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Book Review

‘The Game’ book vividly captures the beauty of English football

The cliche is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Often we rely on biography and narrative to convey how important an idea is but sometimes a perfectly taken picture does the job better. Think of the famous image from 1982 of a young Diego Maradona facing six Belgian defenders. I can spend paragraphs describing how perfectly the image captures a young superstar or the fear of facing him, but the picture does better than even the best writer could in showing that this man will run rampant through soccer royalty soon.

The Game attempts to do just that with one of the game’s best photographers. Stuart Roy Clarke is a long-time sports photographer famous for his “Homes of Football” photography series. Paired with sociologist and soccer fan John Williams, Clarke takes his favorite and fan favorite photographs and creates a book that illustrates why soccer is a passion for U.K. fans. The first half of the book is conversational text between the two on the major themes of the game, like globalization and non-local owners. They use contemporary and historical pictures to illustrate their conversations, but this section is text heavy. The second half is Clarke’s photos which were featured in his exhibits in the U.K., so they may be familiar to U.K. readers.

The intent of the book is to convey why soccer holds a special place in U.K. fans’ lives, and the pictures included certainly do that. Rather than glamor shots of famous players, the pictures primarily are of fans and fields. You feel inserted into various scenes of soccer, even things such as an empty food vendor outside Highbury (RIP) or fans walking back to a parking lot post-match. Flipping through the book you certainly see some beautiful pictures that make me jealous I have not seen them at an exhibit live.

However the first half falls a little short. While the conversational text is interesting, it does not fit with the rest of the book. Rather than use the favorite pictures to illustrate the concepts, various historical photos and other Clarke pictures are interspersed. The authors try at times to link the photos to their conversation but it feels like a publisher told them they needed more text to make their photography book into a mass market product. If the textual part were pulled out and made into a different book, it may be more effective.

Undeniably the photographs in this book are beautiful and for a North American audience not as familiar with UK soccer culture, the pictures convey a message better than words could. That said, I hesitate to recommend purchasing at full price since half of the book is at best decent text divorced from the main content.

The Game is available via Amazon, Relegation Books and all fine booksellers.
Release Date: July 31, 2020
Hardcover / 264 pages / $50.00

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