This week in the Bandy and Shinty Biweekly Book Club, we spoke to Mark Evans, Head of International Affairs for the FA of Wales. He chose Joe McGinniss’ The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro as his favourite book and here, he explains precisely why he did this:
What is your favourite football book?
Probably an impossible question to answer as the amount of quality football books increases every year, not counting the tedious biographies of current players of course, but if pushed I will always go back to The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro which combines two of my great passions; football and travel.
The American writer Joe McGinniss is a newly converted football fan who travels to Italy to cover the unlikely story of Castel di Sangro’s football team as they undertake their first season ever in the lofty realms of Serie B during 1996/97. The town’s population itself is only 6,000 and their promotion is seen as the miracle of the book’s title; but can they survive at the more professional level?
McGinniss immerses himself in the town and very soon the book becomes a narrative on Italian life through the medium of football. The characters encountered around the football club are almost caricatures of calcio as the author meets the mysterious owner, the dodgy president, the taciturn and racist coach plus of course the players.
It’s the author’s relationships with the players that really tells the tale of a season as he shares their frustrations about unpaid bonuses, a farcical stadium delay, a comic book and even a bogus signing and match. He becomes the players’ voice as his confidence in their language grows and he puts that to the test as he questions, maybe naïvely, how the club is being managed.
The book is really about the author’s discovery of how a group of players unites to seek an improbable salvation during one season in which they face tragedy, triumph and ultimately disgrace.
What book are you currently reading/did you last read? What's it like?
I’ve just finished reading Quiet Genius, the Bob Paisley biography by Ian Herbert. A remarkable book that finally provides a fitting testament to a manager who took on a giant football club from a legendary leader and went on to achieve much more despite his shy and introverted personality.
Other notable books would be When the Whistle Blows (The Story of the Footballers’ Battalion in the First World War) by Andrew Riddoch & John Kemp, Together Stronger by Chris Wathan and Hillsborough Voices by Kevin Sampson.
Mark Evans is Head of International Affairs for the FA of Wales and a reluctant supporter of the Mighty Merthyr Town. He also manages to produce the Dial M For Merthyr Fanzine every now and then. It's excellent and you should buy it.