Tag Archives: football

The Death and Life of Australian Soccer

The Death and Life of Australian Soccer (2017) by Joe Gorman is a marvellous history of Australian men’s soccer leagues since World War Two.

Australian soccer or football is an odd beast. in a country with four national codes of football it has, for decades, been the most played but least watched code. In addition, after being played mainly by some British migrants the game changed radically with the surge in post war migration.  

For many people with a wog name, like myself, the game is tied up with identity. There are memories of going to games with parents, there are memories of watching games in places that were known through family stories. And yet, it was clear that some teams were not really for you to support. Gorman captures the issue with real skill. He also looks at the issue of ‘which team do you support’, Australia or the team of your ethnicity.

The book starts with post WWII immigration and the story of Andrew Dettre, a Hungarian immigrant who wrote for Soccer World and later worked in the Whitlam government.

There is a chapter on Canberra City, a club which was a prototype for A-League type teams that are without an ethnic base that represent a whole city. As a child I went to Canberra City games. The book gives the team quite a bit of praise. Remembering the actual games it’s generous.

The pre-NSL soccer days and then the formation, rise and fall of the NSL gets a lot of attention. Gorman looks objectively at the quality of the ethnic clubs such as Marconi, South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights and Sydney Croatia but also goes into detail about the crowd violence, particularly between the Croatian and Serb teams.

The rise of the A-League and it’s success is very well dealt with. Gorman writes honestly about how the quality of the football in the first years of the A-League was definitely worse than in the NSL. But he also appreciates the numbers of supporters and the depth of support for some of the new teams. The book also has the failures of a number of the new A-League teams. The A-League still has some of the financial issues that have always dogged Australian soccer.

Gorman writes quite a bit about The Socceroos, their qualification for the World Cup in 1974, 2006 and 2010. The portrait of Johnny Warren in particular is very good and really quite touching.

The book does note that soccer is the most played game in the country. Gorman also does provide some discussion of the success of women’s soccer in Australia. About the only thing missing from the book is a bit more discussion of how many Australians did, for a long time, watch soccer, it just wasn’t Australian. From the 1980s onwards SBS had soccer on TV and before that Match of the Day was on Australian TV for years. From the  late 1980s SBS also had Italian Soccer. SBS also had finals of the Champions’ League and Europa League and their predecessors. Today there are kids growing up who love soccer but don’t actually go to many, or any games but do follow Messi, Ronaldo and co. It’s not ideal, but it does involve playing soccer and watching soccer.

Overall the book is really fascinating for anyone with an interest in Australian soccer. Gorman has done great research and written a book that highlights the issues for soccer in Australia. Hopefully Les Murray, the great SBS soccer presenter, got a look at the book before he died. He would have been really impressed.

Fifty Years of Hurt

Fifty Years of Hurt: The Story of England and Why We Never Stop Believing (2016) by Henry Winter looks at why the English national football team have underperformed by talking to a number of ex-footballers and coaches about why England have a worse record than Spain, Italy, France or Germany.

Why England don’t perform as expected is a bit of a mystery. People often point to the longer English season with no winter break and England’s failures on penalties in repeated tournaments. Also tactical and technical issues are assessed. The combination appears to be fairly devastating.

Winter talks to Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Ian Wright and so many other people in the book that it does make for a pretty fascinating book for anyone familiar with English football. However, it is a bit long and does get repetitive.

It should be pointed out by the book, but isn’t that England’s record until Spain and France won World Cups and Euros was actually in the middle of the pack of large European countries and until 2010 had a better record than Spain. Indeed, if England could take penalties at World Cups they could well have two wins. England has the worst record of penalties in World Cups, having played three and lost three. It’s worth noting, however, that France’s record is 50/50 and Italy have played 4 and lost 3.

It should also be said that international football is really hard. Really only Germany and Brazil, the largest country in Western Europe and the largest country in South America that have really strong records. Only Italy and Uruguay have records that transcend their size. And even with Germany and Italy it’s worth noting that Italy hasn’t won the Euros in almost 50 years and Germany hasn’t in 20.

There is also some hope at the end of the book as the more recent success of the England youth team are discussed. There is also some hope in terms of fixing things that are not working. Germany lost a penalty shootout in 1976 and then got organised and have not lost one since.

For anyone interested in football and anyone who is interested in England it’s well worth a read. A bit more context and comparison with other countries and an acknowledgement that football is really hard to do well in might have helped, but the interviews and discussion are genuinely interesting.

 

The Mixer

The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines (2017) by Michael Cox is a book that look at the history of the Premier League and how tactics have evolved there. Michael Cox, according to Amazon and Goodreads, was an English biographer and prolific author who wrote many books and died in 2009. This means that the Mixer is possibly one of the best posthumous works on football. Alternatively the book may have been written by Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox who also appears on Football Weekly, the popular Guardian podcast that features some football in between debates on the worst Indiana Jones film.

The book goes through the whole of the Premier League, starting in 1992 with the changes to the back pass rule to goalkeepers. Cox states that at the time English football was not in great shape. This does miss the fact that in Italia 90 England had their second best World Cup performance and if they had trained for penalties properly they could potentially have been world champions. However, Cox is definitely correct in saying that English football wasn’t tactically particularly sophisticated.

Cox points out that in 1992 there were only 13 players who were not from Britain or Ireland in the league. 25 years later there were about that many foreign managers. Cox sites Cantona as one of the first big changers of English Football. Rather than just running around enthusiastically Cantona played very skillfully and intelligently between the backline and the midfield of the opposition, drawing defenders, creating space and passing to others who were exploiting that space. Following Cantona Blackburn won the League with SAS – Sutton and Shearer and pace and simplicity.

More foreigners came into the league in the 1990s and changed how teams were playing. Berkamp and Zola are particularly notable. Arsene Wenger then appeared and changed Premier League coaching by dramatically improving the health and fitness of his players and promptly won the League heralding more changes in the Premier League. Also the Bosman ruling changed the number of foreign players that could be fielded in all the European Leagues. In 1999 for the first a Chelsea team was fielded that featured no English players in the starting line up. Ten years later a game would be played with no Englishmen at all in either team.

Following Wenger came progress in Europe and more foreign managers, but also Sam Allardyce playing direct football. Playing only a single striker but with other attacking players became more common. Arsenal’s Invincibles showed just how well football could be played.

More foreign coaches included Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez who brought their successful footballing philosophies to England. The midfielders Makélélé altered tactics with the way he played.

Following a slight defensive turn Rooney and Ronaldo changed how attacking football was played, reducing the role of just pure strikers. But in other parts of the League crafty use of long throws and set pieces by Stoke again altered what teams would have to face. Inverted wingers, like Robben and Ribery also changed the role of wingers in football.

Possession football, emulating Barcelona came to England, as did the new role of ‘false nine’. Post possession counter attacking football, as played skillfully in an incredible season by Leicester appeared. Back threes re-appeared and were successful in the most recent Premier League season with Chelsea under Antonio Conte. But still the English push for ‘second balls’ remained in the Premier League.

Cox also points out that while the best teams in Europe are mostly in Spain that the best managers in the world now call England home and points out that the top seven managers in the Premier League in 2017 came from seven different countries.

Possibly this book is the start of a great series of posthumous sporting books and we can look forward to Kurt Vonnegut on the epic Warriors Cavaliers NBA finals. Alternatively this may be Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox writing a fantastic history of the Premier League. The book is very well written and it’s fascinating for anyone who is interested in football and the Premier League. The analysis of changing tactics and the personalities involved in English Football is really top notch. It’s one of the best football books I’ve ever read.

 

The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game

The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game: Tips and Tactics from the Ultimate Insider (2015) by Anon is another book by the secret footballer about the modern game.

The book looks at fitness, food, tactics and the way the modern game works. There is also a fair amount on why England haven’t done as well as expected.

This book isn’t as good as the first book by the secret footballer but is much better than the second. The information about what modern footballers eat, how they train and the tactical insights are really interesting. The tactical discussions are probably the highlight of the book, hopefully these will be fleshed out further at some point.

If you’re into football this book is definitely worth a read. If you’re vaguely interested in football the first Secret Footballer’s book is a better bet.

Das Reboot

Is this book a thunderbastard? That’s the question you want answered when reading football books. Des Reboot (2015) by Raphael Honigstein looks at the rejuvenation of the German National team following poor performances in 1998 through to 2004. Honigstein is football journalist who writes for The Guardian and appears on the Football Weekly podcast and provides expertise on the Bundesliga and the German National team.

The book interleaves the rejuvenation of the German National team and the German training system with the tale of Germany’s 2014 World Cup win. The technique is like that of a Michael Lewis book where a narrative of a person is worked in with a description of the events around them. It works well.

After the German World Cup win of 1990 the future looked bright for German football, as well as winning the World Cup the incorporation of East Germany meant that the pool of players would be even bigger and German teams even stronger. But it wasn’t to be. Despite winning the 1996 Euro’s the German National team was aging and falling behind other countries like France that had a better academy system.

The development of the youth system by Dietrich Weise in the early 1980s and the updating of the system after France 1998 is described. The arrival of Jürgen Klinsmann and the way that he and his team including Joachim Löw greatly improved the professionalism of the national team by importing techniques from the US and from other sports is really well described.

As well as the story of the World Cup in 2014 the way that the 2006 World Cup and the 2010 World Cup went is also described with interviews with Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrichs. The reflections on these tournaments provides insight into how the new German team has been formed and what changes were made for 2014.

The descriptions of each game of the 2014 World Cup are very well done with tactical and personnel changes and their impacts carefully outlined. The description of the semi-final is perhaps a slight dip for the book while the final’s description is a highlight.

The book is a thunderbastard of a read. It’s worth reading for anyone looking for a description of how national systems can change and improve football and for anyone who wants to understand how Germany went from a declining power to a World Cup winner in 16 years.

Behind the Curtain : Travels in Eastern European Football

Behind the Curtain : Travels in Eastern European Football (2006) by Jonathon Wilson catalogues much of Eastern European football from the years after WWII to the fall of Communism and beyond. It reads as part travel book, part sports book and part history book.

Wilson wrote the really excellent Inverting the Pyramid about football tactics and is a fine writer as well as a keen observer of football. He also has a love of Eastern European Football that comes through in the book.

The book covers Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, The Caucasus and Russia in long chapters that go through the history of national teams, major clubs, great players and great coaches.

The political arrangements are followed by the deal and corruption of the modern era. Despite being a football book it prompts the question of why organise football well at all if society is collapsing. In places where football is used as a political tool it makes sense but in corrupt broken countries it’s hard to justify running a club well. It does make you realise that well run clubs that are not corrupt are in many ways stranger than a club run by a local rich man.

The book wouldn’t be fun for anyone who isn’t interested in football. It probably requires both an interest in football and an interest in Eastern Europe, but if you are interested in both then it’s a well written, rewarding read.

Danish Dynamite

Danish Dynamite: The Story of Football’s Greatest Cult Team (2014) by Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen and and Mike Gibbons looks at the wonderful Danish team of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Denmark didn’t get a professional league with reasonable rules until the 1970s. Despite football being the big game in Denmark the national team had never managed to be good prior to the late 1970s. Kurt Nielsen was one of the first Danish managers of the National team who was a full manager in the modern sense and who could select his own team. He was friendly and allowed the players too much freedom. His successor, Sepp Pointek was a former German international who was serious about creating a good team. When he moved to Denmark he was very lucky and got a fantastic group of players who with more serious coaching became one of the best teams of the 1980s featuring the fantastic Laudrup brothers, Elkjær, Olsen and a host of others.

The team really was thrilling and would go on to remarkable success at the 1984 European Championship and the 1986 World Cup. The team then declined and went on to cause a great upset and win the 1992 European Championship.

If you like reading about soccer and great teams of the past the book is well worth reading. However, it would be better as a documentary. Apparently there is a documentary in Danish and perhaps English which would be great to see. For anyone who vaguely remembers the team but not in great detail it’s a bit of a stretch. Hopefully the documentary will be released like the Kindle copy of the book.