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Given how long it's been played and how many books have been written about it, any new history of football needs to have some kind of hook to make it stand out. Gavin Mortimer may have found that, but presenting his history as ''A History of Football in 100 Objects''. This prompts the question as to whether the whole of football could be reduced down to a mere century of objects. But then, if Chris Waring's "From 0 to Infinity in 26 Centuries" can make a history of maths worth reading, I guess anything is possible.
In terms of the span, this is certainly a comprehensive history, beginning with a school bench to represent the origins of the game and ending with FIFA's Ballon D'Or, which is the current trophy given to the world's best player. The book is completely up to date, covering the recent demise of Glasgow Rangers as well as events since the close of the 2011-2012 season. Thinking through what I know of the history of football, I can't recall offhand any important event that hasn't been covered here, with vital innovations such as substitutions and red cards all included, as are less vital innovations such as the vuvuzela.
In terms of the objects themselves, there are some interesting decisions here. Although clearly carefully selected, some of them do require a little explanation. The use of a £1 coin to represent the downfall of Rangers is relatively easy to explain, but the NASA logo for the 1970 Brazil side takes a little more effort. Although Mortimer is able to link his objects with what they are meant to represent, there were moments where I moved onto the next object and immediately thought "what?" Things soon settled out, but it did prove a minor distraction.
On occasion, the tone used was also slightly distracting in parts. Although the flow of the words works well, the tone comes across at times as if Mortimer is giving a lecture, rather than having a chat. Where Martin Kelner's "Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV" was written in the warm tones of a TV presenter, this book is written in a stiffer, slightly more formal tone. Whilst this doesn't detract from the content, it does make it a little more difficult to read than other books I've read. This becomes more obvious when Mortimer is criticising Sepp Blatter and FIFA, which he does fairly frequently.
It also means that this is a book that seems to be lacking passion, as the stiff tone doesn't permit an awful lot of that to come through. For a game largely built upon the dedication of the fans and players, this absence does create a bit of a hole and that's more obviously absent than any object Mortimer could have missed out. Given that one of his objects is the prawn sandwich Roy Keane referred to when he criticised the lack of passion shown by corporate fans at Old Trafford, this seems to be a strange omission.
But these things should not detract from what is a comprehensively researched and well presented history of football. The unusual basis of the idea makes the book stand out as being different and well worth looking out as a gift for the football fan in your life. It may well be slightly better in theory than I found it to be in practice, but the theory is distinctive enough to make it worthwhile, even if the cheapest price of £3.64 plus postage from the Amazon Marketplace suggests that the football fan in question would ideally need to have a fairly prominent place in your life for it to be worth spending that amount on a present with only limited novelty value.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk