BY JIM KEOGHAN
In an age in which most football writing is obsessed with the big clubs, leading players and transfer madness, itâ€™s encouraging to find a writer like Martin Cloake, someone that ploughs a different furrow.
His work in publications such as The New Statesman, The Football Pink and In Bed With Maradona, takes a wider view of our national game, asking searching questions about the path it has taken in recent decades, the changing relationship between clubs and the fans and the corrosive impact that money is having on football.
Cloakeâ€™s new book, Taking Our Ball Back: English Footballâ€™s Culture Wars, is a compilation of this work, along with some new material. Grouped in six themes, covering, Tradition, Business, Dissent, Organisation, Law and Love, these articles explore much of what bothers many fans about our modern game.
What is most impressive about Cloake is his willingness to tackle issues that the mainstream media deems unworthy and which very rarely make the back pages.
As an Evertonian, I was particularly interested in an article highlighting Evertonâ€™s attempt to stifle dissent via the withdrawal of a season ticket for a fan that had campaigned against the clubâ€™s opening of a Free School. The case reveals how clubs can act upon very little evidence, how dissent is deemed intolerable at the top and how little the mainstream media cares about this.
There is also an excellent article on touting that zeroes in on the relationship between the loathsome StubHub and Spurs (an article made all the more impressive when you consider that Cloake is a diehard Spurs fan). Cloake highlights the clubâ€™s complicity in allowing the touting service access to the ticket exchange scheme previously run by Tottenham, illustrating in the process how the club has placed its own commercial interests above the interests of the fans.
Throughout it is evident that this is clearly a book written from the perspective of someone who shares much in common with the aims of the Stand Against Modern Football movement. He might follow a big club but Cloake is evidently a person who has looked back at the past twenty years of development in the game and found football severely wanting, specifically in the Premier League.
His varied articles are presented in an accessible and easily digestible manner and draw on his contacts from across football. Theyâ€™re informative, interesting and varied in their scope. But where the book really excels is in its ability to untangle the various strands of the debate surrounding the reform of football, taking each strand one-by-one and giving the reader a clear insight into the topic at hand.
If I had to make a criticism of Taking Our Ball Back itâ€™s that the final theme of â€˜Loveâ€™ feels slightly unnecessary. In a book that until that point is a razor sharp critique of the modern game, I would have liked more of the same for the final section and not a group of articles that slightly soften the blow. I can understand why Cloake might have chosen to include that section, possibly feeling that a book that is all salt and no sugar might not be a palatable read. But I was enjoying the salt and the sugar just felt unnecessary and slightly tagged on.
But that was the only criticism, and a small one at that. For anyone who has followed football over the past two decades and felt the slightest degree of disgust about where the game is heading, this is an essential read. Taking Our Ball Back is in short, one of the best books about modern football to have been written in the past decade.
To get hold of Taking Our Ball Back: English football’s culture wars (or any of Martin’s other books) visit http://www.martincloake.com/Bookstore.html
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