I was tempted to begin this review of The A-Z of Football Hates by Richard Foster (Amberley, 2014) by stating that books of alphabetical lists would come near to the top of my own inventory of “hates,” but I was quickly won over by the author’s introduction, particularly his description of the Chester fan, Steve, who hates watching home matches, an interesting – if slightly problematic – kind of cross for a football supporter to bear.
The abominations that have been chosen by Richard Foster, from an original long list of 87, are probably shared by the majority of fans: agents, corporate hospitality, diving, naming rights, (Mexican) waves, and xenophobia would all be on my personal list should I ever compile one. I would have included “banter,” though, which in my opinion is one of the worst aspects of the modern game of all. Of course, the whole point of a book like this is that there will be as much to disagree with as there is to confirm one’s own prejudices. That’s all part of the fun – and the book is fun. It’s written with a light touch that shrugs off some of its strengths, such as the quality of the writing and research. I learned quite a few things from reading it – from snippets about the early history of agents to the rather pleasing fact that the first footballer in the English game to wear tights was a Leicester City player in 1979.
It’s a book that seems intended, above all, to provoke debate and discussion and I’m pleased to say that I found much to disagree with in it, as I’m sure everyone else who reads it will. Although I can quite believe that players’ PR advisers might encourage them to flourish their children in front of the cameras for all kinds of dubious reasons, I don’t feel as cynical about children and football as the author does. I love to see footballers celebrating with their families when they’ve won trophies and I particularly like to see my own team parade their little ones around Portman Road at the end of the season. Foster finds it schmaltzy but I think that some footballers might actually like their own kids enough to want to share the pleasure of their best moments in football with them. On the other hand, I agree with him that FIFA’s insistence on players each holding hands with a mascot when walking on to the pitch for an international is execrable.
I’m not sure, either, about his description of his ideal club owner: “rich, anonymous and kind-hearted. Just imagine a wealthy philanthropist who was publicity shy… ” I have a particular figure in mind, of course, and I’m in no doubt that a club owner should not be able to hide from the people whose club he or she is supposed to be looking after. I suppose a book that is essentially against things doesn’t have to put the world to rights, but it would have been good if the piece about Ownership had made at least a passing reference to what fans are doing for themselves at clubs like Exeter, FCUM, AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth.
He devotes an entire “hate” to John Westwood of Pompey and his bell, a decision with which I can wholeheartedly concur. If there’s ever a follow-up edition, I can also recommend that the person who used to play a musical air horn at Portman Road repetitively in the 1970s should receive similar recognition. That horn still blights Ipswich Town DVDs to this day.
There are some contradictions. The author admits “I cried again twenty years on from those first tears” when England were knocked out of the world cup in 1990, despite claiming “Crying” and open displays of masculine emotion to be one of his pet hates. Perhaps – like the Player Queen in Hamlet – Richard Foster protests too much. In fact, I suspect him of really enjoying many of the things he claims to hate. He is clearly enjoying himself far too much in the section on Haircuts – and indeed, which football fan has not taken pleasure in the maniacally coiffeured player? Although I was sad not to find either of my personal favourites, Sue Smith and Taribo West, in the book there are plenty of other examples.
I was afraid that this book might be a football version of Grumpy Old Men but it would be better described by the popular Twitter hashtag: “Against Modern Football.” Most of the things that Richard Foster hates have come into the game in the post-Sky TV era. Television coverage, enormous advertising revenue and vast wealth have altered the game, and in turn have created huge distinctions between clubs with the Premier League having the lion’s share of the spoils in this country. These are the things that are at the root of almost all of the “hates,” whether they are TV directors homing in on the faces of crying fans or goal celebrations designed especially for the cameras.
A pleasing aspect of the book is the contributions of both supporters and former footballers. I particularly enjoyed Pat Nevin, who with typical originality and intelligence decided that what he hates the most is hatred. I think most people would agree. For all the controversy about things like the music played over stadia PA systems or “French football shorts,” this is the worst thing about football and changing things for the better is – unlike most of the other execrations listed in the book – in the hands of the fans themselves. The section on Qatar 2022 is excellent and it conveys some important issues about FIFA’s hypocrisy in the face of human rights abuses. Human rights and global corporatism may not fit all that well into a book that is essentially about mocking the wearing of yellow boots or “plastic fans” but without the serious issues, it would merely be enjoyably trivial. It’s more than that and all the better for it.
The author concludes by saying that it hopes it will enable its readers to release some “pent-up emotions.” I’m not sure about that. For me, watching a football match itself is the most cathartic thing of all. However, if The A-Z of Football Hates was intended to be entertaining and thought-provoking, it has certainly succeeded very well.