Book Review: Following Football by John Hopton

Imagine an evening with your mates down the pub. You’ve been abroad and now are back to recount the stories from your adventure. The conversation is at times laddish, sometimes humorous, occasionally informative, but inevitably centres on football. In book form this is what Following Football by John Hopton essentially is.

At only 156 pages the book very much has the feel of a travel diary as Hopton moves through various countries including China, Germany, Russia and South Africa to his final destination Brazil. It mixes observations on visits to stadiums and games, with anecdotes about the people he meets, the places he stays, told in an engaging manner.

Hopton’s premise for this book is to, “look at the global anatomy of football and how it varies from country to country” with his final destination the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, “assessing how-well suited different cities and stadiums are to the craic that should be part of all football experiences.”

In truth it is a lofty ambition given that there is so much other content that Hopton covers within the pages. Whilst there is no getting away from the fact that Following Football is an enjoyable and very readable book, it suffers from attempting to cover too much ground within its pages.


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Book Review: A Lack of Thrill in Brazil – A Diary of England’s World Cup Disaster by Dean Blunden

Not just a lack of thrill in Brazil…

…It took me several attempts to read this kindle offering. If you want a book which is packed full of stats – that in all honestly you don’t need to know and have no real relevance – then this is the book for you.

I don’t care how many caps John Ruddy has or anyone else on Roy Hodgson’s standby list for that matter. What I do care about is being entertained or informed when I read.

Reading is something I do for enjoyment and reliving the catastrophe that was England’s World Cup is not something I want to do for fun. I know most England fans thrive on purgatory, you only have to watch one of the games to see that, but to want to read about it is not my idea of a good time.

Perhaps in 20 or 30 years time when we look back with ‘rose-tinted’ glasses at World Cups’ gone by, and ask, “I wonder who played right-back in the friendly against Peru?” will this book find its purpose.

This is not a diary in the sense of Bridget Jones’s Diary or The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, which both have various plot strands. The only story in the book is the much maligned and analysed performance of the England football team and we all know how it ended. The newspapers and television companies spent millions on coverage and commentary of the tournament so do we really need a book to remind us what happened?

Blunden doesn’t provide any insight into the England story nor does it reveal anything new. It’s merely a collection of match reports and articles similar to those that we read at the time and which have now have been consigned to the bin.

If he had been in Brazil or at least spoken to someone who was there, then he may have found something new to talk about. There are so many stories that come out of every World Cup that to focus on what we already know seems a little futile.

I want to find out something I didn’t read in the newspapers or see over and over again on the TV. Stories like people surviving on crisps at the 2002 World Cup because they had spent all their money in the first week would have helped bring this book to life.

This book must have been a labour of love for the author, because I can see no other reason for him to write it. The headlines that littered the text were straight from newspapers and there is no colour in any of his descriptions. This is due to the fact that Blunden was not in Brazil leaving his descriptions of the game to be factual and without emotion.

For example, on reading the report of the Italy game, there is no sense of the oppressive heat of Manus, the tension of being a goal down or the passionate release when Sturridge equalised. There is none of that emotional rollercoaster that might have made this book interesting, only a factual description of the game. Blunden doesn’t even make a reference to the legions of fans who stayed up late back in England either huddled round a TV or packed in a bar and who at the final whistle speedily retired home to bed hoping that when they awoke it would have all been a nasty dream.

We all have our own thoughts on why England faired so badly – we don’t need to read the match reports of a fellow fan – or perhaps I have completely missed the point of this book and I’m in a minority of one?

For all this though, I hope that Dean produces another book because there is evidence of skill in his writing and has clearly put a huge amount of effort into this book. However, in future he needs to inject some colour and feeling into his writing and find the story.

Stories are about people – so tell me about the people because I know all about the team; I watched it painfully unfold with my own eyes.


Ed Williams


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FIFA World Cup 2014 – Postscript

As the Final between Germany and Argentina entered the second-period of extra-time, I desperately wanted a goal from either side to settle the contest rather than it go to penalties. The reason? Brazil 2014 has been a memorable tournament and it needed to be sealed with something special.

Thankfully it arrived on 113 minutes, Schurrle (who had done well whenever he came off the bench for the Germans), bustled down the wing before delivering a ball inside where another substitute, Gotze, controlled it beautifully on the chest before volleying home. A wonderful finish to a brilliant competition.

My memories of World Cup Finals stretch back to 1978 and I can’t remember there being a better tournament for the quality of games, the drama and the shocks. Who saw Italy and Spain not making it out of the Groups stages? Did anyone see Portugal being dismantled so easily by the Germans? Costa Rica in the Quarter-Finals?

Of course the competition could so easily have been remembered for the Suarez biting incident, and it therefore needed an even bigger story to wipe away the tawdry behaviour of the disgraced Uruguayan and thankfully it duly arrived as Germany humiliated the host nation Brazil 7-1. That was and will always be a significant moment in football history; nobody who watched it will ever forget it. The Brazilians with the ghost of the 1950 loss to Uruguay embedded into their psyche now have added a skeleton that would fill a mansion never mind a cupboard.

The fear from the media and perhaps even from within the country, was that going into the tournament, Brazil off the pitch was not ready to host the biggest competition in football. The irony is that actually it was on the pitch that Brazil weren’t ready.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Sunday 13 July 2014

Of course we all know that it is the World Cup Final between Argentina and Germany tonight. However, at Adidas Headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, there will be celebrations whatever the outcome as the winning team will be wearing kit made by the German company. Nike had to make-do with their two big-hitters (Brazil and Netherlands) squabbling over the play-off fixture yesterday.

Replica kits are big business and having your teams in the showpiece game affords major publicity and advertsing that is priceless. So who are the ‘Kit Kings’ from the World Cup Finals? I’ve started from 1974 as prior that point kit manufacturers logo’s didn’t appear on the playing shirts.

1974       West Germany: Adidas

1978       Argentina: Adidas

1982       Italy: Le Coq Sportif

1986       Argentina: Le Coq Sportif

1990       West Germany: Adidas

1994       Brazil: Umbro

1998       France: Adidas

2002       Brazil: Nike

2006       Italy: Puma

2010       Spain: Adidas

It’s probably no surprise that Adidas top the list given that they have been around since 1924 and have always sponsored the German national team. As a point of interest both Puma and Umbro were founded in 1924, but their respective records are poor by comparison. As for American giants Nike, they are a relatively new company, being founded in 1971 and came into football sponsorship (in Europe) much later. Their prize contract is that of Brazil which came into force in 1996. Even older that Adidas and popular in the 1980’s were Le Coq Sportif, founded in 1882, but no longer a major player in international football kits, but their involvement in football was enough to scoop two World Cup winners.

However, when you look around the streets week-in-week out, what is the international shirt that people are wearing (excluding England)? Invariably it is a Brazilian shirt – is that the power of Nike or the myth of Brazil as the ‘spiritual home of football’?

Whatever the result tonight, I can’t see a boom in the sale of German or Argentinian shirts in England…

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Saturday 12 July 2014

Ahead of the 3rd & 4th Place Play-off game later today, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal has said, “this match should never be played. I’ve been saying that for 10 years – it’s unfair…there is only one award that counts and that is becoming world champions.”

Now whilst many may consider that the fixture holds little merit and is the game that nobody wants to play in, the fact is that when you enter the competition you know it is there, it’s part of the tournament and therefore it’s a possibility you may have to take part in it – whether you like it or not. Of course the only prize is that of becoming World Champions, but only one team can achieve that.

You might think that this game was a recent addition to the World Cup as a way of providing extra revenue and another fixture for the media to fill their pages or airtime with. However, the play-off was introduced as early as the second tournament in 1934 hosted by Italy, where Germany beat Austria 3-2.

But I digress. Van Gaal feels that to possibly end the tournament by losing two games is ‘unfair’. I don’t see it. If he’s talking about whether a coach stays in a job on the outcome of this play-off game, well again I don’t agree. A win over the Netherlands by Brazil tonight is not going to save Scolari’s position as coach.

Given that this fixture is likely to be the last as national coach for both men, how do they approach it? Do they field their strongest available team and go for the win? Do all those who haven’t played get a run-out? Surely they both want to leave their positions with a victory?

It will also be interesting to see how the Brazilian public react after the mauling on Tuesday. Will they get behind their team and come out in numbers, or will they shun the side that was widely condemned in the media in the days after the Germany defeat?

See Louis, there is a sub-plot…it’s just not all about you.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Thursday 10 July 2014

The second Semi-Final was always going to struggle to shine after the events of Tuesday night and indeed the ninety minutes of normal time were as damp as the weather conditions in Sao Paulo.

None of the ‘big’ names stood out as even the basics seemed to be beyond both teams at times. However, the Dutch ended the stronger of the sides in ninety minutes and Robben was denied a late winner by an excellent block tackle from Mascherano.

The first period of extra-time brought no chances for either team despite the fact the game was becoming stretched. Eventually, Argentina woke up with five minutes to go in the second period, when Palacio had a chance, but he tamely headed into the hands of Cillessen. Almost immediately a rare break from Messi created a chance for Maxi Rodriguez, but his shot lacked power. And that was that…and so to penalties.

With the Dutch having made all their substitutions, there was no option for them to bring on the penalty hero Krul. Therein lies a conundrum. If van Gaal hadn’t used all his substitutes would he have brought Krul on again? If it worked once why wouldn’t it work again if the coach believed (as he stated) in the reasoning of using a keeper with better height and reach? For me, Cillessen was left in a difficult position as he was under pressure to perform given Krul’s exploits. In these penalties though it was the Argentinian keeper Sergio Romero who was the hero with penalty saves from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder. It was another blow to hosts Brazil as their arch-rivals made it through to the showpiece event.

So no repeat of the ’74 Final in Munich, but a repeat of the Finals from Mexico in 1986 and Italy in 1990 as Germany take on Argentina on Sunday. For the shell-shocked Brazilians and the Netherlands they have the ‘pleasure’ of the 3rd/4th Place Play-off fixture on Saturday.

One last effort gents and we are nearly there.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Wednesday 09 July 2014

I really must stop my late night port and Stilton snack before bedtime. It gives you the weirdest dreams. Last night I dreamt that Brazil lost 7-1 at home in a World Cup Semi-Final. Really? No, please you’re kidding me – what do you mean it wasn’t a dream…

It was quite simply the craziest six minutes of a football game I have ever seen as Germany scored four goals against a Brazil side that simply imploded, and in the process tarnished the name of the great Brazilian teams of the past. Do I feel sorry for them? Not a bit. The antics of Marcelo and coach Scolari in the opening game against Croatia and their fortunate penalty in that fixture set me against the hosts from day one. And in amongst their spineless display against Germany last night, they dived and were cynical in the tackle. Okay they aren’t the only team in this tournament doing it, but for me the myth about Brazil and their tradition for the ‘beautiful game’ was shattered. Credit to the Germans they beat what was in front of them and good luck to them in the Final. Congratulations also to Klose for setting a new record for goals in World Cup Finals.

What that result does is keep alive my images of 1974; British referee Jack Taylor, that first minute penalty, Cruyyf, Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller – the incredible structure that was the Olympic Stadium in Munich. It was the first Final I remember watching and it will always take me back to a time of youthful innocence.

For a repeat of that ’74 Final the Dutch have to overcome Argentina. The game later today brings back memories of the 1978 Final in South America which the hosts won 3-1 in extra-time. Those ’78 Finals were the first time I watched most of the games and can remember staying up in the early hours, listening to the wonderful commentary of David Coleman. But the teams also met four years earlier in West Germany in 1974 when the Dutch romped to a 4-0 win – ‘total football’ with goals from Cruyyf (2), Rep and Krol. A time when the phrase, ‘the future’s bright, the future’s orange’ referred only to Dutch football.

More genius was to follow when the teams next met in 1998 and is remembered for the memorable finish from Dennis Bergkamp in time added-on to clinch a 2-1 win which took the Netherlands into the Semi-Finals. However for all those classic Dutch memories, the last meeting in the Finals came in 2006 in Germany when they met in the group stages and they played out a 0-0. We’ll forgive both teams for that one as both teams had effectively qualified for the knock-out stages.

What can we expect tonight? After last night, to try and make any sort of prediction about the result seems like madness. Surely nothing will top the events in Belo Horizonte?

Make mine a large port…

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Tuesday 08 July 2014

The only fixture between these sides previously in a World Cup tournament was in the 2002 Final held at the International Stadium in Yokohama. The Brazilians triumphed with two goals from Ronaldo scored in the 67th and 79th minutes as the country won their fifth World Cup.

For the hosts the big question is how they cope without the injured Neymar and the suspended Thiago Silva. It might allow others to step up to take centre-stage or could leave Brazil without inspiration and leadership. If it does the Germans will look to exploit this weakness. Germany coach Joachim Loew has not been afraid to change his starting line-up and formations during this tournament.

The Quarter- Finals were probably the first stage of these Finals where the more dour ‘cat and mouse’ approach to games was more evident. Granted there were some grandstand finishes and drama, such as in the Netherlands v Costa Rica game, but the Germany v France/Argentina v Belgium fixtures with one goal victories were on the whole uninspiring. Is this because there is more at stake in these fixtures or are teams beginning to feel the exertions of the conditions in South America? It’s probably a combination of the two.

As much as I’d love tonight to be a thrilling 4-3 exhibition of attacking football, I really can’t see that happening. For me it’ll be another game settled by a single goal. I would love Germany to make it through so that I’ll have my sweepstake team in the Final and will hopefully the first leg in ensuring a repeat of the 1974 World Cup Final.

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Friday 04 July 2014

Friday 04 July 2014

France v Germany

As West Germany these two teams have met in three World Cup tournaments. The first was in 1958 when in the Third Place Play-off game France emerged winners 6-3. The next encounter in 1982 was perhaps the most memorable and not only for a dramatic game that after finishing 3-3 saw West Germany win 5-4 on penalties, but for an unpunished ‘assault’ by German keeper on Patrick Battiston that saw the Frenchman injured suffering two missing teeth, three cracked ribs, and damaged vertebrae. The last encounter was in 1986 when in a Semi-Final Germany emerged 2-0 winners with goals from Brehme and Voller.

This could be close encounter and maybe goes all the way to penalties. With my sweepstake money riding on Germany, its Deutschland gehen!

Brazil v Colombia

In their fourteen international meetings, Brazil have won seven, Colombia just the once and the remaining six games have been draws. In fact the last four meetings have been drawn. They have never met in the Finals of the World Cup.

During this tournament both teams are unbeaten, with Columbia still boasting a 100% record with four wins out of four. Despite the number of draws between these South American neighbours this one will be settled in normal time and could be a battle between the respective No: 10?s. For Brazil there is Neymar, whilst Colombia have James Rodríguez who currently plays his club football at Monaco. Rodriguez is the leading scorer with five goals having score in every game so far. Neymar is just behind with four goals and also handled the pressure in slotting home the winning penalty against Chile in the last round.

As Brazil progress the pressure intensifies so the expectation of a nation grows. Is this the round where it all goes wrong for the hosts? Will it be James who’ll be making the Brazilian fans sit down?


Saturday 05 July 2014

Argentina v Belgium

Only two meetings between the teams and both at World Cup tournaments. In 1982 they were drawn together in Group 3 and in the opening game in that group, Belgium emerged winners 1-0 win a goal from Erwin Vandenbergh. Both qualified from the group but then finished bottom of their second round groups after losing both games. In 1986 they played in the Semi-Final where two goals from Maradona put Argentina on their way to the Final and a second World Cup title.

Argentina came under massive criticism for their lacklustre win over Switzerland, when Messi seemed to be the only player for the South Americans to put in a performance. Belgium have quietly gone about their business, with coach Marc Wilmots getting the most out of a squad that seems to have a strong unity and work ethic.

Messi to be the difference between the teams.

Netherlands v Costa Rica

These two have never played each other. Costa Rica the surprise package, against a Netherlands team epitomised by Arjen Robben. A man who has such talent, but prone to a spot of diving and more than happy to have a moan at the officials.

Surely the Costa Rican run will come to an end? Their captain Bryan Ruiz made his name at Gent and FC Twente in the Netherlands and it would be ironic if he could put out the Dutch.

Looking across the fixtures, it’s interesting to note that the most influential players often wear the No: 10 shirt. England’s wearer of that shirt? Rooney. No don’t get me started…

FIFA World Cup 2014 – Wednesday 02 July 2014

In the office World Cup predictions competition I had the following as the Quarter-Final line-up:

Brazil v England

France v Portugal

Netherlands v Italy

Argentina v Belgium

The reality as we now know after yesterday’s final last sixteen games is:

Brazil v Colombia

France v Germany

Netherlands v Costa Rica

Argentina v Belgium

63% success rate – not bad. However, looking back the selection of England to make it this far was at best blind faith and at worst delusional. It also puts into perspective how well Costa Rica have done in getting this far at the expense of Italy.

Overall the last sixteen games have reflected the tournament’s group fixtures with late drama, goals and open play. There have been exceptions though and Argentina v Switzerland last night only sparked into life in the last five minutes of extra-time. However, there was also a great couple of minutes when the Brazilian fans in the crowd got behind the Swiss with chants of “ole, ole” as they strung together a few passes.

I honestly don’t think there is an obvious favourite to win the competition as all the teams have had some inspirational wins and some when they have looked very, very ordinary.

For me though the word of the last sixteen has been ‘plucky’. The reason being that the ‘big’ sides have emerged over the less fancied teams, but they have all been made to battle hard for a result. So although Chile, Nigeria, Algeria, Mexico, Switzerland and USA have now departed, they have done so with honour intact.