One of the goals of RedStarReviews was to have my friends be able to share their reviews of books they loved on my website! I’ve enjoyed the variety these guest reviews bring. Today I am happy to share a guest review from my friend Indreni that features a very interesting sounding book on a topic I love!
As American football season is a few months off yet, some of us, especially those of us who aren’t baseball fans, may find ourselves in a bit of a sports gap. What better opportunity than to enjoy the sunny days of summer outdoors with a book about that other football–Mat Guy’s Another Bloody Saturday: A Journey to the Heart and Soul of Football, which takes us around the world beginning in Salisbury, England, to Wales, the remote Faroe Islands, North Cyprus, Bhutan, France, and back again to the English lower leagues?
A delightful collection of vignettes that span Guy’s earliest childhood memories of attending matches at the now-defunct Victoria Park with his Granddad to the present, he asks the question: Why be present at sporting matches? Why not just watch them from the comfort of your home on TV? It’s a question many sports fans, especially those who love underdogs and underachieving teams, will ask themselves as they brave another weeknight under-attended game, sometimes in the lashing rain and whipping wind. And British football fans are no stranger to agony and loss to begin with–now imagine the lower British leagues, which see their rising stars plundered by the Premier League again and again. Some of us college basketball fans (ahem) know their pain–as soon as the team gets good, the coach is snapped up by a bigger university or a college with a much larger sports budget.
But Guy has tapped into something universal when he proves again and again with his stories that the long-suffering loyalty of the sports fan is richly rewarded in numerous ways–that magic goal, the miraculous win, the sense of community and camaraderie, and the serendipitous human connections that can spring from being out in the world, in a crowd that shares love for the game and the spirit of competition.
Likewise, stories of healing and connection permeate this collection. Guy chronicles his volunteer work in developing football in Bhutan. He includes a beautiful chapter on how two tragic events that occurred on the same night, one to his closest football friend and the other to footballer Dan Seaborne, became an impetus to embark on recovery and meet in real life. But perhaps the most touching chapter, for me, is the one where he attends the ELF Cup in North Cyprus. The ELF Cup is a world cup for stateless football teams–think Tibet, Palestine, Greenland, North Cyprus, and more. These teams aren’t allowed to compete in FIFA or in FIFA’s World Cup because they don’t represent internationally-recognized nations. Guy points out that in Tibet, a person can be thrown in jail for singing their own national anthem, but at the ELF Cup, for a couple glorious minutes, that anthem can ring loud and clear, and for 90 minutes on the football pitch, the nation of Tibet, long occupied by China, can live again. This, to me, symbolizes everything Guy is standing for in his book–the real soul of the what the game can mean to an individual, to a community, to a nation, and the rest is noise.
As a non-British reader myself, who likes football but isn’t any sort of devoted fan, the book gave me a privileged glimpse into a world I never knew existed: the magical network that is lower league and non-league football. It stirred up feelings of nostalgia for the childhood White Sox games I attended at the old Comiskey Park in Chicago with my family, when the team was terrible and that beloved stadium was in its last days on this earth. I think I cheered all the more loudly because the team was so bad. And somehow, I think that realization taps into Guy’s insights about the true soul of sports fandom.
You can follow Mat’s amazing football adventures and insights on his blog, Dreams of Victoria Park.