You’d think that writing a book about the history of the World Cup would make you a pretty big exponent of the globe’s biggest football competition.
That’s unless your name is Brian Glanville, of course.
If, like me, you’re a fan of the World Cup and intrigued about the history of the tournament, its origins and its most defining moments, then Brian Glanville’s The Story of the World Cup: The Essential Companion to Brazil 2014 ought to be ideal reading. Instead, it’s quite disappointing.
This book’s biggest problem is that it’s been patched up – a lot. The original was first published in 1973 – there have been just the 10 tournaments since. And in that intervening period there have been social and cultural adaptations to the English language. That much is blatantly obvious when you read black players being described as “dark” or “negro” (yes, really) in the early stages of the book. In 2014, at times, it makes for quite unnerving reading.
Then there is the structure. In the initial stages of the book, there are clear headings that separate each section of a tournament. There is also some degree of chronological order to proceedings – as you’d come to expect from a play-by-play guide to a World Cup. That format goes out the window when you reach the more recent tournaments, however. Chapters begin with the conclusion to the tournaments – rather than detailing the inception of the host nation and its opening matches. And then there’s there repetition. It’s almost as if Glanville contracts temporary Alzheimer’s. For instance, in the 2010 World Cup, we are informed (in detail) on two separate occasions about the departure of coach Diego Maradona and how his falling out with the Argentine hierarchy led to his dismissal.
That leads us on nicely to the book’s factual inaccuracies – of which there are many. Here are just a sample of Glanville’s claims:
– Japan were eliminated at the quarter final stage of the 2002 World Cup
(They were knocked out at the last 16 stage)
– Graham Poll showed three yellow cards to Serbia’s Josip Simunic at the 2006 World Cup
(It was Croatia’s Josip Simunic)
– There was a 2002 European Championship
(There was a World Cup in 2002 – we can only assume Glanville is referring to the 2004 Euros)
– England held a 2-0 half time lead against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup
(England led 1-0 at half time, were pegged back in the second half, took a 2-1 lead before Sweden equalised for the second time late on)
Having been an avid viewer of the World Cups in recent memory I can vouch for these blunders. It does, however, make you think that there could be similar errors throughout the earlier parts of the book – I just wouldn’t be able to disprove them considering that I wasn’t born in 1920 and have no recollection of the early incarnations of the competition.
Despite all this, what may serve to irritate the reader most is Glanville’s continual condemnation of the tournament and its format. The quality is always bad. Third place games are always bad. Finals are always bad. Opening games are always bad.
That’s not all.
Penalties are an unjust way to settle matches (not that he ever offers an alternative) and the pool of teams competing is either too small or too big! These regular gripes from the author only serve to demoralise the reader.
While the book undoubtedly has its faults (I’ve ripped it to shreds a bit, I know!), the level of detail contained early on in the publication do offer a fine insight into the World Cup’s primitive beginnings. And that, in summary, is what the book does best. The language and understanding of the game may be outdated but the content does compliment the rare and low-quality clips that you may have seen from the World Cups in the 30s, 50s and 60s.
Perhaps Brian would have been best served to leave the original 1973 copy as it was. Though, in fairness, I probably wouldn’t have bought it then.