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Review - How to Score - Ken Bray

 

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Not, as the name might suggest, a laddish guide to social interaction, but instead, as the subtitle teasingly reveals: "science and the beautiful game." Yes, it's about football (soccer).

This is probably the best point to reveal that this reviewer is not the game's greatest fan. I've only ever been to one professional match, and seen a handful of games on the TV. So, to be honest, this was a book in danger of being eternally shuffled to the bottom of the review pile.

It was quite a relief, then - no, to be honest it was a wonderful shock - to read the first chapter and find that it was genuinely interesting. The history of the game - its early development from the rough and tumble mass medieval games, the formation of different approaches from the English public schools, the split between the Rugby Football (the predecessor of American football) and Association Football (soccer) - it's all highly engaging, even if you don't care at all about the game itself.

A touch of the anorak (the one-time uniform of British trainspotters, and hence a term for nerdish enthusiasm) emerges in the second chapter, where there is a bit too much about different playing positions (well, a lot too much) for any but the enthusiast - it does seem to go on for ever.

From there on it the chapters are mixed for the non-enthusiast. There's some fascinating material on how different spins can cause the ball to swerve in mid-flight, on the mind games of motivation and on the analysis of players' movement, but you have to set these against chapters like the one on set pieces, which gets overly techie.

Taken as a whole, I was neither over the moon, nor sick as a parrot. I have no doubt a football enthusiast with an interest in science will lap this up, but I don't think it lives up to the promise of that first chapter in appealing to someone with a general interest in science but no interest in football. That's a shame, but perhaps it's inevitable. After all, t's only a game, Brian.

Only in paperback

Reviewed by Brian Clegg

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Last update 05 June 2007