Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer by George Vecsey does what few others books about this game can. It canonizes the history of the sport’s Mount Olympus through the lens of one man who witnessed its transformation from a sporting event to a worldwide spectacle. Scratching the surface of what’s become a gargantuan quadrennial event, Vescey depicts how the World Cup began from relatively humble beginnings admitting only a handful of teams, through to the nebulous ecosystem and self-contained economy that has surrounded FIFA and the World Cup itself. Whereas in years past the tournament wasn’t the pinnacle of sponsorship and advertising dollars, Vecsey hints at the nefarious machinations behind the scenes at world football’s governing body, FIFA, before the proverbial s**t storm that has been swirling around the beautiful game for some time now. This is but a primer on the true state of football’s administration, something we’ll delve deeper into as the “living story” continues to reveal itself.
Although the author’s repugnance for the game’s administration is noted throughout, the book is at its best when bringing iconic World Cup moments to life. Reading his description of Landon Donovan’s last minute winner against Algeria brought me right back to my personal “LD Moment” – complete with chills – that every USMNT fan has attributable to that exact moment. It feels as if the growth of the game was paired inexorably with Vecsey’s reporting of it. As he grew to understand a game introduced to him late in life that those he watched on the World Cup stage had played since they could wobble around on two feet, his prose was up to the challenge:
“This was some entirely new sport, a blend of ballet and geometry, quick triangles appearing and disappearing, instant decisions by athletes on the move, so graceful and independent, performing intricate maneuvers with a round ball, on the fringes of their feet.”
Clearly he’s discussing the Brazilians at the 1982 edition in Spain – with players like Sócrates, Zico, and Falcão, it’s not surprising that descriptions of the Seleção blurred the lines between sportsmen and ballet dancers. Observe:
What resonated with me most forcefully throughout the book was that it traced so many moments where the game grew, not only throughout the world, but in the United States as well. The USMNT’s expeditions into World Cup territory haven’t been hugely successful, but they haven’t come without fanfare, ire, angst, and in a few cases, pure, unbridled, manic joy. Soccer fans across generations in this country could pick this book up and point out a situation described by Mr. Vecsey that was their catalytic moment, their personal “a-ha” moment. The one where the sport, the passion, joy, and of course, the pain, all came together in a perfect storm and swept them up into the beautiful game. Whether it was Landon in 2010, THE handball in 2002, 1998’s humiliation, or the Stars and Stripes’ 1994 coming out party at home, Vecsey connects the reader with the defining moments of the game’s rise on home soil.
With our beloved game gaining a foothold and expanding its influence across the US, fans new and old are clamoring for deeper and savvier content relating to all things soccer/football, George Vecsey is that uniquely American voice shedding light on the world’s game for the American contingent – go grab a copy now!
5/5 Jules Rimet Trophies – Another great one to add to the bookshelf!
This time, it’s all about keepers – the evolution of the position, the eclectic, famous individuals who’ve played the position (some who may surprise you), and what makes them tick. In the next installment of Footy Books!
I’ve got a few more books in the queue, but I’d love suggestions on other soccer/football books you all have read, are reading, or want to get your hands on – tell me all about them in the comments below!
Hands clasped we pray for olé!