“This is sport writing as it should be written” – Football by Jean-Phillipe Toussaint

fjptGiven Toussaint’s rather highbrow reputation, and the opposing opinion of football as the hobby of the ‘common man’, it seems almost impossible that the two should fit together. But here they are. The work of an award-winning novelist, film-maker, and photographer, focusing on the sport of the masses. And, in fact, a great deal of this work dwells on that disconnect. Beginning with the line ‘this is a book that no one will like’, Toussaint immediately admits that this work of non-fiction might piss off the football purist as much as it alienates the ardent intellectual.

Despite his insistence on the opposite, though, this author may have found a way to appease these two competing audiences. Because Toussaint never really talks about football. Or not in the way you might expect, anyway. Instead, he weaves a tale around the ways in which our nation’s favourite sport has affected his life; from his favourite childhood memories to the times when he has needed something to drag him through his depression and his difficulties with writing and relationships.

While he freely admits that, like many of us, he has become disillusioned with the big money and corruption that now sits at the heart of the sport, you can clearly see that football is almost a source of fuel in his life. Perhaps the most exciting and involving sections of the work are when he talks of the experience of watching a game. Without mentioning a single player or score line he can perfectly dramatise that feeling of watching a match and letting all your other troubles slide away. And while this might be something that only football fans can fully understand, other readers will recognise that sensation from their own lives.

There is a superb section towards the end when Toussaint reminisces over the time he retired to a cabin to finish a novel while the World Cup was on in South Africa. He wasn’t going to watch a single game. Then, while scrolling through the scores online, he learnt of the possibility of live streaming. He was soon sitting down to watch Holland vs Argentina. Then, when his internet died, he tried everything he could to find the result of the match’s penalty shootout. There is a huge amount of humour in this section, as there is in the whole book, but there is also an example of the passion that football can instil in any of us. A demonstration of how those who let the sport into our hearts struggle to ever let it go.

Any Cop?: This is a lovely little work of non-fiction. Football fans will feel a particular affinity to it but others will find joy in its honesty and openness, its reflections on life and writing, and its musings on the things that make us who we are. This is sport writing as it should be written.

 

Fran Slater


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