Thursday 14 December 2017

Barca re-release provides skimpy updated coverage

Book review by Dean Goodison

Barca: A People's Passion
Barca: A People's Passion

The story behind success is always a hot topic and therefore a popular read, isn't it? When it's combined with one of the biggest sporting institutions on the planet nothing can go wrong, the road to a successful publication is a serene one, yeah? Well, not necessarily.

The re-release of Jimmy Burns' offering 'Barca - A People's Passion' comes 17 years after the original edition. Much has changed for the club of Burns' affections in that time, with four more European Cups for starters. But much in this book has remained the same.

The 'new and updated 2016 edition' has a weird preface at the start that is totally out of place with the main body that follows. Okay, a preface is separate from the centrepiece but it just doesn't fit, with a timeline from 2003 to 2009, skip five years and start again in the middle of 2014, before reverting back to the club foundation.

Maybe if the timeline had been plopped in right after the penultimate chapter - which seems the natural end of the original 1999 publication - it might have tied in with the add-on chapter that itself doesn't gel with the rest of the book. A miserly 34 pages are given to the last 17 glorious years of football.

A reader, not knowing this was an updated version, would have no trouble figuring out the fact that this is a re-release with a final chapter dropped in. In that sense it feels like Burns has failed to adequately follow up the original with a version that would complement it.

Not that the story that makes up the original text is overly enthralling. Firstly, to give Burns his dues, 'Barca' is information heavy and well researched. There is no stone left unturned to examine Barcelona through the years.

Unfortunately, a lot of that information is not overly reader-friendly. Heavily weighted in the politics of the club, much of the book deals with the workings off the field rather than on.

Before the book morphs into a history lesson, the first two chapters both named 'Among the Believers' are arguably the most interesting (but again at odds with the rest of the publication). Burns travels with other fans, tells their stories and several 'interesting' characters are introduced - including a Catalan who produced a tri-colour and eulogises over Irish freedom efforts.

One interesting lesson that the Manchester United hierarchy failed to learn from the first edition of this book, and Barcelona in general, was the warning signs on Louis van Gaal that were highlighted by the supporters in his uneasy spell at the club.

The Barca fans were far from enamoured by the tactics deployed by the Dutchman, openly mocking and booing van Gaal. He certainly had a better win percentage at the Camp Nou than he has at Old Trafford but, just like their English counterparts, they were used to a certain style of football.

For general sports book enthusiasts this is probably one to skip. You'll likely read the first half, asking yourself was it ten-odd hours well spent, and then feel duty bound to see it through to the end.

There is a much better option for the casual enthusiast that might be interested in the history and politics of Barcelona - Sid Lowe's 'Fear and Loathing in La Liga'. That book hits on most of the interesting stories and focuses on both the Catalans and their rivals, Real Madrid.

The hardcore Barca fan probably won't find anything inside they don't already know. However, if there is a target audience it might be those new 'Cules' (Barcelona fans) that have latched on to the club's success in the last decade.

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