Book Of The Week: 'Falling For Football'

Why you should read these forty-four essays on the beautiful game

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Can you remember the moment when you first fell hopelessly in love with football?

For this writer, whose greatest piece of luck in life so far is still to have become a 9-year-old boy at the same time as Kevin Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ were hitting their stride, it was roughly 3:42pm on 20 October 1996.

Not so much Philippe Albert's perfect arcing chip to make it 5-0 against Manchester United – the delirium of which would be written primarily on my Granddad’s face an hour or so later as he forgot for a moment he was recovering from a heart attack – but Darren Peacock’s scrappy opener after 12 minutes.

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Before then I had treated football simply as a fun game. In that instant, with the chance of glory and revenge glimmering in the distance, I was inducted fully in the life-or-death, hopeless-hope nature of football obsession. Suddenly, I knew what was at stake.

I mention this because such moments form the subject of a new collection of essays, edited by Adam Bushby and Rob MacDonald. Falling For Football contains forty-four pieces, all of which trace far less typical (but no less magical) moments of awakening than a boy from the North-East being beguiled by Shearer and Beardsley.

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There is, for example, Manchester United fan Musa Okwonga’s beautiful tribute to the captivating early 90s AC Milan side, stuffed full of the football fan’s familiar, anorak powers of recall.

Or Dan Forman’s funny account of how, before football was easy to find on the TV, he obsessively watched a tatty VHS called Hero – the official film of the 1986 World Cup – until he became indoctrinated with the romance of Maradona’s Argentina squad (the video glossed over the ‘hand of God’ that had the opposite effect for most Englishmen).

There are views from non-league fans, fans from abroad and, in many of the stronger pieces, fans who first fell for international teams they had no rhyme or reason to support. They’re a reminder of how, as a child, it was the personalities and stories in the game, rather than the local tribalism, that left you with ‘soft spots’ that somehow carry far deeper into your adulthood than they should.

Bushby and MacDonald, celebrated bloggers themselves, deliberately found their writers from football journalism’s lower leagues – which isn’t to denigrate the quality of the writing, simply to say the essays are executed with a fanzine passion and optimism long since absent from the pens of jaded broadsheet heavyweights.

The overall effect is of one of the principle pleasures of the beautiful game – sitting among other obsessives, nodding enthusiastically as they recall their memories, their moments of triumph, the goal or player who stole their hearts.

Reading Falling For Football, it occurred to me that one of the few times men enjoy really listening to each other – rather than waiting for their chance to take the piss – is when it comes to the subject of sport, and football in particular. There is communion there we can’t get enough of, and this book captures it beautifully.

Falling For Football: The teams that shaped our obsession is out now, £12.99 (£2.99 for Kindle edition), Ockley Books