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Norman Giller,
Football And All That:  
An Irreverent History

(Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2004)
Review
Index

Reviewed by Peter Young
22 November 2004

For his 70th book, the long-time football journalist and author Norman Giller brings us this very readable history of football from the English perspective.

The story is told in surprisingly full and fascinating detail without any boring bits—the longish segments in most football histories that you know deep down you should read if you really want to understand the game’s background but which you end up skipping anyway simply because you can’t avoid dozing off while trying to plough through them.  It’s not that Giller skips anything, though; it’s that he has the knack of making readable even the bits that are deadly dull when told by writers of lesser skill and knowledge.

Despite the gratifying rise in fan interest in  the game’s past, the very word history is enough to turn away a large part of the public,  They know all about those boring bits from experience.   But they can rest assured this is a book that moves along at a rapid clip with nary a snooze-inducing moment.  Much of it will leave you laughing or at least amused. 

Nonetheless this book is a history, and a surprisingly complete one given its length, 286 pages plus appendices.  It is all here—from the scoreless draw against Scotland in the first international  of 1872 to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side at Euro 2004, from the amateur Corinthians and professional Preston North End invincibles of the 1880s to Arsenè Wenger’s unbeaten Arsenal of 2003-04.   Although the book inevitably concentrates on English football, there are excursions throughout into major events in Scottish and world football, including a brief chapter on the modern game's antecedents on other continents.

The book is the most accomplished popular history of English football we have seen because it is both breezy in style and thorough.  Giller is well-known for his story-telling abilities, and he has somehow managed to describe the major events, developments and influences in the game in a consistently and thoroughly entertaining fashion.  At the same time, he brings to his writing an unparalleled depth and breadth of experience in covering the game—a lifetime’s accumulated knowledge—so that even those with a more scholarly bent will find much here they did not know before.  Many of the stories he recounts along the way are priceless.  The book is a must-read for any fan not already thoroughly familiar with the game’s history—and an interesting read even for those who are.

While it is a popular history, Giller does not sugar-coat the story.  He brings to it a definite point of view and does not shy away from blunt words for those who have run the modern game over its 140-odd years.  

You will learn, for example, what he thinks about the Football Association that broke with FIFA—in a dispute over small compensatory payments to amateur players, of all things—that kept England out of the first three World Cups and that plunged English football into 20 years of self-imposed isolation and insularity from which it is only now fully recovering.  You will be left with no doubt as to what he feels about the way the F.A. and the clubs treated footballers until relatively recently.  You will also find what he thinks of the F.A.’s efforts to suppress the women’s game in its infancy, and—time’s passage and changed circumstances having removed the need for outrage—you will no doubt laugh, along with him and us, at the ludicrous and even vicious lengths to which it went in that doomed campaign.

Although the arrogance, pomposity, ignorance, stubbornness and downright foolishness of the Football Association are inevitably a continuing theme throughout the book, there is much else that amuses and bemuses, too.  For many years a leading football journalist with The Daily Express, Giller was on close terms with most of the post-war figures he writes about, and we doubt anyone has a richer collection of stories from which to draw.  The irrepressible Giller was the only journalist to gain access to the England dressing room immediately after the World Cup final victory over West Germany in 1966 and later sought to atone for his breach of the rules by way of a note of apology to manager Alf Ramsey.  When the greatest of England's managers was unceremoniously sacked some eight years later, it was Giller to whom he granted an exclusive interview in his home.

A generous contributor to this website’s efforts to bring the England story to all who have access to a computer, Giller sent us an e-mail message describing the major conclusions he drew from his work on the book:

1) That for all the money being thrown at it, football is not as exciting and as gripping to watch as in the days when it was a game of physical contact. It has been sanitised beyond sanity.

2) That the English FA should be had up for treason for the way they virtually gave away our birthright as the founders of the modern game (and they continue to be caught with their trousers down today).

3) That too much power has been given to the great God of television. The tail is wagging the dog.

4) That for all the warts, it remains the Beautiful Game (but we are fast running out of people who can play it beautifully in England and Scotland where it has almost reached the point where you need a foreign accent before you are considered for the major teams).

The book’s eight appendices are of scholarly interest.  They are a series of historical papers documenting the development of the game through the first rules of the Football Association.

Giller’s old pal Jimmy Greaves, with whom he has authored several books, writes the foreword for this one.  The book is dedicated to the memory of another of his old friends, Bobby Moore.  

Football And All That is the third in a series from publishers Hodder and Stoughton, following Cricket And All That by top authority Henry Blofeld and Rugby And All That by former England captain Martin Johnson.

Norman Giller, Football And All That: An Irreverent History is available through most U.K. and Internet booksellers from 22 November 2004.

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