“The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer” by David Goldblatt (Riverhead, 2008)

The Ball is Roundstarstarstar

The Ball is Round is possibly the most comprehensive and thorough book on the sport of football or soccer – depending on where you’re reading this from – ever compiled and written; weighing in at a smidge under a thousand pages, after reading it cover to cover you will be able to hold an argument with any well versed football hooligan on the planet, or have a discussion with any professional sportscaster.  While David Goldblatt hasn’t much to his name, other than the Dorling Kindersley World Football Yearbook, The Ball is Round is an ideal book whether you consider yourself a soccer aficionado who knows everything there is to know, or whether you’re new to the sport and wish to satisfy a curiosity.

Goldblatt begins at the beginning with a somewhat brief but complete history of soccer, due to the lack of evidence on the subject.  While he doesn’t necessarily say one specific country was the sole creator of the international sport, he does indicate that England was the first to play the closest relation to the modern day version.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting look back at the different cultures that used a type of ball for sport, such as in China, where it would be bounced off the trunks of trees, or a simplified version that was played in the Americas involving not just feet, but hands and all parts of the body.

It is during the nineteenth century that football or soccer as we know came to be played and here Goldblatt outdoes him with the details of people, places and times, going up through the years and decades.  Once passed the First World War, Goldblatt breaks it down even further, dividing the time periods by location, from Europe to Latin America to Africa.  But the author doesn’t simply tell the complete history of soccer, but also relates to the importance of culture, economics, sociology, and anthropology.  For a sport that has become so ingrained in so many societies for some time – for countries like Spain and Italy and South America where it is the lifeblood – Goldblatt goes beyond just the sport, but extending it as a metaphor for the world, the ultimate uniter.

Twenty years in the making, Goldblatt traveled to many different places around the world for both research and inspiration.  There is even a preface for the paperback edition where he discusses why soccer has not become as popular and prevalent a sport in the United States as it has in the rest of the world, explaining its completely different pacing, layout, and scoring system as opposed to the major American sports like baseball, football, and basketball.  The Ball is Round literally has something for everyone, and with a thorough list of contents and index, along with some interesting photos, it’s also the ideal reference manual.

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Originally written on February 16th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.