January 3, 2012
by Charles Cuttone
Broaden the bookshelf
Being both a devoted reader and a soccer junkie, I am usually excited when a new soccer book arrives. That wasn't the case last week, however, when a brown envelope from a publicist arrived containing a rather thin volume from Triumph books entitled Soccer Skills: The Way to Play.
Nothing against the book specifically or its author, but come on, this is 2012. Do we really need yet another book from yet another "expert" on how to play the game? Soccer isn't exactly a new sport on these shores. And it’s not exactly unknown to the general population, whose emotions were stirred in 2010 and 2011 by performances of the Men's and Women's National Teams. Fox has paid a huge sum for the World Cup TV rights and NBC has also jumped into the fray with a deal to carry MLS and the U.S. National Team.
So why are book publishers the last to figure out that there might be an audience out there for soccer books other than “how to play.”
Triumph Books, which declares itself the leader in sports publishing, has four soccer books listed on its web site. The aforementioned Soccer Skills, two soccer rule books and a preview/guide for the 2010 World Cup. That goes along with books on MMA, tennis, pro bull riding and wiffle ball.
A quick scan of the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble showed 18 soccer titles on the shelves, 11 of them how to play type offerings, one a revised edition of The Simplest Game originally written in the 70s, and a few others were U.S. editions of books originally published in England.
That's not to say that there are no other books on soccer out there. Grant Wahl's "Beckham", released in 2010, was a popular title and was released in paperback as well.
Long-Range Goals by Beau Dure gives an accurate, if somewhat prosaic, look at the history of Major League Soccer, particularly from a business standpoint, while for the most part failing to capture any of the emotion and passion that exists for the sport in this country and for the league and its teams.
Two soccer history books that were published in 2011 get high marks from me. Soccer made in St. Louis explores that history from a game described in the St. Louis Globe Democrat in 1875 right through last year's folding of St. Louis Athletica.
The book, richly illustrated with historic photos and pictures of various pieces of St. Louis soccer memorabilia, vividly goes through the history of St. Louis soccer that in many ways mirrors the history of American soccer, from the early immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Germany who played the game in their neighborhoods, to one of the early leaders of American soccer, Thomas Cahill, to the 1950 World Cup team, which included seven St. Louis players in the lineup.
The book also takes the reader through the history of the pro game, the North American Soccer League, the Major Indoor Soccer League and even the city's brief flirtation with Women's Professional Soccer.
The author is long time St. Louis soccer writer Dave Lange, who thoroughly covers how the sport is woven into the historic fabric of the city. It was published by Reedy Press
The other book, Distant Corners by David Wangerin, takes a unique approach to looking at the history of soccer in the United States.
Wangerin's approach is to weave through the litany of missed opportunities for soccer in the U.S. to take its place among the major sports. The books details Tom Cahill's efforts to transform the United States Soccer Football Association (now U.S. Soccer) into a cohesive unit and how his efforts were hampered by infighting among factions---something that remains an issue in the game today.
Of particular interest are the chapters on the North American Soccer League, and really two attempts at solidifying a beachead for the pro game, the first in 1967-68 when the league started and the second in the late 70s with the Pele-led boom in soccer enthusiasm. The book has tremendous detail on the NASL's strategic plan from 1978-79 and how it failed to carry out and meet those objectives, ultimately leading to its demise.
For the soccer fan and historian, both are good reads. Too bad book publishers can't find a few more of those type of stories to publish, or maybe biographies on some of today's U.S. stars.