Archive for the ‘ Books ’ Category

Walking Through the Storm, Ken Kendra

Walking Through The Storm: Watching the 2015-16 Liverpool Football Club season at the North American pubs their clubs call home

Ken Kendra is the founder of Raleigh Reds, the Official Liverpool Supporters Club in Raleigh, NC and traveled around the States during the 2015/16 season to follow the Reds, meet fellow fans and write a book. The result is Walking Through the Storm.

The book is several things: a series of match recaps, an assembly of memories and stories, and a look into the life of a fan and supporter group organizer. Liverpool’s season was not boring with a managerial change, frustrating results and two cup finals. The account of the second leg against Borussia Dortmund is quite good which feeds into the trips down memory lane for both the author and the fans he meets along the way. From the most recent fan to the lifelong supporter, everyone has a story to tell. Finally, the Official Liverpool Supporter Group (OLSC) covers the entire US and the book gives insights into not only match days around the country and the fellowship created by gathering to watch games week after week but also into local drinking laws and how to start a local chapter.

The book is an easy read and a must read if you a Liverpool fan, especially in America. If you’re not a Liverpool fan, still worth the read as Ken recaps the season and recounts stories that every fan can relate to.

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For more book review, check out my Recommended Reading page.

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The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game, Michael J. Agovino

The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game

I loved this book, which starts with a boy’s first game, a World All-Star Game at the old Meadowlands. As the author ran through the rosters, it’s remarkable that this game was played in the United States 35 years ago. From there it’s the drips and drabs of soccer that American fans searched for until the internet and sports channels flooded the market.

I found myself nodding along as the author searched out the beautiful game, either in games near and far or games on TV (which were extremely rare in the 80s and early 90s). It’s here that the book really spoke to me as I found the game later in life and would search bars and bookstores and catalogs for anything that would add to my knowledge of the game.

The book is similar to Fever Pitch in that it covers a long period of time in short little bursts and explores how one fan’s life changes through the years. However it doesn’t focus on one particular team and is not as dark and brooding and introspective as Hornby’s work and the author gives numerous examples of the fellowship to be found in soccer. I have traveled to matches, I have written and podded about matches, and I have met so many great people along the way. In the same Agovino spends time mentioning the many friendships he has developed over the years.

The author brings different perspectives as a fan and writer. Clubs and national teams coming to America for a quick payday, Swiss club teams struggling to find success and relevance, MLS searching for an identity, the fever and passion and joy and disappointments that go into each World Cup. The game has changed a great deal, both at home and abroad, in the last 30 years and the book explores this.

This is the book I would write if a) I could write as well, b) I had as many interesting stories and c) I had the time. If you follow the beautiful game at all, read this book. If you have fallen out of love with soccer read this book.

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For more book review, check out my Recommended Reading page.

Turf Wars: A History of London Football

Turf Wars: A History of London Football

This book went on my wish list and moved to the top of the pile when a copy ended up in my hands thanks to a huge Chelsea supporter.

The premise of the book is daunting as is stated in the title: A History of London Football. The author is very comprehensive, taking the reader from the early days of the pre-cursors of the Football League in the 19th century all the way to the 2015/16 season. There are even clubs in there that I had never heard of before.

I have to admit that the book can be a little dry at times. Covering over a 125 years of football is a big ask. Besides the nomadic nature of most clubs in the early, the book touches on key moments, either of a club’s location or success on the pitch. The first two-thirds or so would take multiple readings for me as I am not as familiar with those times but the last section of the 90s to the most recent seasons was really interesting.

Not a book for everyone. I might have focused more on the big teams, but if you want an expansive history of football played in London, this is the book for you.

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For more book review, check out my Recommended Reading page.

Red or Dead

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Having enjoyed the Damned United so much, this book was on my to read list, and the focus of the Howler Book Club prompted me to pick up a copy.

As a fan of the game, I knew the name of Shankly and of the great Liverpool teams of the 70s adn 80s but not too much more than that. The book educated me on Liverpool in the 1960s, and how Shankly took over a team in the Second Division and built the foundation for the all-conquering side of Paisley. His tenets of hard work, pass and move and team spirit, as well as an intense connection with the fans from both himself and the players were strong elements of the book.

Red or Dead is quite long, coming in at over 700 pages. I got the book in hardcover and it’s pretty hefty. A relatively quick read, the narrator moves the reader through season after season, with short chapters covering pockets of time before the narrator moves on. The style is striking with the repetition of elements (line ups, household chores, pre-season, etc) used through the book. The choice of first person and these repetitive passages are interesting and consume the reader as Liverpool consumes the character of Shankly.

The manager works and works and works and then abruptly leaves. Not knowing the story, I was shocked as Shankly left the club on the verge of immortality. I actually enjoyed the post-Liverpool section more. I felt the narrator was more insightful, more reflective, more philosophical than the manager who was grinding every day, thinking about the next opponent, the next trophy. The continued involvement in the game and the community and the relationships with other clubs was another striking feature of the man’s legacy.

Not sure how to recommend this. If you’re a Liverpool fan, definitely read it. If you’re a soccer nerd, definitely read it. If you neither of those, you might enjoy another book better.

Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season

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Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season, Amy Lawrence

The unbeaten league season from Arsenal during the 2003/04 season was a truly remarkable achievement by a remarkable group of players, and Amy Lawrence’s book did an amazing job of capturing that season. She utilized two things that help structure and add depth to the book.

One, she put not only that season but Arsenal Football Club into context. The Gunners were a much different organization in the years following the remarkable league championships of 1989 and 1991 and the transition from George Graham’s 1-0 to the Arsenal to Arsene Wenger’s continental, artistic Arsenal is quite the story. Wenger changed the identity of the club and Lawrence highlighted some of the elements of that change. Plus that season was part of a bigger Arsenal story. The Double of 2002 was followed by a disappointing campaign which left the players, staff and fans unsatisfied and the club looked to push on.

Two, Lawrence used an interesting approach to her book. Rather than a strict pattern of each game and result in chronological order, she identified key attributes of the team and explored the development and impact of leadership, culture, and so on. Players and staff were open with their memories and reflections from that time period and these gave real insight into the mood and environment of a team on a mission. The book ends with an extended one and one interview with Wenger and a recap of what happened to the players in the following ten years. The Wenger interview was particularly compelling due to his philosophy toward management and the game.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read due to the quality of the writing, the insight and the appreciation of the Invincible season. Full access to the team and club gave this book a intimacy that would have been severely lacking had it just been a recap of the 2003/04 season. Worth a read whether you’re a Gunner or not.

Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me

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Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me, Paul Canoville

I am not a Chelsea fan and this was a player before my time, but an opportunity was presented to me with a chance to interview Paul Canoville for the SoccerNomad podcast so I picked up a copy.

The book recounts Paul’s difficult childhood, which included a difficult relationship with his mother and the absence of a father. Unfortunately he had run-ins with the law as he sought his way in the world and was homeless for a time. In terms of football he played on local teams, which meant he arrived at Stamford Bridge unfamiliar with the schoolboy structures and ways that help youths transition to the first team. His time at Chelsea was a mixed bag and while he never hit the heights, he had several memorable moments. After his playing career he wrestled with internal demons, and these further strained his relationships and finances. On top of all of this was a fight with cancer.

Paul reflects on his youth, the racial abuse he suffered at Chelsea, his drug addiction and his battle with cancer with candor. He doesn’t pull punches about his motivations as a younger man and acknowledges the consequences of his choices. He came out on the other side clean and focused and now works as a force for good, sharing his story with youth. His foundation allows him to interact with children in order to stress the importance of education and making good choices.

The book was a great chance to learn more about the history of football and also hear a story of personal redemption.

My interview with him can be found here.

Soccer in a Football World

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Soccer in a Football World, David Wangerin

The development of a football based game in America created outlets for rugby, soccer and American football.  Eventually the gridiron version of the game dominated the sporting landscape but the flame of soccer was never extinguished.  Wangerin discussed the regional leagues that have always been present and the several attempts at a national league that have come and gone.  The MLS is the current incarnation and Wangerin explored the issues that face the league—soccer specific stadia, procuring talent and the financial underpinnings of the league.  Throughout the book he also weaved in the history of the National Team, which has seen a move from a totally amateur administration to an organization that created Project 2010 as a way of raising the United States’ international standard.

The book is as expansive as the country and is a fine primer of how the game as grown in the United States over the twentieth century and the matters that it will confront in the future.