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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Boot’s on the other foot with sport

What with this World Cup going on, I’m toying with the idea of reading a rugby-related book.

It would be my second, after John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, on which the film Invictus is based.

There are plenty of books on rugby rules, skills and tactics. Biographies and autobiographies. Books devoted to particular tours, teams, eras. On Amazon, I found The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Rugby, although from what I’ve seen, they pretty much have that covered. Rugby For Dummies and The Bluffer’s Guide to Rugby sounded useful, but I wasn’t looking for anything quite so “down the line”.

Last year’s Fifa World Cup extravaganza brought to light some delightfully strange books. In Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the US, Japan, Australia, Turkey – and Even Iraq – Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, a sports writer and an economist, respectively, put together a “Freakonomics”-type book of quirky sideways insights into the world.

They bend the data like Beckham, until it begs for mercy and spits out gems, such as the assertion that the most soccer-loving nation is Norway (admit it, you thought it was going to be Brazil). And, never buy a player just after an big international tournament, as you’re likely to overpay (I guess it’s like buying Manolo Blahniks just after the release of Sex and the City 2).

They are nothing if not ambitious, these football intellectuals. Frank Foer’s expansively titled How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization deals with no lesser topics than wealth, national identity, tribalism, culture and politics, to rave reviews. In Ted Richards’ Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game, an A-team of philosophers presents a series of essays: is Cristiano Ronaldo a modern-day Picasso? What are the ethics around refereeing? Which team would Nietzsche have supported? (Arsenal, apparently, but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out why.)

Rugby writers seem less eager to explain the world through the prism of 15 men stomping on each other, and I gave up my search.

But on the sporting theme, I can recommend Lynne Truss’s hilarious memoir of her life as a sports journalist, Get Her Off the Pitch: How Sport Took over my Life.

Truss, who is beloved of punctuation fascists for her brilliant book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, found herself in the press box when the sports editor of the Times decided it would be a novel idea to have a sports know-nothing write about sport. Truss knew she was a gimmick (“Had I woken up today with a smart pair of testicles, it would have been curtains for me as a sports writer”), but what made it work is that she is a witty and observant writer, who says things like: “Unlike Gascoigne, who has a brain like a foot, Zidane has a foot like a brain and a brain like a brain.”

She learnt to love football, to the extent that her perspective on life changed.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist


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