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Book Review - What we think about when we think about football

Friday 24th November 2017

Football, the self-proclaimed beautiful game. A game that can touch the soul. It is a deeply emotive sport, a depth of feeling that Simon Critchley manages to capture superbly in his book ‘What we think about when we think about football’.

A book about football fans written by a true fan.

Title: What we think about when we think about football

Author: Simon Critchley

Publisher: Profile Books

Date Published: 2017

Price: £8.99, EBook: £6.99

Football has recently become part of the academic curriculum, with a number of excellent books studying football as a means to understanding a number of wider intellectual topics. Within this group of educational books, Critchley’s is one of the best.

While obviously an extremely clever chap, Critchley is also an avid football fan and it is this devotion and understanding that allows him to take complex philosophical theory from sources ranging from Spanish poets, German thinkers and the ancient Greeks and to translate it into something that is applicable and recognisable to the average football supporter.

Critchley really understands football and his conclusions in each chapter prove very thought-provoking. Ideas that the reader will relate to when watching games and why football makes them feel the way they do. Because he is a fan he gets the subconscious feelings that fans experience.

He talks about the game as a series of contradictions and the rhythmic beauty of a team in full flow. The movements and interaction on the pitch, the anticipation of something special, the beauty of contrasting colours and the bonding between fan and team. In short, he refers to ‘sensate ecstasy’ summarising the intensity of emotion that comes with watching a game, particularly a live game.

Some ideas explored are very topical in the game. Subjects such as playing with fear (stand up England) and the impact of fans support can have on the team’s performance on the pitch (the 12th man concept). He talks about the football club as an important part of the community and the tradition of supporting a club through generations.

Critchley also enters the more surreal territory. He speaks about the ball possessing a lifeform and the gap between reality and make-believe that can occur like when first entering the stadium. He refers to impulsive moments, the nod of a head and the subconscious urge to want to play.

Fortunately for Critchley, he is a Liverpool fan.  I say this because of a combination of their glorious history and having one of the game’s most passionate thinkers, in Jurgen Klopp, as manager makes them the perfect club to case study many of the concepts and thoughts explored throughout the book.

He makes no excuses for his love for Liverpool and that is appreciated by the reader. He writes first and foremost as a Liverpool supporter and in doing so provides credibility to his writings.

‘What we think about when we think about football’, can be a bit complicated at times but the book is structured perfectly to help the reader combat this. It is pocket sized and the chapters are short. There are plenty of excellent pictures and some personal comments from Critchley that inject some humour just when some light-hearted reading is required.

The combination of the above, including a classic retro design, means the book is easily digested and the reader kept on track.

It is a classic looking book that does the content justice. Give it a go and think about it next time you attend a game. It will open your eyes.

Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently exiled in Dallas, US. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I am now working on my second book, with Pitch Publishing - Newcastle United Hall of Fame. I'm also a keen reader of football-related books.


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