Monday, March 12, 2012

Travels in Eastern European Football by Jonathan Wilson

I have nearly finished this quite chunky book - I'm halfway through Armenia, after reading the former Yugoslav republics, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Georgia and Bulgaria. Every now and then I snap out of the world of the book and ask myself - why am I reading this? It is full of names of players and clubs that I will not remember, and secondhand accounts of games in Plovdiv, Perm and Pest that may or may not have been fixed by the mafia or the secret police, details of which I have already forgotten. The names, of course, are torturous, (try ŁKS Łódź) and I have already encountered a whole new kind of umlaut, the Hungarumlaut. ( I have a little bet with myself that no-one will click on that link.)

In the dark days pre-Gorbachev, (see vague rant from last week) each major Eastern-bloc city had a soccer club run by the army, one run by the police and one run by the Ministry of the Interior (secret police). There was a lot of match fixing to ensure the right club won the right cup. At least, there was enough corruption around that any unpopular result would always be written off as a fix.

It is quite interesting, but quite a grim read, in the sense that since democracy and self-determination came on the scene, the football has generally gone to the dogs, and the vacuum created when government patronage ended has in many cases been filled by organised crime.

Here is one sentence that essentially sums up the whole book. Once I'd read this I realised that this (with a few stellar exceptions) is what the story of Eastern European football boils down to. Wilson is talking about an Armenian club, Dinamo Yerevan;
"Success, though, was denied them by the usual tangle of Machiavellian intrigue and the fact that they weren't very good"

No comments: