By Rory O’Regan.
With just under a week until a Christmas like no other, it is consoling to know books are as popular a present as ever.
St. Pauli: Another Football Is Possible by Carles Viñas and Natxo Parra.
The most popular German football team? Bayern Munich, surely? If not, maybe Borussia Dortmund? According to a new book, the answer is… FC St. Pauli. Apparently, some 11 million Germans identify with the Hamburg team, while it has approximately 600 fan clubs across the world.
But it is not success on the pitch for which it is celebrated. Rather, the club is revered as a pioneering institution for its actions outside of the football it plays. Not only does it actively campaign against fascism, racism, homophobia, and sexism, but it also puts a major emphasis on social projects within the community. St Pauli’s journey, from humble beginnings in the 1890s, through to the Nazi regime and post-war years, and finally, to German reunification and the commercialisation of the beautiful game, is charted in this eminently readable offering.
This is a club that is the envy of fans globally as it is the members’ association that holds 51% of the club’s shares, guaranteeing it is an institution formed in the fan’s image. To date, they have successfully ensured that there is reduced visibility of advertising in the stadium, with no ads allowed that are deemed contrary to the club’s ethical criteria.
That said, the club is not without problems. There is a growing sect of fans pushing for increased success on the pitch. However, whether this is can be done without the club compromising its values and principles, is a divisive issue. This comes as football becomes increasingly commercialized globally; the chasm between what the fans want, and the team needs, is a concern for clubs worldwide.
This is the perfect book for anyone looking to examine the state of modern football. Some believe the game has improved beyond measure. Others vehemently disagree.
This book leaves you in no doubt where FC St. Pauli stand.
Fuel by Seán O’Brien with Gerry Thornley.
Despite the system, not because of it. That’s how the Tullow Tank describes his journey from Carlow to representing Leinster, Ireland, the Lions, and currently, London Irish. Unlike much of the Leinster squad, he didn’t attend one of the affluent rugby-playing schools. Instead, he plied his trade in the club game with Tullow RFC and muscled his way into the Leinster Academy.
The fact that so few Irish players come through the club ranks is evidently something which infuriates O’Brien. He uses the examples of himself, Tadhg Furlong, and Shane Horgan while he wonders: how many potentially world-class players are being overlooked because of this emphasis on the school’s game? He has a point.
There’s a certain honesty to this autobiography which is often lacking in similar offerings. This is particularly the case when O’Brien speaks of his upbringing in Carlow, defined by his sports-mad adolescence, working on the farm and the breakdown of his parent’s marriage.
Later, when he describes his first dealings with Leinster, he speaks of the snobbery towards him because of his rural background. However, his strength and dedication make it seem it was only a matter of time before a professional contract was thrust his way.
O’Brien has put his body through hell to play rugby. But he still has plenty more to offer, he says. His is a very human story of someone who is incredibly proud of their roots and wishes to continue doing the thing they love. He may now be over in London, but the Tullow Tank is still as enthusiastic and determined as ever.
Great GAA Rivalries: Unforgettable Showdowns by John Scally
The GAA is full of some feisty rivalries, the most vicious of which don’t necessarily take place on a September afternoon in Croke Park. But this book covers it all, from the classic games between Dublin and Kerry to the clashes between neighbouring counties across the country.
Years upon years of inter-county enmity is described within its pages.
For any self-respecting GAA fan, this is the ideal book to have lying around the house. It is perfectly laid out in that each chapter, only ever a few pages long, details a specific rivalry. It mainly covers the men’s games, but there are also chapters on the ladies’ games, international rules, and club football. Each one has a name to summarise the rivalry, with The Irish Are Wimps being the one to describe the international rules rivalry with the Aussies…
If you want the whole gamut of insight, ranging from Pat Spillane’s thoughts on the Kerry team of the 1970s to Ger Loughnane’s take on the ’97 Munster final between Clare and Tipperary, this is the book for you. Scally has done an admirable job of merging interviews, quotes, and anecdotes, in order to recreate the hostility and joy of these rivalries. Many will be matches you remember fondly. Others will be completely new to you. Either way, this is a book that will immerse you in all that is good and great about the GAA.
Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan.
Much has already been said of the James Bond-themed 50th birthday party, a salary that was larger than his Italian and Spanish counterparts combined at one point, and, indeed, Clones FC in Monaghan naming their grounds after the former FAI Chief Executive, John Delaney.
However, this book is littered with so much detail that any summary or review could never do it justice. It simply must be read to be believed; and even then, it’s still hard to fathom the shenanigans that took place.
Tighe and Rowan have done the seemingly impossible job of writing a tale that is essentially one about sports administration, in an approachable way for both sports and non-sports fans alike. But, in many ways, this is a story that transcends sport as it addresses very human themes: incompetence, patronage, and looking the other way.
In truth, the account of Delaney’s tenure would be comical if it hadn’t left Irish football in such a perilous state.
When the World Stops Watching by Damian Lawlor
We feel their losses. We celebrate their wins. And finally, when it’s time to retire, we clap them one last time. But then we find another hero to support, another individual to get behind; unfortunately, it’s rarely as easy for those who’ve had to leave the game behind.
This is a startlingly insightful read on what it means to walk away from the sport you love. Lawlor has crafted the book in such a way that it covers sports stars from sundry disciplines, with the reason for their retirement varied. Often, we can forget that athletes are humans just like us. The stories of the 16 sports stars contained in this book illustrate just how frail and fragile our idols can be.
The hole that exists in the aftermath of retirement can be difficult to fill. Take Darren O’Neill, the Kilkenny boxer, for example.
He’s never officially retired, but his high-flying career has sputtered to a halt due to injuries. It might never restart, but you won’t find him saying that. Or take one of our most illustrious sporting icons, Sonia O’Sullivan. After walking away from competing at the highest level, she would never wear a watch in training to measure her time, speed, and distance such was her aversion to seeing their depletion.
It’s next to impossible for us fans to understand how an athlete’s sporting career is interwoven with their identity and purpose. This book delves into the minds of our sporting stars and attempts to highlight the difficulties so many of them undergo once their performing days are over.
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