With the rise of 24 hour news channels and instant social media such as Twitter the focus of football commentary has been on a constant stream of pithy sound-bites and the moment by moment activities of football celebrities.
In the wake of this narrowing of focus some have turned to a more in depth analysis of the beautiful game and one of the means of doing so has been through football periodicals. Not quite books but much more than magazines these publications have provided an outlet for frustrated writers to loosen the constraints of mainstream media and allow their creative and football passions roam free.
Back in the late 1990’s Simon Kuper edited such a journal called Perfect Pitch, which gathered together writing from across the continent, but just four editions in it floundered and although a number of excellent books have been published this century long form editorials have been limited to the amateur stage of blogs.
Recently, however, the football writing collection has re-emerged with Jonathan Wilson’s excellent The Blizzard leading the way with a string of top quality football wordsmiths behind it and providing a breadth of genre and subject matter that ensures there is always something in every issue to delight the reader.
This month sees another periodical hit the market with the publication of the first volume of Goal Post. Their press release announces that Goal Post is “a new anthology collecting the very best Victorian football writing, covering the birth and development of the world’s greatest game, and written by those who were there to witness it.”
Intrigued by this collection of old rather than new writing about the beautiful game I decided to take a look and this is what I found.
The first edition of Goal Post has only just been released and brings to the table original Victorian writing on the game. As such it is a bit more specialist than The Blizzard but it shines a light on a period in which the game as we know it was being formed and it does so through the eyes and pens of the people who were making it.
Unsurprisingly C W Alcock features heavily throughout the collection. A fine player and secretary of the Football Association he instigated both the first FA Cup and the first international match between England and Scotland, although he was unable to play in it due to injury we discover in a report on that momentous game.
We also have a history of the game of football, some instructions on how best to play the game, interviews with a couple of England captains of the time and a fascinating account of a game at Sheffield’s Bramhall Lane in which there was an experimental use of very early floodlights using the suspiciously regarded power of electricity.
In these early days of the organised game it is clear that football is still making its mark with cricket still very much considered the national game. There are doubters as well as supporters of the qualities of football and those who play and watch it.
Despite being focused on the Victorian era of the game it is interesting to note some of the topics which still resonate today. One article highlights the author’s concerns about football players becoming football “loafers” as they seek to take more and more money off their clubs. It also suggests that players who do not seek additional work beyond their football have too much time on their hands which is then ill spent.
Articles also express worries about clubs being too keen to take money off supporters through their gate receipts, well beyond their actual needs to maintain the club. Clearly even in these early days of Association Football observers were aware of how a pastime could be turned into a business and lose some of its soul.
Elsewhere, a short piece written by a referee explains the numerous ways in which players seek to cheat and convince officials that fouls have been committed or goals have been scored when they have not. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.
The pieces are not entirely limited to the UK game either with Helen Zimmern, a German born writer who worked in both England and Italy, providing a welcome short history of Calcio.
The book as a whole provides an excellent introduction to the early years of Association Football and possesses a variety of stories which keeps it fresh for the reader across the total of 21 articles and features. Like all collections it is probably best dipped into piece by piece so that the stories can be dwelt upon rather than being poured on top of each other and losing their impact.
Early indications are that a second volume will be forthcoming but not for approximately six months and this feels like a sensible approach which will allow it to retain a desirability and affordability for anyone who wants to build a collection.
You can find out more about Goal Post by visiting their website Victorian Football