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Monday, 3 March 2014

Falling For Football

The best book you'll buy today

First things first, we have a book out. We’ve been writing this blog now for just under 4 years and the book has been in the pipeline for around 3 of those years. There really is something beautiful about seeing a plan finally come to fruition. So without further ado, and with a heartfelt thank you to all of those who have contributed, inspired and encouraged, here is the foreword to Falling For Football: The teams that shaped our obsession by Brian PhillipsAvailable here from today (official launch March 10). 

And if that’s not enough to whet the appetite, you’re obviously not hungry enough.

"This book is a time machine. If you remember your own first giddy discovery of football – the moment when the game transformed itself from a colourful jumble with an inexplicable power to make adults shout at the television into something with shape and intention, something that made sense – then you will recognise these stories. You’ve already lived them. You, too, have been a nine-year-old poring over match programmes or almanacs (or, if you’re a little younger, the Internet), sorting out the heraldries and histories of clubs you’re encountering for the first time. You, too, have gone to a stadium for the slightly overwhelming experience of your first live match and fallen desperately in love with something you saw a player do. You, too, have hung up posters, memorised starting XIs, and – if you’re anything like the writers collected here – had your heart stolen by one unforgettable team. It’s remarkable, once football starts making sense, how quickly it seems to make more sense than anything else.

The stories in this book are all our stories. It’s the details that differ, and the details are what make many of these essays so absorbing. There’s Sam Macrory’s memory of sitting in the family stand at the old Manor Ground in Oxford with his dad ‘quietly reading his Guardian’ and his mother leafing through Good Housekeeping. There’s James Young’s gripping and funny account of watching football in Northern Ireland with a father who belonged to the RUC: ‘Linfield were losing and my father was going to break somebody’s legs. Things looked bad.’ There’s Greg Theoharis’s reminiscence about falling for Cameroon during Italia ‘90 on a black-and-white TV at his aunt’s house in Cyprus. For my part, I grew up in America and didn’t discover the game the rest of the world calls football until I was already an adult – but I vividly remember standing on my toes in Stillwater, Oklahoma, watching Barry Sanders run with a different kind of football, and feeling the same oh-my-God-what-is-this exhilaration that many of these writers describe.

But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Regardless of our particular circumstances, one of the things sport does for many of us is to keep us in touch with the childhood selves that first fell hard for it. That is, as kids, football can seem like a port of entry into adulthood, maybe the first experience we share with our dads without either of us having to feign enjoyment. As adults, it’s a way to preserve a sliver of our lives that’s wholly devoted to play – because for all that we pride ourselves on our grown-up cynicism toward the transfer market or our world-weariness toward the media, what keeps us bound to the game is the promise of the next beautiful move, the next big win for our club, the next astonishing goal. And when it comes, the sudden crazy thrill is pretty much the same as it was when we were 12 years old.

Is there anything else in life of which you can say that? I can’t listen to the music I liked when I was 12, and while I still love the books I read then, reading them today is a totally different experience. But watch an athlete do something mesmerising and 12 is 25 is 50. What I find so delightful about this book is that it shows how much we have in common in the pursuit of this daffy obsession. Football is a strange language in that it’s always transporting us back to the moment we first learned to speak it. And as this book shows, what unites the speakers is a shared grammar of emotion – one whose first word is joy."

Falling For Football: The teams that shaped our obsession
RRP: £11.99
Publisher: Ockley Books
Paperback: 310 pages
Available at: http://ockleybooks.co.uk/ 

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