Saturday 21 September 2019

A look at English men who spread the football gospel

Mister - The men who taught the world how to beat England at their own game
Mister - The men who taught the world how to beat England at their own game

Book review- Dean Goodison

Whether the first 'ball' that was ever kicked in anger was booted in England or elsewhere is up for debate, and is pretty much impossible to prove, but one thing is for sure, they have claimed the game as their own.

It's fair to say that 'The Beautiful Game' became structured and widespread in England before the rest of the world took notice. Snobbishly, they then believed for over half a century that no other nation could match them in the game they 'invented'.

Wilful disregard of the quality of others would eventually catch-up with the English, yet somewhat incredibly, it's a process they themselves sped up. The Football Association started developing their own coaches between the wars but there was no call for them at home.

Training at that time revolved solely around fitness, ball work was non-existent, and the role of the football coach was only useful to those who had never played the game, according to the general consensus.

With no use for them at home, England, and often the FA, started to farm out these coaches around Europe initially, and later further afield. Some of these man became legends in their adopted land, bringing home stories of how Europe was catching and passing England.

'Mister - The men who taught the world how to beat England at their own game' is a book about just those coaches. The ones that went overseas and became revered, yet remained irrelevant in their own land.

The book is written by Rory Smith of 'The Times' newspaper in the U.K. It stretches to just over three hundred pages and is largely dull with the odd sprinkling of life throughout its pages.

Unfortunately, the only time this book comes alive is when Smith talks to those involved. Unquestionably the best chapter is the opening one, where the author talks to Alan Rogers, a man in his nineties, who was one of those farmed out.

Of course, the author is hampered by time, as most of the subjects are deceased, which makes first-hand accounts impossible. However, are all their players dead too, are people connected to them gone, do they not have stories to enhance this publication?

Some have suggested that 'Mister' is meticulously researched, but it is hard to agree when so many angles, that could have made this an interesting book, were left unruffled and ignored. Unfortunately, this is almost becoming the norm for English publications; not all, but too many, authors are taking short cuts.

It's somewhat ironic that Smith thanks Sid Lowe for his efforts reading rough copy. If Lowe's previous works are anything to go by, he would have taken advantage of some of the angles that the author breezes past and made this a much more comprehensive read.

Another positive: the book ends on a high too. Smith talks to some of those abroad even now, plying their trade in far-off footballing markets in Asia and Africa. Guys like David Booth and Stephen Constantine have interesting stories to tell and they are touched on in 'Witch Doctors'.

This might look appealing on paper but it's lacking in spark. Sports history nuts will get some joy from it but they will be left wondering why certain angles weren't developed. For the general football fan, stay away is the recommendation, there are better reads out there at the moment, so pop into 'The Book Centre' and have a browse.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

Wexford People