands of a new breed of football fan,.........Alonside them came the socio-economic group identified by former Manchester United captain Roy Keane as "the prawn sandwich brigade". Also known disparagingly as "the corporates", these people were the denizens of the new empire of executive boxes and hospitality suites that invaded Premier League grounds.
The aftermath of the terrible tradgedy at HIllsborough in 1989 and the transition to all-seater stadia, enforced by the Taylor Report, started that process of change in football support, and the steep rise in player salaries in the new century finished it. Many older fans felt disenfanchised and deserted. They looked at English football, and for all it's success in the Champions League and the fact that it attracted many of the world's best players, they saw a game obsessed with money and caught in a culture of vulgar excess. These abandoned masses were filled with nostalgia for the game they once knew."
The last two sentences describe myself and millions of others perfectly. If you are one such, this book is for you. For all it's array of colourful charcters and that is set alonside the appalingly embarrassing World Cup campaign by the England football team, it is in essence one man's (Capello's) battle against the cult of celebrity in our society and what it does to the sportsmen concerned, their hangers-on and the media who follow them about. Ultimately a futile battle, but entertaining, dpressing, annoying and compulsive reading anyway.
I always enjoy reading reviews of international football tournaments, just to get someone else`s take on things. Oliver Holt is a well known football writer and his book is well written. He touches all the necessary bases, England`s rather stuttering build-up up to the shattering defeat against Germany. One of the best chapters is the one detailing the goings-on in Baden Baden,four years previously, where the atmosphere was more package holiday than serious attempt at winning the big one. In fact, it is a pity Holt didn`t write a book about Germany 2006, (although Harry Harris did a very good detailed account). Naturally he concentrates on England and although his opinion of John Terry is at odds with mine he does a pretty good job. If you are an England fan this book will let you know why the national team failed, yetagain, at the World Cup. Of course, you might be totally cheesed off by the whole sorry debacle but this book is well worth the read.