Book Review: Football’s Fifty Most Important Moments by Ben Jones and Gareth Thomas

Choosing fifty moments that define football seems generous enough on the face of it, but when it comes down to a sport that has been in existence for over 150 years, things aren’t quite so clear-cut. So, hats off to Ben Jones and Gareth Thomas – writers of ‘The Football History Boys blog’ – for taking on this challenge – and the inevitable questions and debates that will follow – in their book Football’s 50 Most Important Moments.

As the title suggests, the book aims not to map the greatest or best moments in the course of the beautiful game, but those moments that have shaped the sport and made it what it is, but as the authors highlight, “the list of 50 moments will no doubt be different for each and every individual”, so whilst the book tries to give a comprehensive history of the key moments in the game, these are, naturally, open to opinion.

The book begins in 1857 and is split into eras right through to 2018 and the introduction of VAR – certainly one of the most important moments in modern football – and arguably far from the greatest! Along the way, the fifty moments take in everything, from World Cups to World Wars, hooliganism to the Hand of God, flitting between domestic and national scenes to continental and international, encompassing individuals and teams and covering both tragedy and victory. Chapters are short and don’t become too prosaic and readers can easily opt to read the book from cover to cover or just pick and choose chapters of note to dip into. The authors also provide references for further reading, but, if I’m being, ultra-picky, I did find the footnotes on each page a bit of an annoyance and would have preferred them all collated at the back of the book, but that’s a minor quibble.

In terms of the selection of the fifty moments themselves, readers are likely to be familiar with at least some of them, but even those that are familiar are detailed well and may offer up new information. I also found a number of moments that I’d heard of or knew in passing but which the book offered further explanation on, as well as a couple of moments that were entirely new to me. In general, though, most of the fifty moments are likely to be familiar to some degree, but I suspect even the most learned football fan will pick up some nuggets of information, even if it’s only the fact that the Man City megastore ran out of the letter O after Aguero’s Premier-League-winning goal in 2012 and Martin Tyler’s iconic ‘Aguerooooo’ (is that the right number of O’s? It’s easy to see how they ran out) commentary. What is striking about this history of football is the extent to which it is interwoven with tragedy – all of which have left indelible marks on the game and it is fitting that these are remembered.

Whilst some of the fifty moments are unquestionable – the formation of the FA; the first World Cup – as the authors had outlined, the choices are subjective, and there were a few that I wasn’t entirely convinced by, especially some of the later inclusions, such as that of the 1998 World Cup and latterly Zidane’s headbutt, both of them undeniably memorable, but the most important, I’m not sure. Similarly, there were a few moments conspicuous by their absence, and, in particular, whilst the roots of women’s football are acknowledged, further mentions of the women’s game, and especially its rise in recent decades, are excluded, even in a section of Honourable Mentions that adds a further ten moments that just missed the top fifty. For me, a chapter on the first Women’s World Cup or the formation of The FA Women’s Super League would warrant inclusion above either the 1998 World Cup or Zidane’s headbutt, and Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ would trump ‘Agueroooo’s goal – although I suspect Man City fans would think otherwise. Such debates just go to show how tricky is the task the authors faced, but it’s also really interesting and thought-provoking. For instance, whilst both England’s 1966 World Cup victory and Manchester United’s Treble are included, in terms of football as a whole and as a global game, just how important would these moments be judged elsewhere? Would Real Madrid’s La Decima (tenth winning of the European Cup/Champions League) be prioritised in a more global view or Indonesia’s appearance as the first Asian team at a World Cup in 1938? Again, such questions simply prove that there is no such thing as a definitive list of the most important footballing moments, but Jones and Thomas do an admirable job of getting the ball rolling. In providing their selections, the authors have created a book that not only brings their chosen moments to the fore but also encourages discussion of others. In shining a spotlight on certain moments in football history, the book also paradoxically brings others to light as it engages readers to consider the selections and weigh up the inclusions and exclusions. Football’s Fifty Most Important Moments is thus an informative read, but, more crucially, a thought-provoking one.

Jade Craddock 


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Posted February 19, 2021 by Editor in category "Reviews

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