Bloody Confused! by Chuck Culpepper is the type of book that all sports fanatics wish we could be paid to write. Imagine being paid to travel overseas and live in London for six months with the sole responsibility of becoming fully immersed in one sport; watching soccer scores, attending as many live matches as possible, keeping a close eye on the relegation battle. Culpepper is an American sportswriter who does exactly this and writes about his experience overseas, his introduction to soccer, and how he discovered his team, Portsmouth.
This book is an oddity among other soccer books in that it appears to be genuinely geared towards the mass US audience*. Unlike other books such as How Soccer Explains the World and Soccernomics, it's not marketed specifically to the portion of the US audience that already appreciates soccer, but rather to the reader who knows nothing of MLS and thinks of the sport as "that European thing". It's easy for them to identify with Culpepper as the clueless American who dives headfirst into the strange world of the Premier League without any prior knowledge, and this "clueless American tackles that European thing" theme continues throughout the book. The mentality behind the marketing is also evidenced by the tagline on the cover page: "I'm still not sure I love soccer, but I love this book!"
Personally, I have some passing interest in other US sports, but only passing interest - so as a result, I ended up learning more about the US sporting community and history than I did about the Premier League. (There's no mention of MLS, but it would have been far less exciting if the author had already written about soccer in his career.) Culpepper uses anecdotes of his experiences as a sportswriter to bridge the gap between understanding the two worlds. For example, I didn't realize how many hours of interviews the athletes and managers have to give here in the US compared with England, or the gap in locker room austerity. According to Culpepper, the US media definitely receive more leeway and the US athletes definitely have fancier locker facilities!
The writing style in this book is pretty simple and some of the facts that Culpepper states are obvious and there for the lowest common denominator. There's a description/definition of terms such as "Premier League" and "Champions League" at the beginning of the book as well as a handy little map that shows the location of every PL team. This is the role he's playing, though. At times, the unassuming American act grows stale and the writing becomes a little cringe-worthy, but it's worth going into this book knowing that it's more a comedic memoir than a book that will teach you the history of soccer. The only exception is Portsmouth, which he goes into great detail about.
Is it fun, though? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. It's hilarious. Culpepper has a real wit that shines through and a very unassuming, self-deprecating style of humor. For example, on his pre-trip trip, he brags about going to Highbury to all of his friends for days ahead of time, about how the place is full of history and how excited he is to attend his first match there, etc etc. Upon arriving in London, however, he realizes that "Chelsea-Arsenal" on the fixture list actually means that Chelsea is the one playing at home - so instead, he's going to Stamford Bridge. He's eventually so confused by London public transportation that he arrives at Stamford Bridge 55 minutes into the game and after a bewildered rant on why they won't sell him a ticket for full price (American commercialism probably would have taken precedent here in the US), he writes that he spends his first planned match in London wandering around outside of Stamford Bridge, taking pictures.
Throughout the book, there are also entertaining turns of phrase that are meant to stick in the reader's memory and help to cement these unfamiliar characters and clubs. Despite being already familiar with them, I still found them entertaining. For example, "Portuguese heartthrob Cristiano Ronaldo". Or imagining "exhilarating bull-in-a-china-shop striker Wayne Rooney on TV after each match, standing before his pathetic little red hook" (re: the spartan dressing rooms). And, one of my favorites: "I went to see the club called ‘ChelseaTheyBoughtTheirTitle'".
All considered, it's a quick, fun read. It's a good book to give your sports-loving but soccer reluctant friend to say "here, this is what I keep going on about" because the bits and pieces of American sports (football, baseball, basketball, college sports, even some golf) will keep them reeled in. It's not highbrow literature, but the cover of the book is Chuck Culpepper's face photoshopped onto the body of a shirtless sports fan - so it clearly isn't meant to be! He knows it, too, and after an exhilarating run of being a Portsmouth supporter, he has this to say:
"After a year following the biggest league on earth, I may know a little about a little and not much about much, but I do know one thing. I think it's hard being a fan." (p 256)
All quotes from Bloody Confused!, Chuck Culpepper, Broadway Books, 2007.
*Although, apparently this book was originally published in a slightly different form in England as Up Pompey, so I'd be curious to see the different between the two versions!