BY MARK GODFREY
Adam Bushby and Rob MacDonald – the guys behind the excellent Magic Spongers blog – released their compilation of short footballing love stories back in March 2014. Entitled Falling for Football – The teams that shaped our obsession this enjoyable book brings together 44 very different, but notable contributors (including the likes of Andi Thomas, Musa Okwonga and Greg Theoharis amongst others) all recounting the various different teams that ignited their passion for the Beautiful Game.
As you might well expect, a decent proportion of the chapters focus on high-profile, successful club or international sides that boasted star names and dazzled spectators, young and old alike; Brazil 1982, Holland 1988, Liverpool 88-90, AC Milan 1990 and so on…
And while it’s great to be reminded of those memorable teams, Falling for Football isn’t just about the glorious or the triumphant; we also get to experience the love generated from more mediocre, unfashionable, unusual and mostly forgettable exponents of the game – early 80’s Queen of the South, 21st century Lewes, the fictional Barnestoneworth United and, my personal favourite chapter, late 90’s Rossington (who? I hear you ask).
One shouldn’t assume that this book is simply page after page of straightforward reminiscences about the heroes of the writers’ youth – although you will be rewarded with plenty of that, covering names you know and likely many you certainly don’t. It’s more a reflection of the individuals’ life story, like an extended diary entry, written – as is often mentioned – by the 8, 10 or 12 year old versions of themselves. And for us readers, especially those like myself who fall into a very similar age bracket as this group of writers, our own experiences are brought back to life through their similarity to those in this book.
There are plenty of footballing love letters here – like wistful odes written by an adult to the first girl we ever kissed. The happy, mundane, trivial and sometimes tragic (see the chapter by Jamie Gutteridge on his love affair with Villa being punctuated by his brother’s death) memories packed into Falling for Football are beautifully intimated throughout.
The book is an affirmation of the range of emotions that this simple game of ours can inspire, but it also makes me fearful for the people who come after us. Do they have the same connection to football that we feel in our very soul; the thirtysomethings and older? Or are their memories of growing up with football going to be less evocative and therefore less binding – surely there can be no romance in Vines, ‘banter’, heatmaps, pass graphics and goading Stan Collymore on Twitter? I doubt it, and quite frankly, I feel for sorry for them if this turns out to be the case. Perhaps my generation – thanks to the digital age – will be the last to feel this lasting love. Thankfully, should we be so, books like Falling for Football will be the chronicles of a lost age of sporting nostalgia.
Criticisms? Only that because of the book’s raison d’etre the chapters can be very samey, but if you digest in two or three chapter bites, then you’ll have yourself a valuable bedtime companion (besides your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, teddy bear etc).
Falling for Football is available from Ockley Books here http://www.ockleybooks.co.uk/product/9-falling-for-football or from Amazon here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Falling-For-Football-shaped-obsession/dp/0957141041