Balls and beer all across the Continent; Book of the week
European Football: A Fans' Handbook - The Rough Guide By Peterjon Cresswell and Simon Evans (Rough Guides, paperback, pounds 14.99)
Monday 13 October 1997
The Rough Guide publishing empire is well respected for its witty and diligently researched travel books aimed at the young, independent adventurer. Now comes its first excursion into the sporting arena.
The Budapest-based authors know their stuff. Almost every major European country has its own chapter, with concise accounts of the history of the game in each country followed by the same treatment for major clubs. There is plenty of practical information: a few essential phrases (see above) plus assessments of football media and web sites across the Continent, match ticket and public transport details, and advice on hotels, restaurants and bars.
It is the latter advice which provides many of the most amusing moments. The "Tic Tac" restaurant in Bucharest is apparently a "scruffy little drinking den for depressed former factory workers and alcoholic housewives with shocking make-up" - and yet the authors still make it sound enticing. They recognise that the sort of traveller who wanders around Europe watching football is unlikely to be frequenting five-star establishments, and will want to drink and eat in the locals' favourite places.
Local colour, from Amsterdam to Zagreb, is the book's strong point. A trip to Hamburg's second club sounds memorable: "Go to see a game at St Pauli on a Friday night and you could be forgiven for thinking the New York Dolls had reformed. Unfeasibly thin people with bug eyes, mauve spiky hair and ripped T-shirts weave their way towards the stadium, pushing shopping trolleys clanking with booze."
Back to the football, briefly. A recurring theme in the historical text is the parts played by British pioneers in the development of the game across Europe. We learn of Jimmy Hogan, a former Bolton Wanderers player who arrived in Budapest from an internment camp in Vienna at the end of World War One and laid the foundations for the development of Hungarian football, which culminated in the humiliation of England in the early 1950s. Then there is Dr James Spensley, one of the founders of Genoa in the 1890s, who played in goal as the club won six of the first seven Italian championships.
The book could be bigger and even better - countries like Ukraine and Slovenia and cities like Sheffield and Katowice are ignored - but what is here is mostly wonderful. We finish at Rotterdam's Astoria Hotel. "A late bar, a TV room with a massive screen and a former Miss World serving breakfast. What more could you want?" What indeed...
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