Thursday, 14 May 2009

Book review: Love, Death and Football

Jason Cowley is a British journalist and Arsenal supporter, his latest offering is a book entitled 'Love, Death and Football'. This book is an interesting mix of stories and opinions focused around the author's family life, Arsenal and that infamous Michael Thomas goal in 1989, Hillsborough and football culture in general with a bit of a sociopolitical slant.

The narrative spans a time frame from the author's youth in the seventies to the riches of the current Premier League in the current day. As a result the book never gets bogged down in itself, it does flow nicely; but at the same time on just wonders whether it is trying to cover a bit too much ground at times, and in so doing it fails to comprehensively nail down some of the points it tries to make.

There is certainly a lot of left wing romanticism in the book, if one is being critical one could argue that some things have been seen with rather rose tinted spectacles. For example the tragedy of Hillsborough and its aftermath is told expertly, one really gets a feel of the impact these events had on Liverpool's season, their players and their supporters. However the other side of the coin is glossed over, for example the Heysel disaster is barely mentioned, while the rampant violence associated with football hooliganism in the eighties is glossed over and almost glamorised at times.

After all the dramatic changes in society and football over the last twenty years, the author acknowledges at the end of the book that life must move on, but there is something rather grudging about this acknowledgement though. The author almost appears to crave a return to the eighties, he wants more passion in the game and players that are less detached from the fans; as with all things in life we see the past with those rose tinted specs, the good is remembered fondly while the bad is brushed under the carpet.

It's no doubt true that the modern game is awash with money and greed, but there are many more positive than negatives which the author fails to mention. Racism continues to be on the decrease, football is now appealing to more sub sections of the community and above all one can attend games without fearing for one's life. The best football in the world is now on show every week in England thanks to this new global market, this was never the case in the eighties. Perhaps there is an element of not disturbing the memory of his father by seeing the past as being better than it was, who knows, ironically it seems that the author's father was himself switched off by football as he grew older and perhaps realised its insignificance in comparison to more important matters such as life and death.

There are a lot of other interesting bits in the book, ranging from stories about George Graham and his management style to tales of what has happened to those who played in that great game at Anfield in 1989, players such as Michael Thomas, David Rocastle (RIP) and Alan Smith. One thing that sticks in my mind is the fact that Liverpool supporters gave our Arsenal team a standing ovation when they won the title at Anfield in 1989, what a gesture, it's something that many of today's overly demanding glory seeking fans would do well to note.

Overall a thoroughly enjoying read, and despite my criticisms I wouldn't want this book to become an objective documentary of the recent changes in football culture, it would then be just a tedious series of facts. This book contains a very human tale of warped perspectives that is blinded by emotion, and this is what makes it a fairly engrossing read. Things change over time, some for the better and some for the worse, but certainly the modern fan would do well to realise that there is a lot more to life and football than simply winning. One must be able to enjoy the journey, otherwise the end product will invariably be a massive let down.

The book's publishers 'Simon & Schuster' have kindly sent me a couple of copies to give away, so if anyone fancies a copy then please send me an email at and I shall randomly choose a couple of people from whoever responds.

1 comment:

Obsinho said...

There is a lot of romanticism of the 80's after the hillsboroguh memorials.

I certainly don't know enough about the era to comment, but enough has changed to know that it has been for the better in the balance of things.

Rose-tinted vision always gets adopted by football commentators, and it is fair to say that the world and the sport are much better places than they were. It doesn't mean there aren't lessons to learn though........