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Perfect Pitch
Ed. Simon Kuper (Headline 1997, £7.99)
Perfect Pitch is a new periodical publication designed to proved a forum for intelligent and innovative writing about football. Edited by Simon Kuper of Football Against The Enemy fame (and probably not fortune), the first edition includes pieces on topics as diverse as Faustino Asprilla, Cardiff City, referees and Paul Mortimer.

The intentions behind all this aren't perhaps as laudable as the contributors would like to believe. There's a thinly veiled snobbery at work here - the kind of superior attitude that values profundity and sophistication over heart and soul, that turns its nose up at football fans for their blinkered fanaticism. I wouldn't particularly care if that attitude didn't exclude my favourite writer, the godlike When Saturday Comes absurdist Matt Nation - if there's no room for his wayward drivel in future editions, Perfect Pitch will have failed in its stated aim to publish the best new football writing.

So, this ain't the Brimsons. Perfect Pitch drops in knowing references to Trollope novels and makes gags about Sartre. It attempts to explore the footballer's psyche rather than gossiping about off-pitch hell-raising or drooling over idols. It makes no apologies for being extraordinarily pretentious in places. If your experience of football writing stretches no further than the News Of The World sports pages, you might as well save yourself eight quid.

Despite all this, there's a fair amount of familiar territory here, especially if you frequent the pages of WSC. The analyses of Maradona, Asprilla and Cantona, for example, are interesting enough in a 'sensible journalism' kinda way - and if the word 'interesting' sounds like the sort of term people like me use to condemn dull, worthy writing, then you're probably right. At least the essay on Cantona's 'hidden shallows' is genuinely adventurous.

Beyond that, there are a few pieces of half-arsed fiction (I'm afraid that I've ploughed through enough dreary short stories to last several lifetimes); a fascinating wander through the history of football fiction that scores a fine own goal in injury time by only giving The Football Factory the most cursory of mentions; an entirely run-of-the-mill rant about referees, of the kind you could find in any fanzine; an occasionally hilarious Euro 96 diary and an excellent, inventive interview with Charlton midfielder Paul Mortimer that actually, remarkably, reveals something of the life of a married footballer.

But what connects too much of this is an absence of humanity. It's clever, it's witty, it's full of integrity and (here we go...) interest. Warmth? Beauty? Passion? Not really. And it's that lack which prevents most of the writing here making the transition from mere magazine articles to prose as potent as we all know the subject matter deserves.

But Perfect Pitch does attain brilliance twice. You should own it for Hugo Borst's moving account of the career of Marco Van Basten through the eyes of his father, a man who ignored doctor's orders and urged his son to risk being crippled in pursuit of a career in football. It is writing filled with compassion and it tells the story of Marco's prematurely curtailed talent with magnificent grace. It is worth eight pounds of anyone's money, if only because it totally escapes the shackles of 'writing about football'.

More traditional but no less wonderful is Dannie Abse's trawl through his life as a follower of Cardiff City. It's not ground-breaking - there's little that you won't find in Fever Pitch - yet it captures some treasured memories in rich, evocative prose. Added to that, it made me laugh out loud on several occasions - such base instincts aren't always foremost in Perfect Pitch and, more than anything, Abse proves that it is possible to write well about football without getting precious.

These two are the highlights of a collection that occasionally veers towards mundanity. The praise that Perfect Pitch has already received, particularly from the broadsheet press, seems to be tied in with that inherent snobbishness - there is already a great deal of excellent, varied football writing out there, it's just that it frequently doesn't come in such an accessible form. So this isn't a revolution.

Don't let all that put you off, though. These pages contain much that is worth reading and at least two pieces that are simply essential.

Ian Grant