REVIEW BY JIM KEOGHAN – @jimmykeo
This book should probably come with a warning, something along the lines of ‘If you like modern football, if you’re the kind of person who yearns to get on a fan-cam, who bops along to goal music, who can’t wait to settle down with a giant hotdog, then this book probably isn’t for you.’
Richard Foster’s Football’s Flaws & Foibles is perfect for those amongst us who have watched the journey that our beloved national game has taken over the past 20 years with unfolding horror. For all its technical wizardry, its undoubted international appeal, its razzmatazz, the modern game in England, certainly at the top, is far from perfect. For many, it is a relatively soulless contest, complete with manifold flaws.
And it is these flaws that Foster (with the help of a few other fellow fans) explores with such aplomb. Whether it’s the regular arrival of fancy new footballs (which promise to do so much more than the old boring footballs did last year), the repellent brand building that clubs indulge in or the pernicious spread of the ‘selfie’ within the game, Foster et al, pick apart the multitude of horrors that have come to infect the sport.
One stand-out highlight was the chapter on half-and-half scarves. This phenomenon of the modern game is inexplicable to many fans. To see people attend a Merseyside derby, a north London derby or the toxic tussle between Manchester United and Liverpool wearing one of these cotton monstrosities, speaks volumes of how the demographics of those attending games has shifted so fundamentally in recent years. The half-and-half-scarf seems to have been invented for those fans that leave any game content, irrespective of the scoreline, simply happy to have been part of the occasion.
From a personal perspective, I also loved the inclusion of a chapter on hating every other single team. To some, my love of Everton and loathing of every other side that is not Everton is often seen as horribly mean spirited and myopic. My parochial approach was castigated recently by a few people I know when Leicester City won the Premier League. Where they saw a great tale of a plucky underdog defying the odds, I simply saw a club other than Everton winning the league and therefore, could not have given a single fuck. It was heart warming to see written down what I have felt for so long, that supporting a club is indivisible. And as fans, we are supposed to feel like that.
Although much of the book functions like a cathartic and enjoyable rant against the style and look of modern football, there are also important chapters that question how the game is run. So the administrative chicanery of FIFA gets a chapter to itself, the obscurification of ‘undisclosed fees’ is explored and the bastardisation of the Football League Trophy (or Checkatrade Trophy as it’s now horribly known) is also addressed. There is much more to this book than a simple list of things the authors dislike (and ‘lists’ themselves do also get a mention.)
Along the way I also learned things about modern football that were previously unknown to me, such as the hopes to create an Atlantic League, whereby smaller European nations are seeking to establish a rival to the Champions League. And Stuart Fuller’s chapter on IFAB’s rules surrounding sock tape might not sound the most thrilling but is a beautifully told window into the impact of football’s rules and regulations.
Inevitably, with so many areas covered, not everything is going to be to the readers’ tastes. You might dislike much about modern football but have no issue with ‘open letters’, the ‘international break’ or ‘goal music’ (although this last one should really make your blood boil).
As a long time indulger in the world of fantasy football, I found that chapter to be one of the rare ones that struck a false note. Those who participate appreciate that luck plays an enormous part, that pun team names are universally awful and that finding joy from the goal or assist of a player from another team is a slightly perverse thing to do. But equally, some knowledge helps (over the long term), dreaming up a terrible pun name is part of the challenge and in many ways, finding pleasure in others scoring is little different from having a bet on the weekend (an activity that escapes the ire of the book.)
But such criticisms are exceptionally minor. On the whole this is well written, broadly ranging and at times, genuinely funny book.
As it rifles through the many things that annoy us about the modern game, Football’s Flaws & Foibles reads a little like the first half of a manifesto, the bit that outlines what is wrong. What might be interesting would be another book outlining how to fix the many problems that the sport faces.
Because, (like one of his earlier publications, the ‘A-Z of Football Hates’) despite the grumbles, the discontent, the sense of frustration, it is clear that Foster writes from a place of love and understanding. And in light of this deep affection and appreciation of the game, a perspective on how to create a better version modern football would be a welcome addition to his cannon.
But until then, enjoy Football’s Flaws & Foibles, a cracking read for anyone out there who has seen a player taking a selfie, listened to goal music or witnessed the horror of a half-and-half scarf and felt an almost uncontrollable feeling of rage.