The teams that shaped our obsession
edited by Rob Macdonald and Adam Bushby
Ockley Books, £11.99
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 331 September 2014
My Favourite Year, the 1993 anthology co-published by WSC and edited by Nick Hornby, celebrated like never before the obscure, personal details of how supporters become smitten. Superficially Falling for Football seems little more than an equivalent for the Twitter generation, those for whom Chris Waddle and inflatable bananas represent earliest memories. The bloggers deserve a wider audience, though, and talented writers and editors such as Rob Langham (The Two Unfortunates) and Ian King (Twohundredpercent) have forced complacent broadsheets to up their game.
A great strength of this new volume is its broader scope in both the teams and the backgrounds of their fans. It is a delight to witness Ash Hashim falling for Spain in 2002 – reassured about their World Cup prospects by her Welsh grandfather, while her Arabic mother cheers for South Korea – and then share in Glen Wilson's memories of Rossington FC, the pit village club where his dad was manager, groundsman, secretary, coach, programme editor and substitute.
It's intriguing, too, how the two distinct approaches to English fandom articulated here seem to analogise with social class. Broadly speaking it's the working-class fan who adopts their parents' club, while the neophyte who selects from a field is often freed up to do so by their roots in a white-collar family where no one likes football. The latter is embodied here by Alex Douglas – a Red unconnected to Manchester, who arrived with United via Sheffield Wednesday and Paris Saint-Germain – and his unintentionally hilarious question "Whom would I support?" Readers must decide for themselves whether it's the sense of choice and entitlement or the painfully correct pronoun declension that makes this towering middle-class quandary such a hoot.
The quality of writing is variable, too, but the more capable authors find ways to avoid cliche. Daniel Grey pitches a curveball by focusing on the famous but fictitious Barnstoneworth United of Ripping Yarns infamy. We can assume that Stefano Gulizia's academic treatise on Juventus and the naming of colours is a sort of intellectual joke (it quotes Jacques Derrida), but it contrives to enrich the volume while being entirely unreadable.
In the hands of the weaker writers, the short, blogpost-style chapters can become formulaic, sometimes wearyingly so. But there's an authenticity about the ungainly prose here which some will find more satisfying than the slicker stuff, and older readers will be reassured to find resilience and continuity in the symbolic power of Bovril. Falling For Football finds new angles on football's oldest story, and the good outweighs the bad. You'll probably know someone who's experienced a football epiphany during this year's World Cup. Buy them this and they'll know they're not alone