Book Review – The World at Your Feet: One Man’s Search for the Soul of the Beautiful Game by Tim Hartley
There is within the book a chapter titled, The Football Family, in which the author takes a tongue in cheek look at the range of fans, from the armchair variety concerned only with the Premier League and Champions League to those whose passion is seeking out the most obscure leagues, games and teams from around the globe. As Hartley says, “there’s no single kind of football supporter.”
And indeed through the 24 chapters of this eminently enjoyable and thought-provoking book, Hartley shows himself to be a fan of many facets. From the off readers get to understand how he came to be hooked on the game whilst attending the Wales v Yugoslavia European Championship Quarter-Final game in 1976, so beginning his love affair with the Welsh national team. Following the Y Dreigiau (The Dragons) has seen the author travel the world, sharing the high and lows with fellow supporters and his son Chester, even pulling on the red shirt as part of the Wales Supporters team. Whilst Hartley is a fixture at home and away with the national team, his club allegiance is with Cardiff City, following the Bluebirds as they moved from their spiritual home of Ninian Park to the Cardiff City Stadium. Hartley is no glory hunter, he understands what it is to be a fan – the hurt of defeat and the unbridled euphoria of victory. This is a man who has done the 92 and reflects on the completion of it at Barnet (when they were in the EFL) in the chapter Doing the 92.
He is also a supporter with a political and social conscience and with a story to tell, using a reportage style within the various chapters to explore with honesty narratives that lie just below the surface. So amongst the pages, readers will read how football is used as rehabilitation for inmates at HMP Prescoed in 90 Minutes of Freedom, discover how unification in Germany did no favours for clubs in the East in, One Game, Two Nations and how the political situation impacts the experience of watching football in North Korea and Hong Kong in the chapters, Kicking Off in North Korea and Red Star Over Hong Kong respectively. Hartley’s honesty in relaying his experiences is refreshing and his chapter on the 2014 World Cup Bem-vindo Ao Brasil (Welcome to Brazil) is a very telling one on FIFA and the legacy of tournaments such as this and others such as the African Cup of Nations (see chapter 16, First Clear The Goats).
This is an excellent must-read for anyone interested in the game and it is neatly rounded of with an Epilogue in which Hartley demonstrates his understanding as a journalist that “football is part of the globalised entertainment network” but “there is still much good…from bringing communities together and creating friendships to rehabilitating prisoners.” However, his final word is as a fan in that despite all that maybe wrong with the game and the people that run it, “if it weren’t for our support they wouldn’t exist. It’s we who put them there no matter how big they are.”
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2021. Paperback: 224 pages)
Tim Hartley is a journalist, broadcaster and author. He is a former vice chair of Supporters Direct and the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust and a director of the Wales Football Trust. He is the author of Kicking off in North Korea – Friendship and Football in Foreign Lands and edited Merci Cymru