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Not a fan, I think

A few matches into the 2006 World Cup, I came to the sad realisation I wasn’t much of a football fan. I had thought I was still one but it turns out, no, not much of one at all.

I certainly was one before. In my youth, I spent my evenings and school P.E. sessions enthusiastically kicking a ball about.

We first played with a pink and white plastic football — a kid’s ball — later graduating to a honest-to-God real Adidas Tango football. The Tango made us feel like real footballers. The downside was it hurt like hell when we kicked it with our bare feet. It also had a remarkable tendency to veer off in the direction of the nearest window pane or fragile expensive keepsake. This would mean it was time to move on to another garden.

I can recall arguing if the goal actually counted when it flew over the slippers that served as our goalposts. In or out? We had no referee so the resolution would depend on whomever was more vociferous in the arguments. Also, who was bigger. My father eventually had goalposts built in our garden and I’m not sure if he was moved to do so by our enthusiasm for the game or our loud arguments.

So yeah, big football fan once.

But over the past two decades I morphed into a Manchester United fan.

Now, Manchester United is a football club, one of many in the world. But United excites my passions like no other. To watch other teams play football is to watch grown men in shorts chasing an inflated bladder. To watch Manchester United play is to watch an action flick, a drama, a horror movie, a comedy, a thriller and if United should lose, a tearjerker.

So yeah, not so much a football fan these days as much as a Manchester United fan.

I still maintain an interest in football matters unrelated to United and it was for that reason that I picked up The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup. It was mid-way through the World Cup, I had trouble staying up late for the live telecasts and hadn’t even bothered to watch the repeats. Something clearly was not right here and I bought the book in the the hopes that it would rekindle my enthusiasm.

(Incidentally, Kinokuniya had US and UK versions of the book. I have no idea what the differences [if any] are. I will note that anyone expecting Cockney rhyming slang and excision of “soccer” from the UK version will be left disappointed.)

The guide starts off full of promise with an entertaining preface and introduction by the guide’s two editors but the rest of the guide never really lives up to those pieces.

I had to check the cover of the book a few times while I was reading it to make sure the title did actually refer to the World Cup. Reading some of the articles, one might be easily fooled into thinking this was The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Portuguese Surfing, The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Preparing for a Trip to Iran or The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mexico’s Economic Challenges.

I can only imagine the writers were tasked with writing an article about a nation playing in the World Cup Finals, told to mention football once or twice but not to go overboard. We’re thinking fans, I imagine the edict went, spending too much ink writing about actual football is beneath us.

This is a sport that turns macho sportsmen into little boys who jump up and down and kiss each other, a sport that turns a talented artist into a petulant little child who headbutts another man for making fun of his mommy, a sport that turns mild-mannered men into maniacs who scream at their televisions. Why is all that passion (mostly) missing from the book?

Oh right, this is The Thinking Fan’s Guide. Not The Passionate Fan’s Guide. There were times it felt like The Fairly-Uninterested-in-Football Obsever’s Guide.

Perhaps the problem was a poor choice of writers. I wish we could have got the Peruvian author, Mario Vargas, who is quoted in the guide likening the football field to a pubic patch, a goal to an orgasm. He would have written one hell of an article, I’m sure. Instead we get an article about a Portuguese surfing spot that’s lost to development and we get a write-up from someone who has sat through an entire football match only once.

I’m mystified why the book has received some rave reviews. Perhaps those reviewers went into it with different expectations than I did. I expected some deep insights into the attitudes of the World Cup nations towards the game.

Instead, I have learnt Iranian national footballers have firm buttocks, the US is mostly indifferent to the sport and the impoverished boys of Madueira worship native son Cristiano Ronaldo. These factoids can hardly be great footballing insights suitable for a Thinking Fan.

To be fair, I have learnt something about some countries — Swedish jails are nice, Serbia and Montenegro have the most tractors per million people — and even something about the attitudes of some of the writers towards some of the countries.

But main thing I learned from the guide is I’m not the Thinking Fan referred to in the title. This is not the guide for me. If you happen to be someone who doesn’t get the whole football thing or the World Cup thing and is seeking some greater insight into it all, I would suggest that this isn’t the guide for you either.

Posted in Books, Football, Reviews.

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