November 1, 2014

Club Soccer 101

Almost five years ago, I found myself in Istanbul, wearing a yellow and navy kit, cheering on the local football team in a raucous stadium that shook from the screaming thousands that made up the home crowd.

I was there on a business trip, but early into the trip, I met Dilek, a young woman with an interest in fashion, good food, and dancing. Our evenings, after long days at work, were spent meeting up with her friends at chic local bars, followed by delicious dinners where she did all the ordering; we, of course, would spend the rest of the night dancing.

One night, towards the end of the trip, I was greeted by Dilek with a yellow and navy kit and a ride to Sukru Saracoglu Stadium to watch Fenerbahçe play one of their rivals, Besiktas.

I must have mentioned my football fandom to her at some point during the trip; the Fenerbahçe match was a most wonderful surprise. The crowd was electric — like no sporting audience I had ever seen in North America — and the rumble during the silences made all the seats tremble. When the fans actually got loud, the noise was deafening and the stadium felt as though it would crumble from the intensity.

Fenerbahçe won the match; it was one of the greatest sporting experiences I’ve ever witnessed. The zeal, sound, insanity of the crowd was unforgettable. This was football fandom at its best.

It is that fandom, that enthusiasm rooted in history that Luke Dempsey describes in Club Soccer 101. In it, he tells you everything you need to know about 101 of the world’s greatest football teams, and he tells their histories and stories with wonderful with and humor.

Reading about Ajax and the rise of Total Football reminded of weekend mornings spent watching the Eredevisie matches with my dad. As a Liverpool fan, seeing that club’s name appear in the histories (for better or for worse) of dozens of other teams made me laugh. On our recent trip to Bali, we found ourselves in a van with a couple from Mexico City — I had just read Dempsey’s descriptions of certain Mexican football clubs, and was able to hold my own in a comparison of the merits of Chivas versus Club América.

Club Soccer 101 won’t divulge any great secrets to any huge fans of the sport, but Dempsey’s prose is entertaining and his retelling of key moments in football history will make any enthusiast smile.

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