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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Falling for Football II: Fall Harder

A 'delightful book'

Another day, another extract from Falling for Football - and this time it's a bit we've actually written. Many thanks if you've already bought the book, told your friends, or tweeted about it - it's much appreciated. We officially launched on March 10th and the book is available in paperback at www.ockleybooks.co.uk and electronically at http://amzn.to/1i2yDOx. And if that doesn't tempt you, here's the introduction to the book:

It’s easy to talk of high water marks. It’s arguably more difficult to encapsulate what made a period of time so special.

When we decided to stop merely ranting about football in one of London’s many watering holes (usually a Sammy Smith’s) and commit fingers to keyboards in 2010, little did we know what a fantastic journey we were about to embark upon.

Magic Spongers, our blog, was at once our saviour. A release from the drudgery of (paid) work, and suddenly also a medium by which we could interact with a wider audience. That some hardy souls seemed to like what we wrote was a bonus. And being listed as one of The Guardian’s Top 100 football blogs on New Year’s Eve 2010 was a highlight and a pointer that we were on the right track.

In hindsight, what strikes us is how the period between 2010 and 2012 represented a sub-culture brimming with talent and vibrancy. Our peers, blogs such as Twisted Blood (Andi Thomas), Dispatches from a Football Sofa (Greg Theoharis), Twohundredpercent (Ian King), In Bed With Maradona (Jeff Livingstone, aided by Dave Hartrick, Ryan Keaney and Chris Nee), The Two Unfortunates (Lloyd Langman and Rob Langham), The Seventy-Two (Dave Bevan) and the sadly defunct Run of Play (Brian Phillips, whose foreword we are so grateful for) became our first port of call for the best in football writing and it became easy to get lost in a wonderful tangle of sites that all seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Thankfully, they’re all represented here.

Being part of all this was exciting. And that we could hold our own in such esteemed company was humbling. Not only that, but on the odd occasion we made it to award ceremonies or the marvellous Socrates football bloggers meet ups, we found engaging, like-minded souls who cared enough to write for the love of it.

It was these experiences that led us to stumble across an idea, not least because all these talents – and in part, the existence of their websites – were borne of a faint, but growing, disillusionment with modern football and all its gaudy bells and whistles, This, naturally, made the pair of us a little introspective, as while we had found a readership through raving about the visual and print media’s lowest common denominator coverage, our enjoyment was increasingly restricted to the lesser reported exploits of lower and non-league football.

Nevertheless, football at the highest level has, and always will, retain the ability to delight. Watching Barcelona annihilate Real Madrid 5-0 in November 2010 was almost like seeing another sport. Watching Bilbao tear Manchester United a new one at Old Trafford in March 2012 was similarly evocative. These were new ways of applying old rules, framed by the fact we’d never seen anything like it before. It was through this mindset, and some rose-tinted glasses, that we began to share stories of how our lifelong affairs with the sport had been forged in the first place, when that sheer open-mouthed excitement was the result of a genuinely compelling experience, not a reaction to one of the big boys getting an unexpected shoeing.

Tales of swapping Panini stickers in the playground and before that, Pro Set football cards, started to bounce to and fro. First live game, first televised tournaments, cup finals, favourite players, goals scored for school and Sunday league teams, even goals and players recreated with varying degrees of accomplishment in the garden or down the park, all quickly followed in a barrage of heartfelt recollection.

Of course, as men of a certain vintage, some teams were particularly resonant. Football Italia and indeed Italia ‘90, for example; USA ‘94 and the original Dream Team; and the start of the Premier League, though it now appears a distant, different era. For us, though the Moss Rose and Bootham Crescent became more spiritual homes, we were weaned onto football elsewhere, on grandiose stories from far-flung international tournaments deemed important enough to be on the telly – when live coverage really was an occasion – and from poring over the only other media available in those days: Shoot, Match, World Soccer and our sticker albums.

But despite these shared foundations, our experiences were completely different and, on the surface, completely inexplicable. One of us found football through the successes and then failure, as it was seen, of an Italian legend, Roberto Baggio, in the 1994 World Cup final; the other by the exploits of a thrilling Nigerian side that lit up first that tournament and later the 1996 Olympic Games on their way to a gold medal. And yet neither of us particularly cares for those teams now, despite an ongoing affection for Andrea Pirlo, our favourite wizard since Gandalf.

We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones with these stories. And so we compiled a series on the blog which, though it involved a modest 11 contributors in all, saw the publication of three of the ten most viewed pieces we’ve ever had. The Daily Mirror even made Alex Douglas’s na├»ve recollections of the 1993 Sheffield Wednesday side, beaten in both domestic cup finals by Arsenal, one of their football stories of the week. Reminiscences, some truly emotional, were added to comments sections from a number of different countries, continents and age groups. It was quickly obvious that certain themes were universal and that by tapping into those – and the myriad abilities of the blogging community – we could create a real collection of similar gems, a book that could contain scribblings by our favourite bloggers and writers, be a platform for new ones (and nostalgia) and cover eras, teams and experiences far beyond the scope of us doing a bit of research and turning the blog into a glorified Wikipedia service about the great international and club sides of yesteryear.

What has made this book such a joy to put together is the personal touch afforded it by each and every one of the contributors. The words “addiction” and “love” have continued to crop up in the chapters we received – often unrequited in the case of the latter, but seemingly always unconditional. From teams as mighty as Manchester United and Milan to the  lowlier Linfield and Lewes, it doesn’t matter – though the stories are different, their traits are reassuringly familiar throughout.

It’s easy to talk of high water marks. It’s arguably more difficult to encapsulate what made a period of time so special. What this book does in some small part, we hope, is achieve that.


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  2. Thanks for the article. Keep posting. Best wishes …