Thursday, September 30, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: November 18, 5:27 PM UK
The World Is a Ball: The joy, madness and meaning of football
Michael Da Silva
The trouble with writing a book about your great experiences as you travel to exotic places to watch the beautiful game is that the experience itself often proves to be far more entertaining for the author than for the reader.
John Doyle, an Irish-Canadian, travels the world going to games at the World Cups of 2002 and 2006, and European Championships of 2004 and 2008 - but has an annoying tendency to go home around the quarter-finals stage, just as the tournaments get interesting.
But that's because Doyle, as he admits, is not a football writer. So despite the informative and sometimes entertaining accounts of his travels, don't expect any great detail or breakdown of why things happened on the pitch because, the chances are, he was already on the plane home. From that point of view, the book struggles to gain credibility.
But the book doesn't try to be a scrapbook of great World Cup semi-finals or his thoughts as he witnessed Zidane head-butt Marco Materrazzi in Berlin in 2006, oh no. Doyle investigates the way major football tournaments unite nations that would otherwise have no reason to come together.
Its downfall is that he goes into painstaking detail about every conversation, airport transfer and taxi journey, which is not as funny, witty or insightful as he may have thought it at the time.
What Doyle does do well is explain the background behind his love for football and, before he moved to Toronto to pursue a career as a journalist, how he used to watch football as a boy in Ireland in the 1960s, with this experience honing his appreciation for football's dark horses.
Indeed, one of the book's best moments is Doyle's poignant description of Irish fans singing The Fields of Athenry ahead of their country's match with Germany at the 2002 World Cup, an account which is truly moving.
But, despite being meticulously researched and very well written, that's as good as the book gets in terms of stirring the emotions, in what is a generally flat read about international relations in football.