BY DAVID BEVAN – author of The Unbelievables: The Remarkable Rise of Leicester City, published by deCoubertin Books.
I have two bad habits when reading football books.
The first is to flick straight to the index, should there be one, and look for a mention of Leicester City. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the champions of England do not feature within the pages of TIRO: A Football Odyssey from Amazon to Alps. There is no gap between Lehner, Ernst (a German winger in the 1930s) and Levante UD (referenced in a short biography of one of their former players, the 1970s Chilean striker Carlos Caszely). Elsewhere, an amusing juxtaposition lists Augusto Pinochet next to Michel Platini.
So the first of my habits offered a promising first impression of TIRO: a collection of football writing commissioned by the Goalden Times website that stretches beyond the obvious to mix football and politics in Europe and Latin America.
My second bad habit is to leaf through the pages before I start reading properly. This isn’t a good idea because it’s possible to find something which is unrepresentative of the book as a whole – to leap onto a haystack and impale yourself on a needle. A description of Istanbul ends with this, one of my least favourite sentences of all time: “The food is absolutely brilliant and the women, simply exquisite.” It’s bizarre to think this monstrosity made it through all the proof-reading that must have gone into a book laden with detailed facts and figures.
TIRO makes bold claims. There are effectively three separate introductions and each one pushes the expectation levels up a notch. The foreword refers twice to the book’s “talented writers”, the preface promises “readers will savour the stories as much as our authors have relished writing them” and the acknowledgements section states that “our authors elegantly articulate their passion for the beautiful game and spread the love for it.”
Once all that nonsense is out of the way, we’re off to South America for stories about Moacyr Barbosa, Brazil’s goalkeeper in the 1950 World Cup, and the Ecuadorian striker Alberto Spencer, amongst others. It’s tough to get convincingly close to such wide-ranging subjects, particularly those from decades ago, and it occasionally reads like a detailed Wikipedia entry. Nevertheless, education is unquestionably TIRO’s main strength. Many of the names that crop up will be new to readers and only the most obsessive can expect to learn nothing at all.
The highlight arrives halfway through with a pair of stories by Arghya Lahiri about football in the Balkans – one emotive tale of an impromptu kickabout in war-torn Bosnia and one informative article about football in the aftermath of Yugoslavia’s collapse.
I had a love/hate relationship with TIRO. I put it down plenty of times but always picked it up again eventually to discover a new story.
We all have our bad habits. If you can look past this book’s flaws, you’ll certainly learn something. Just remember to skip the introductions… and Istanbul.