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Book Review - Football Inc.: How Soccer Fans are Losing the Game

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After a brief "hiatus" from book reviewing, where I wrote about a lovely evening spent at Toyota Park, I'm back with an interesting one titled "Football Inc.: How Soccer Fans are Losing the Game" by Craig McGill.

In contrast with the other more analytically-minded soccer books I've reviewed so far, Football Inc. is pessimistic rather than optimistic. While the other books do delve into various flaws associated with the sport, it is more on a level where the authors assume that soccer is the best sport in the world and that other people are flawed for not appreciating it. Football Inc. is criticism from the inside. In the author's opinion, the game has been grown enough ...but in the wrong areas. McGill firmly believes that someone is paying a price - both literal and figurative - for all the pitfalls of the sport and its growing consumerism. That someone is none other than you and me; the average fan.

I like the concept of the book. It's unique. It can be applied to the European leagues, where fans yearn for the "good old days", when a match ticket was cheaper and they didn't have to worry about changing away game times for television or the rising cost of season tickets. It can also be applied to the growing MLS, where fans can really become a part of their local club on somewhat of a ground level. It greatly disappointed me, therefore, that the execution was for the most part very scattered.

Example: When discussing the idea that players may or may not deserve such a high wage for potential injuries on the job, the author briefly transitions into an anecdote about how Rio Ferdinand once injured himself putting his legs up onto his coffee table, followed by another awkward transition into a different topic - a bit like a joke retelling gone bad. A funny story, definitely, but is it relevant? Probably not.

The primary reason I feel the book is so scattered is that it tries to accomplish too much. It tries to include too many "cute" anecdotes and cover too many topics. In an attempt to show exactly how fans are being disenchanted, these are the subjects that it covers: the fans, the players, the referees, the managers, the chairmen, television rights, sponsorships, fan shares, governing agencies, corruption, two different World Cups, politics, hooliganism, racism, sectarianism, and the future of being a soccer fan. Phew. Each one of those topics could very well be a book of its own.

In addition, I disagree on a slightly odd level with the moral of the book. The book summarized into one sentence is: "the fans are the ones losing out on everything". I agree that corruption and violence should be stamped out. I agree that prices have skyrocketed and that I don't want everything to be commoditized in the future. I agree that clubs should make a greater attempt to connect and really listen to their supporters base, since we are the ones paying. However, this book appears to make an assumption that soccer fans don't understand what they're getting into and that despite putting so much money into our team, we're getting absolutely nothing back. That's wrong, though, isn't it? I don't spend money at the pub every weekend or pay to attend a Fire game just to watch the team play. That's certainly part of it, but I could very well do it at home. No, I'm paying for - not necessarily a chance to socialize - but to feel like I'm a part of something larger. And when my club does well, whether it's winning a trophy or even winning an important game, that sort of feeling is something that the sponsors and television stations can never get back as part of their deals.

That being said, the book raises a lot of excellent points. One of most moving, best-written and, coincidentally enough, most detailed parts of the book is the section about the Hillsborough disaster, which is perhaps the best example of how little regard there is for fans of the sport. The author personally attended the 2000 court case, where nobody was indicted and it was ruled that there would be no more Hillsborough-related cases. I would definitely recommend reading that section, along with the other sections that focus on one specific instance of the fans losing out, such as the Newcastle seating fiasco, the Old Firm, and how Northampton fans went against the odds and "got the game back". I also greatly enjoyed - and this isn't at all planned to coincide with the latest Section 8 tifo - how both the "fans" and "players" section included short paragraphs about gay fans, homophobia, and players coming out. Although soccer should be a sport for everyone to enjoy, homophobia is a subject that is rarely touched on by books and the media even though it is on the same level as racial slurs. I appreciate the author attempting to give it an unbiased overview, speaking to two gay fans, an official, and a player about the subject.

I feel as if a more detailed look into certain clubs, rivalries, and FIFA situations would have been more effective for this book than a shallow overview of everything. If anything, I recommend it as comprehensive coverage of what the game was like about 10 years ago. What frightens me is that the same problems still feel very relevant today: racism and assorted other bigotry, goal-line technology being "right around the corner", and FIFA as a stagnant organization - including Sepp Blatter. Not a lot has changed in a decade, has it? According to Football Inc., though, it is all up to us, the fans, to cause the changes that we want.

all references from: Football Inc.: How Soccer Fans are Losing the Game, Craig McGill, Vision Paperbacks, 2001