The Bandy and Shinty Biweekly Book Club continues. This time, we spoke to Alex Stewart, super talented football writer for amongst others, The Blizzard. He chose David Winner’s Brilliant Orange.
Before we got to Alex, allow us to introduce his chosen book:
Unless you’ve read Winner’s dissection of Dutch football against a backdrop of the counter culture that shaped it and Johan Cruyff, you have no idea just how obsessed the Dutch are with space. Space is a fetish for the Dutch footballer - lusted over - heck, if they could, they’d feed it chocolate croissants, take it to a gallery, play in the park with it and light the Eifel Tower up with ‘J’adore espace’ to round off the perfect evening.
You shouldn’t have favourites. A parent shouldn’t have a favourite child. A teacher shouldn’t have a favourite student. A lover of football books shouldn’t necessarily have a favourite football book, but they all do.
Hands up and bang to rights: I do have a favourite football book and this is it.
Over to you, Alex.
What is your favourite football book?
This is a hard one to answer, as I suppose ‘favourite’ can have different connotations. So I’ll pick a few: David Winner’s Brilliant Orange, Arthur Hopcraft’s The Football Man, and Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid.
Why? Tell us about it. What’s so good about it?
Different reasons in each instance: I think the book I most enjoyed reading and have been back to a few times is Winner’s, for its blend of football and culture. He has a roving eye for detail that is fascinating and he manages to make quite a difficult premise, that Dutch football is inseparable from Dutch landscape, painting, and so on, work.
Hopcraft’s The Football Man is a stylish classic; I’m not sure there’s anyone out there writing that well about sport now. In fact, I’m sure no one is.
I’ve included Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid because it’s the football book I’ve read most and used most for my own work, and I’d also mention the Rothmans and Sky Football Yearbooks in the same vein, for their incomparable range and utility.
What book are you currently reading/did you last read? What's it like?
I’ve actually taken a slight detour away from football books recently, having just finished William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days, which is a superb autobiography with surfing as the main thread. But I recently read Duncan Alexander’s Outside the Box, having also read OptaJoe’s Football Yearbook; I really admire Duncan’s way of making statistics and data accessible and he’s a funny, engaging writer, which can be a tough ask when you’re writing about numbers. For people who are interested in why numbers are increasingly prevalent in football coverage, or want to know why their use makes sense, this is a great introduction with none of the opacity that can mark a lot of stats writing.
What book are you looking forward to reading next?
I was up in Edinburgh on holiday a few months back and came across a second-hand book shop, picking up some books from the now defunct Mainstream Publishing. Of these, next up is Going Oriental, edited by Mark Perryman, a collection of essays about the 2002 World Cup. Having done a series of videos on the evolution of World Cup tactics, I’m looking forward to delving into it.
Alex Stewart writes explanatory videos on tactics and statistics for uMAXit Football’s hugely successful YouTube channel. He’s also written for The Set Pieces, The Blizzard, and others, and helps put together Pickles Magazine. If you read nothing else today, read this because it's wonderful.