- The Cambridge Companion to Football by Rob Steen, Novick Jed and Richards Huw
The long overdue companion to football has finally come out at a time when the sport is indisputably controlling global networks of culture and economy to a large extent. Editing a volume representative of football’s global history is indeed an ambitious project given the sheer numbers and infinite heterogeneity associated with the “world game.” Written by scholars and journalists, the articles in this book provide excellent observations on the game’s development, management, fandom, mediation, new trends and directions into which football is perceived to be going. Understandably this book is not an encyclopaedia, and there is only so much space where only the most significant topics can be accommodated. Unlike the companion volumes on cricket and baseball, putting together a precise yet comprehensive anthology was made difficult by football’s global reach and the considerably bigger academic literature produced on it. The editors have responded to the challenge quite admirably but leave a few questions to ponder.
A particularly interesting aspect of the book is the logic, and its absence, of selecting the regions, trends and personalities explored. The book is divided into three sections. The first section, spanning six chapters, examines the foundation of football in various national and regional contexts. The first chapter analyses the origins of football in nineteenth-century England where it was codified. Three of the other chapters deal with the history of football in Uruguay, Brazil, and Africa respectively; while a “Game-Changers” account of Maradona represents Argentina. The rest, with the exception of the concluding article on football’s “new frontiers,” focuses overwhelmingly on Europe, specifically England. Such distribution of chapters reflects the long-term centrality of Europe in global football in terms of governance and participation. The complete absence of Australia and Asia in the second section is not so surprising given their limited role in shaping global football, despite the emerging transnational fan cultures that have attracted much scholarly attention of late. Rather, their omission from the first section is hard to justify since football in these continents has been no less significant a mass mobiliser and agent of social change than in Latin America of Western Europe. The treatment of India and China as emerging superpowers and markets in the last chapter denies football in these countries its historical contingency. The same rings true for the under-represented East European nations.
The editors are certainly aware of the omissions and have tried to compensate with biographical essays under the header of “Game-Changers.” Every chapter is followed by one such essay, which may or may not be linked to the chapter’s theme. There are essays on Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi (Argentina), Eusebio and Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Billy Meredith (Wales) and George Best (Northern Ireland), Mia Hamm (U.S.), Franz Beckenbauer (Germany), Johann Cruyff (Netherlands), and footballers from countries not otherwise written about. These are the most enjoyable [End Page 149] pieces in the book even though the writing is more celebratory than critical. The choice of personalities raises questions, too. The footballers represented are those who score(d), except for Beckenbauer. Why should there not be Lev Yashin or Paolo Maldini or Bobby Moore? Also, it is hard to sense why Rinus Michels is mentioned only in the context of his relationship with Cruyff while four pages are spent on Jose Mourinho. Nevertheless, it would be intriguing to see how an editor each from continental Europe, Africa, and the Americas would have set about arranging contributions. Having said so, the high quality of each of the chapters in this volume should be acknowledged.
The Cambridge Companion series is known to be popular among researchers and advanced students and not as much among casual readers. For a book published under this masthead, the present title targets a wider range of readers. The chapters, written lucidly and not laden...