Thursday, August 3, 2006

Calcio

Calcio: A History of Italian Football

John Foot

Fourth Estate
ISBN: 0007175744

Paperback, 592pp
Calcio: Buy this book from Amazon
Tackling the Mount Everest that is Italian football has been a
peak too high for English authors in the past. If there is one country
where football is more than life and death it is surely Italy. This
is the country where the best-selling newspapers are football ones,
where Abramovich-style industrialists were buying up clubs as far
back as the 1920s and where the Prime Minister not only owns the
nation's top team but named his political party after a football
chant.

But with "Calcio – A History of Italian Football", John Foot
has finally scaled the mountain and 592 pages later planted a flag
of academic authority at the summit.

Highly readable, the book is part chronicle of the game in Italy
and part probe into the issues that make Italian football so particular.
The early years of football have been meticulously researched and
throw up alternatively charming or eye-opening anecdotes, such as
Reading trouncing Milan 5-0 or a game between Lucca and Viareggio
that ended with an armed uprising the Italian army took two days
to put down.

Further chapters explore the famous teams, players and managers
as well as the media, political and commercial interference and
the myriad scandals that have given calcio a shady reputation overseas.
The running theme is that football in Italy resembles a gigantic
bonfire, fuelled by an addicted population, bewitching everyone
while growing ever more grotesque and dangerous by the day. While
our word fan is the shortened form of fanatic, the Italian one,
tifo, is short for typhoid-sufferer.

If Foot has any axe to grind it is rightly with the ultras and their
unacceptable grip on Italian clubs, who are still running scared
of them in 2006. One can only hope books like this will help open
Italian eyes to the outrageous way these semi-hooligans carry on
with impunity, and free tickets, while attendances across the board
in Serie A are falling.

At the end, Foot admirably confesses he has almost fallen out of
love with his subject matter, but like Italy itself, calcio goes
on, ugly and beautiful in equal measure.

There are several memorable photos throughout the book and an accompanying
glossary of Italian football terminology. "Calcio" is not just the
first English-language survey of Italian football but has set an
impressive benchmark for football histories in general.

Sean O'Conor

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