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.