Glanville brings wit, humor and a critical eye to his history of the World Cup.
You get a feel for the drama, the excitement and the raw energy of the World Cup. For example, it is not simply stated that the Brazilians cultivated Mexican fans in 1970, but Glanville adds such memorable lines as "The Brazilians pursued a shrewd policy of 'beads for the natives..'.
Glanville's description of players, even obscure ones, shows dry wit, a keen eye and someone who has done his homework. For example, in describing sturdy Russian sweeper Chesternev(?) Glanville speaks of him "sweeping up diligently in his crouching bird-dog style.." Likewise another player is described not merely as a fast winger but " a strongly-built, moustached, and melancholy figure, with fabled control and finishing power."
And indeed, so he was. You get the sense that this is soccer as it should be played- with supreme confidence and absolute conviction. Despite the literary flavor, this book has meat, solid meat. Who wants a simple rehash of what went down? Glanville begins every chapter with a background to the Cup- the sometimes unsavoury politics and posturing, the jealousies, and then he breaks down the detail of the contenders- their strengths and weaknesses. This solid, meaty analysis, not another rehash of stats we already know.
The viginettes and scenes are amazing, Pele's audacious attempt to beat Viktor from 50 yards out in 1970, the father of Spanish player DiStefano in 62 flying in with a mysterious "magic linament" to heal his son, the "spontaneous" 1970 Mexican crowd that conveniently and noisly gathered outside the English team's hotel, keeping the players awake all night, before the match with Brazil, the blazing speed and mesmerizing moves of the deformed winger- Garrincha of Brazil, the cheeky "street" caper of Maradona's infamous "Hand of G-d" goal, the brave comebacks of Germany in 1982 and 1986, and so on.. You almost get the sense of being there on the field.
Those expecting a cheerleading tome for soccer officialdom would do best to look for another book. Glanville is not afraid to expose the seedy side of the game, nor criticize the FIFA bureaucracy, hooligan fans, coaches and abominable refereeing where warranted, nor do the cynical players and tactics escape his censure.
There are some minor quibbles. In his 1966 edition, Glanville correctly describes Brazil's swift right winger Garrincha as a mulatto, but in the 1970 edition, he is transformed into a South American Indian. In fact, Garrincha was part black, and this is confirmed in Joseph Page's book "The Brazilians". Of course with Brazil, racial categories are fuzzy, but Glanville does correctly point out that the introduction of black players in that country transformed the game. Some might object to Glanville even mentioning race, but it is interesting nevertheless to see the width of the Black Disapora, and the increasing blend of cultures in sports, and how sports can, in its own limited way, bring people together. Thanks to Glanvile, these glimpses range from "the Black Diamond" Leonidas of Brazil back in 1938, to the swift black winger Andrade of Uruguay circa 1950, to Gatejens, scorer of the shocking goal that upset England in 1950 (yes, the segregated, Jim Crow US had "colored" players), to the pantherine Eusebio and silky smooth Coluna of Portugal in 1966, to the corruscating Teofilo Cubillas of Peru of 1970, to the powerfully built sweeper, Tresor, of France, circa 1982.
Glanville's book is also invaluable for its many pictures of past players, particularly the older editions. All in all, a must read for every true soccer fan. Something for everyone- the young fan looking for heroes and pictures, the educated dabbler, or the hard-core afficionado.