Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Book Review: "The First World Atlas of Football"

    Of the making of many football books there is no end., one of the leading online sports booksellers, lists no less than 54 different categories of football books: you can read books on individual players, on clubs, on fan culture, on rules and regulations, on gender, violence, conditioning, psychology, and so on and so on -- even on the World Cup! Most of these books are disposable; some are worth a few idle hours; a few might even be worthy of your library, to be pulled down when what you need at that exact moment is a refresher on tactics, history, or statistics.

    And then every once in a while a book comes along that is so original in conception and so brilliant in execution that it becomes an instant classic, an absolute must-have, a constant companion. Such a book is The First World Atlas of Football, principal authors Radovan Jelinek and Jiri Tomes, just published in English translation and available from several UK online stores. Itís an awe-inspiring accomplishment, fascinating and inexhaustible; itís a book to be read, to be consulted, to be pored over, simply to be gazed at. Itís a wonder. It makes you thank God they invented the game.

    Whatís a world atlas of football? Well, we all know what a world atlas is: an outsized book with maps of the world, marked with cities, towns, and physical features, plus miscellaneous charts and graphs about things like population, agriculture, industry, ethnic composition, religion, etc. The First World Atlas of Football is the same thing -- except in place of cities you have football clubs; in place of population you have attendance; instead of the ephemeral achievements of agriculture and industry you have the immutable record of tournament victories. In 231 glossy large-size pages, it gives you the world the way it should be: not our rotten old thing filled with wars and deprivation, but an ever-fresh source of beauty and fulfillment. One look at this book and youíll never see the game, or the globe, the same.

    As with most atlases, the first section consists of general maps on a variety of topics with global relevance. Thereís material on the chronological spread of football, the importance of the sport in various countries, the effect of climate on the game, the role of money, player transfers, football violence, and stadium size. As throughout the book, each map is accompanied by a short text and a few helpful graphs. Thereís all sorts of fascinating material here: a pair of maps shows you the explosion of football in England from 1870 to 1880; the climate maps show the incredible range of world rainfall, from 25 mm/year in Lima to 4005 mm/year in Douala; the money graphs show the 16 richest leagues in the world and the different structures of income in the 5 top European leagues. Plenty of surprises, too: did you know that the Dutch introduced football to Paraguay? that the supposedly struggling first division in the USA has the 11th-largest average attendance in the world? that among trademarks, Manchester United is more than twice as valuable as Ferrari?

    The second section of the book contains maps relating to international football organizations and competitions, ranging from the World Cup to the Oceania Champions Cup. Color codes tell you how often certain countries and clubs have participated; replicas of trophies and medals tell you how often theyíve won. You get some superb items on European club competitions: tables on country-vs-country records, a graph on all-time year-by-year country participations, a graph showing your chance of winning a two-leg competition based on the result of the first game (1-0 home winners advance to the next round 55.4% of the time -- watch out next week, Man U!). You get the roster of confederation memberships, on the surface elementary stuff, but still at times surprising. For example, Iím a CONCACAF fan, but I hadnít known that while the island of Martinique is a CONCACAF member, theyíre not a full-fledged FIFA member. So although they compete for the Gold Cup, they donít enter World Cup qualifiers. And so on.

    The heart of the book is the third section, maps of every single country in the world, marked with the locations of first-division clubs, in most cases every top-level club in the history of the league. It is impossible to do justice to the scope and quality of the material here. The maps themselves are breathtaking, absolutely top-quality. Remarkably detailed insets show you the location of clubs in the more densely populated areas. Symbols tell you how many league and cup competitions each club has won, graphs tell you about league attendance, tables give you information about grounds, team nicknames, etc. A brief text gives some background on the origin and development of football in that country.

    Where to begin in discussing the delights of this section? The flags of the countries and official logos of the federations are alone worth the price of the book (just take a look at Kiribati!). The geographical distribution of clubs within countries is endlessly fascinating. For example, most Eastern European countries are dominated by teams from the capital city, but then thereís Poland, where Warsaw clubs have had only occasional success. The maps show you exactly how thoroughly Italy and England are dominated by clubs from the north, and how surprisingly evenly-distributed the clubs are in France. Then there are the differing conditions under which the clubs play in Peru, from the humid to the arid, from the lowlands to the high Andes. And the map of Libya shows the one and only club from the interior that ever played in the first division, and can you imagine all those other teams making the 300-kilometer trek into the Sahara for the away games? You get material on clubs from the past -- did you know that there are no less than 40 defunct clubs from Budapest alone? Then there are the stats on foreigners in domestic leagues. Would you guess that the Finnish league has 13 Hungarians? Or that there are 13 Cameroonians and 7 Chileans in Indonesia?

    One of the more remarkable features of this part is the careful attention to the impact of history on world football. For example, in the section on Germany, thereís an inset map with the boundaries of the various Central European partitions, showing which clubs currently located in Poland and Austria actually played in the German leagues for a time. The Cyprus map clearly distinguishes between the Greek and Turkish parts of the island and their respective leagues. And of course the book painstakingly charts the changes in status of the teams from the various former Soviet republics.

    But best of all is the sheer romance of the club names. On the two pages devoted to the West Indies, you get such magnificent names as UWS Upsetters SC (St. Croix), BDO Binder Stingers (British Virgin Islands), Seven Seas Rock City (Grenada), RC Riviere-Pilote (Martinique), Scholars International (Grand Caymans), Roots Alley Ballers (St. Lucia). Shift to Central Africa and thereís 977 KJ Maru Warriors (Tanzania), Profound Warriors (Zambia), CS Patronage St. Anne (Congo), Union Vesper (Equatorial Guinea), and Black Rhinos (Uganda). Over to the South Pacific, for the delights of Ba (Fiji), Valongolongo (Tonga), We-Luecilla (New Caledonia), and Stop Out (New Zealand). Just flip from page to page, say the names out loud, and imagine thousands of supporters wearing the club colors, swaying, chanting, cheering for their boys, living for Marine Castle United FC, Song Lam Nghe An, or Busta Hoppers.

    The fourth and final section is in two parts. The first is a chronological listing of league and cup champions in all the countries of the world through 2001. This information is available online at the comprehensive website, but what a joy to have it all in one place and in easily referenced form. (Evidence, by the way, that the printed page can still be superior to the computer screen.) The second is a comprehensive index of clubs, corresponding to the index of cities at the back of a standard atlas. Itís all text -- but what text! You get a capsule history of every single club, including all its various names, the years in which it was founded, dissolved, merged, etc. And you get the full name of every club, so you can amaze your friends by casually mentioning that the Iceland club known as IBA was in fact Ithrottabandalag Akureyri, and didnít everyone know it was established in 1928 by the merger of Knattspyrnufelag Akureyri and Ithrottafelag Thor, and wasnít it a shame it disbanded in 1974? This section is meticulously cross-referenced, so no matter by what name you look for a club, youíll find it.

    As you can tell, Iím pretty enthusiastic about this book. To be sure, itís not perfect. A few of the maps and graphs in the first section are hard to read (the stuff on transfers is a bit confusing); in some cases thereís so little space that itís hard to tell exactly where a club is located (the index gives you this, but thatís an extra step); there are occasional typos (one graph listed a country abbreviated as NDR as having dropped out of FIFA in 1990, and it took me 20 minutes of cross-checking before I realized it was a misprint for DDR, the former East Germany). And with the incredible amount of material involved, a few inaccuracies are bound to creep in. But the authors are committed to correcting them for a second edition. They ask you to e-mail them with suggestions/corrections, and they mean it. I found a glitch in the material on the USA, e-mailed the address listed in the book, and had a friendly in-depth exchange with Radek Jelinek on the options for revision.

    Perhaps the very best thing about The First World Atlas is that it makes you want to learn more about football. I want to know the origins of the unusual Oceania club names, and the current state of the island leagues. I want to know more about the geography of Chile and the way it affects performance. I want to know about the rivalries between teams in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. I want to find out whether French Guiana has ever competed in CONCACAF competitions. I want to know if Western Sahara is contemplating establishing a league of its own. I find myself online searching for answers to these and other questions, more than ever devoted to the past, present, and future of the greatest of games.

    The First World Atlas of Football isnít cheap -- with shipping, mine cost about 40 American dollars, roughly 40 euros. But youíll never get a better deal. Save your money and buy it, or get some relative to get it for you as a birthday or Christmas present. Then sit back and get ready to see the world, and to fall in love with football all over again. And most importantly, when you figure out what the heck that creature is on the Honduras logo on page 124, for goodnessí sake let me know!



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