Football by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Belgium Non -Fiction
original title – Football
Translator – Shaun Whiteside
Source – Review copy
Jean Philippe Toussaint is a writer I had long wanted to get to his novels are well-known for a minimalist style , so when this collection of prose piece by him on football arrived from Fitzcarraldo editions I got a chance to tick off a writer I had wanted to get to for a while. He has written nine novels which have been translated into many languages and he has won a number of book prizes as well .This also ties in with my current set of Euro 2016 related books as it follows his life in recent years tracking the Belgium team.
In Brussels, in the playgrounds of primary school no. 9 , we used to play football at break time and the criterion used ro seprate the two teams was nopt little versus big or fair versus dark or year four versus year five, it was moral versus religion . At the start of the year, in this secular school on rue Americaine in Ixelles, you effectively had to choose between Moral and religion, according to whether you parents or we ourselves wanted to take catechism classes.
I love this way they choose the teams in my day it was against a wall and I was often near the end .
The book is a collection of short essays about his early life and football , things like playing with friends , getting a bad injury whilst a kid. what jersey he loves.I like the insight into shirts and teams we always think of certain teams and colours his examples are France in Blue, Brazil in Yellow and Germany in White.But what happens when they don’t where that shirt of course here in the England this was the case on our biggest game ever the 66 final where the team wore red shirts! Then he finally watches matches as an adult first in France 98 which strangely serves as a mid-point in the book and a tying to the end of the book as of course both involve the french player Zidane.Toussaints memories are tied to his team Belgium and their course through the cup which in this case was three draws . Then what follows is how he sees the team at the following world cups the next saw them make the 2nd round only to lose to Brazil.then the missing belgium team means a short piece on 2006. Then South Africa also a year without Belgium . The work is rounded off with an earlier piece he wrote on Zidane about the mad night 2006 when Zidane end his career getting sent off for the first time for headbutting an italian player in an act out-of-place for the great player and hero of the first year Toussaint talks about .
Night has fallen over Berlin now, the intensity if the light has faded and Zidane has suddenly felt the sky darkening over his shoulders, leaving nothing in the firmament but the flayed trails of blck and pink clouds. Water mixed with night is an old remorse that will not sleep
No one in the stadium has understood what just happened.
That moment in 2006 from the piece Zidane’s melancholy
Now I find hard not to like this book as Toussaint is a true football fan , the real shame for me is the book ends just as the story of his team and country is about to turn the book ends in 2010 , when in 2014 the belgium team makes it quarter-final and even this time have been maybe the best team or second best team at euro 2016 so far with their team of stars. So lets hope we get a football 2 with these years at some point Toussaints take on Hazzard, Fellani and so on. The Belgium team is packed with talent not seen since the days of Enzo Scifo the great Belgium player with the Italian name that caught the eye in the 80s world cups where they finished 4th in 86 and Scifo was one of the stars of that year.This is one of the best football books I have read. But for further reading on the Benelux football I would point you in the way of Brilliant Orange a book on the mad genius of Dutch football .