Club Soccer 101

Club Soccer 101: The Essential Guide to the Stars, Stats, and Stories of 101 of the Greatest Teams in the World

By Luke Dempsey

W.W. Norton, 2014

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When I think of football reference books, I picture a library of fat, blue, abandoned Rothmans Yearbooks collecting thick cloaks of dust. Like the knife-sharpening man, the concept of football facts on paper has surely been put out of business, hasn’t it? After all, websites like Squawka and Opta can provide you with more detailed and more up-to-date information at the mere touch of a button, and for free. Faced with this burgeoning stat market, Soccer 101 is a very pleasant reminder that reference books need not be dry, monumental and costly. Luke Dempsey’s labour of love gives the lowdown on 101 of the world’s greatest club sides in less than 450 pages of a nice, waxy paperback (£9.99). Excluding the acknowledgements, appendices and index, it works out at 4.16 pages per team (no charge for that calculation!).

Of course, this can only be achieved by sacrificing a bit of depth for X-Factor. The selection is strong and the writing is sharp and witty, full of wry asides and great anecdotal particulars. Dempsey pokes gentle fun at the likes of Paolo Di Canio, Felix Magath, ‘Woy’ Hodgson and Alexi Lalas, plus more risqué fun at Copenhagen’s initials (FCK). The surprise inclusion of Norwich City is worth it for the description of ‘one-hit wonder’ Jeremy Goss’ winner against Bayern Munich in the 1993 UEFA Cup: ‘It was a result no one imagined could happen; it was German arrogance in the face of plucky little Brits dressed like birds.’ Other highlights include Eusebio’s sportsmanship, Duckadam’s penalty heroics and Amadei, the 15-year-old baker. To tell you which clubs they played for would only spoil the treasure trove experience.

There is plenty of more serious content too, however. Pinochet’s Colo Colo, Franco’s Real Madrid, Il Duce’s Lazio, World War Two’s ravaging of Central and Eastern Europe; Soccer 101 establishes the important political contexts that define the present day. As brief as the club summaries are, the key details are all there for the budding football historian: ‘the stars, stats and stories’, as the subtitle suggests. Each team’s section begins with a fact file – location, date of origin, nicknames, stadium (with capacity), home colours, leading goal-scorer and most-capped player. Sadly, there are a few blanks for the less-celebrated teams but it’s a tiny hole in the overall fabric.

Soccer 101 is the perfect companion for football nights home and away, familiar and exotic – Arsenal in the Premier League, Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Cruz Azul in the World Club Championship, Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League. Dempsey’s guide is a must for fans world over, a reference book that’s guaranteed to be well-thumbed.

Buy it here

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