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A Season with Verona - Tim Parks

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Genre: Travel / Author: Tim Parks / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 464 Pages / Book is published 2003-03-06 by Vintage

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      15.07.2003 22:45
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      "The football stadium excludes the world, reserves its mysteries for initiates. The TV cannot violate it, cannot even begin to catch it. It's a place of collective passion." Late September 2000. Hellas Verona, about to embark on another struggle against relegation, have lost their manager, half a team to the substitutes benches of Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Parma and their sponsors. The start of the football season has been delayed by the "grim athleticism and loathsome armchair nationalism" of the Sydney Olympics, and the owner has declared himself willing to sell the club as soon as he can find a buyer. Standing outside a closed bar in a grim suburb of Verona at 1.30am in the morning, Tim Parks is about to start a season following the most hated club in Italy. But this is more than just a book about football. A travel book infused with perceptive insights into the way Italians relate to football and to each other; how a weekend obsession interacts with the everyday business of work, family and extra-marital affairs. It's a peek behind the just-for-tourists veneer of rolling Chiantishire, rustic Tuscan villas, grand, imperial Rome and Pisa's Field of Miracles into a nation where rules are stretched to the point of absurdity - just as long as the results are profitable - drug tests can be positive, negative and not negative, and people "spend half their lives getting certificates, not learning to do things." Welcome to a country where you can buy bottles of Hitler and Mussolini wine with your morning cappuccino and croissant, and where four of the ten TV channels in a cheap Milan hotel room are showing football (including a fascinating analysis of every top flight team's chances for the season ahead based on astrological readings - "Reggina have too many Aquarians"), another a wizard contacting the dead on request, and a couple more phone-in tarot readings. Having lived in Vero
      na since 1981, Parks is at once a knowledgeable insider and a wide-eyed outsider. On his travels to away games with the notorious Brigate Gialloblu (Yellow-Blue Brigade) he becomes at times overly intoxicated with the insane self-parody of hardcore football supporters - the childishness, stupidity, camaraderie and enchantment of the group. Quite ordinary incidents - an encounter with a pretty young girl in a train compartment for example - are given undue prominence, and the book does feel a little stretched in places. Yet there are also moments of sublime madness here: the referee who refuses to stop testing a waterlogged pitch until he finds the one dry spot that will enable him to declare the whole thing playable; a fan accompanied by his wife who mutters "merda, merda, merda" throughout an entire game, breaking off to embrace everyone around him when Verona score and then immediately resuming his downcast mantra; a fist fight with a lorry driver and a mad chase down a deserted motorway; a club president who kicks opposing players down a flight of stairs after his team have lost a vital game, and club officials trying to crowbar their way through a dressing room door shortly afterwards; a 31-year-old man trying to overcome his mother's disapproval of his asthmatic girlfriend on the grounds that "she won't be a healthy wife and mother"; a teenage boy screaming "Thugs! Worms! Turds! Communists!" at policemen while covering his mobile phone so as not to be heard by his mother, who is calling to check that he's finished all his homework. I said that this wasn't just a book about football, but in a country where politicians talk football-speak at every opportunity, matches are seen as rehearsals for elections, and Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, is about to become Prime Minister of Italy, the sport permeates every page. The antagonism between northerners and southerners, "the internecine struggle which
      is Italian unity" is seen through the prism of chants like "Le nostre tasse pagano per voi" ("Our taxes pay for you"), "We have a dream in our hearts, to burn the south" and "It takes soap and water to wash a southerner." When Napoli play at Verona the home supporters don white surgical masks and sing about a smell so bad that "even the dogs are running", and the first chant in Sicily politely translates as "We can't understand a word you're saying." There are moments that any football fan in any country would recognise - sick songs about Juventus supporters killed at Heysel, 'Forza Etna' banners at Catania as the volcano threatens to destroy the city, tirades against the "cat-eaters" of Venezia, chants of "Terremotati" at Udine to remind the locals of a 1976 earthquake that killed thousands, and the moment after a 3-0 defeat to Atalanta when the police are taunted with a re-working of an old Fascist song, adapted to include a topical reference to a helicopter crash in which ten officers died. This is a book about the frustrations of following the unfashionable. A world of blind optimism in the certain knowledge that the faceless "bastardi" will always have the upper hand, of dutiful support to overpaid players who "don't give a damn...except in so far as their own prospects are furthered or damaged by the team's performance", of the fear that always follows an early goal, and the hatred of those who support the big teams for the sake of convenience. It's about something that an out-of-town Manchester United or Liverpool supporter would be as unlikely to fathom as their Italian equivalents at Juventus or AC Milan. About a world where the biggest fear is relegation and the awful certainty that your neighbours will one day overshadow you. You don't have to be acquainted with football or Italy to like this book, but
      , if you've got no experience of either, I doubt you'd finish the 400-odd pages far in advance of another Verona scudetto. It's by no means faultless - a little too long, a few too many asides and more interesting than inspirational - but it remains a wonderful read for anyone who's never quite outgrown that childhood indignance at the Liverpool shirt in the school playground, who's ever travelled on an overnight coach with the smell of beer and urine in his nostrils, or who can feel empathy for men travelling through Italy in segregated railway carriages to dodge cobblestones in Naples, bottles in Calabria, knives in Rome, police batons in Turin and rockets and coins in Milan - a 'Fever Pitch' for those who don't follow football from the armchair. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks moved to Verona in 1981 to teach English. 'A Season With Verona' was his third non-fiction account of life in northern Italy after 'Italian Neighbours' and 'An Italian Education'. His novel 'Europa' was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. www.timparks.co.uk 'A Season With Verona' is available in paperback for £3.99 at amazon.co.uk. 464 pages. ISBN: 0099422670

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        18.03.2002 13:28
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        Verona, the home of a play by some English writer can’t remember much some fighting and ends in tragedy. Not a bad act, that writer may be going somewhere. What’s more important thought is the football in the city, never mind some old story. Tim Parks is an English author. Some years ago he went to live in Italy, just outside Verona the setting for this story. He has a strong pedigree for writing both fiction and non-fiction, his novel Europa was short listed for the Booker prize and there is an impressive list of his other works. In Italy he works for a local university as well as his writing and tours of Europe. Not a bad job really. This book, A Season With Verona is an interesting combination of a travel guide and football. Hellas Verona are the top side in the city of Verona, and Tim Parks’s side. In this book he basically writes his account of spending one whole season following Hellas. Although the book does revolve around the one aim of the beautiful game, there are many other side tracks he goes down. Not the best or most informative tour guide it does give an alternative view of the county by visiting fellow Serie A sides, though there is not a huge amount to see when being guarded by several hundred police men and caribinerri for the two miles from the station to the ground. The football side has accounts of the matches and feelings inside that are put into words. He travels around Italy to all the away games, sometimes by himself, sometimes with the players and sometimes with the fans. From the fans he is able to get some great tales and stories from them, and he meets some great people. There is not a dull moment as there are constant stories around even if the action on the field gets a bit dull. The Hellas fans in the curva sud (the section of the ground) are accused of being racists, the manager is useless and the president has the usual dodgy record. Though when Parks does actually meet the players he
        discovers they are just normal people just barely in their twenties. They can not have a normal life, cannot go out late and not drink despite being paid huge money does this always bring happiness? I have also learnt a lot of Italian swear words as a result of this book. Tim Parks has very helpfully done a straight English translation of all the chants the Hellas fans chant when he is in with the hardcore. No other country really has the English appetite for singing real, long song but the atmosphere at Italian games is something else that you really do not get at British games. In his travels he visits local rivals and some top teams like Milam at the San Siro and Roma at the Stadio Olympico. Though as it is in England the fans that make all the noise are not just obscene with their chants, there is a lot of though behind them as well as telling fans to F-Off. The racist chants also come out. Hellas are made out in the Italia media to be a whole town of racists as there are no black players on the team. The fans in the curva give any visiting black fans the Oo-oo-oo monkey chants and as a result they are often in trouble and hated by the public. If the clubs is found to be home to racists fans then they can be banned from playing at home. However if the same crowd boos the chants they get let off. Strange, that’s football. The fans are not really racist. Tim travels around Italy with all the fan from the section that do start all the chants to the away games. He is very favorable on them, they are all nice people just out for fun. They are all young men the oldest are in the thirties and the forty year olds consider themselves to be the dads of the crowd whose job is to protect the others. They all help each other, if one is drunk and starts insulting a police officer he will be killed, so they look after one another. Again they are genuine people, all follow a small team with little success and know each other like brothers. They al
        l have nicknames and the atmosphere is great with them as they welcome Tim. As a result he ha some great stories as he travels across Italy on marathon coach journeys to the south and some great songs. I have found a lot of this the case for me as I have been on a fair few away games with my team Exeter. They are all a super bunch of like minded lads who are no hooligans just out for harmless fun. All the racist chants are made up or at least exaggerated. They give the monkey chants to anyone they fell deserves them or offends them, even their own team. The people need someone to hate or talk out against and the Hellas fans are this as they are smaller and easier to pick on than Lazio or Milan. Verona have two football teams in Seria A at the moment. Hellas who this book is about and Chievo who had to add Verona on the end of their name so people know where it is. Chievo is a small suburb of Verona itself, and during the year this book was written they were playing in the division below and achieved promotion. Chievo have come from being a local village team to work their way to the very top of the Italian league. Well done to them for that, but I for one do not feel it is quite a miracle yet, and neither does the author. Hellas and Chievo hate each other as local rivals, but there is more to it than that. Like many top Italian teams the two Verona sides share the same stadium, so the Hellas fans accuse them of stealing it away from them. Racism again is an issue. Chievo have a great reputation, their fans are behaved, they have black players on the team. They are just too white and clean, and Hellas are made even worse as a result. Again this is a total fabrication of the media, but it works. Chievo have come from nothing to the top of Seria A for a time. When they were in the lower leagues they had a handful of fans. Now they are winning and playing top teams suddenly they can fill a 20,000-seat stadium. Where have all these fans come from? They have b
        rought success and of course they are just as discrimination as the Hellas faithful. Not that good, not much is made of this in the book as a passing reference, but a passionate one. Match fixing has long been suspected in Italy and many places elsewhere for that matter. The final round of games that decide the relegation fates of clubs in this book comes across some of these. On the last day all the games are synchronized to keep all fairness so fans are listening to other games, as their results decide their own teams fate. Reggiana beat Milan 2-1 and Lecce beat Lazio 2-1 at home. This may not mean anything to people who have no interest in Italian football, but in perspective it would be like Derby and Leicester beating Manchester and Arsenal on the last day to stay up. Not too likely, and that certainly raises questions. Napoli were already down and that left only Reggiana and Lecce as representatives of the south of Italy in Serie A. The Italian football association could not let that happen as the north would be too dominant, so there were again questions about games when those teams win to stay up. Verona have their racist tag hanging over them so no one would miss them too much and Chievo are the idealist team who are coming up. You don’t have to be a genius or a football follower to work that out how football in Italy is organized. All the teams have a rich and powerful individual or company. Maybe not quite the mafia, some deals must be struck. Verona themselves win 2-1 at Parma who are already safe in Europe while Verona are in relegation trouble. The two presidents know each other and there is a link between the clubs, so it is no surprise when Verona upset the form book to win. Last season Verona were involved in a fierce relegation fight, and the book follows through that season. I follow Italian football closely, so the suspense and waiting to see if they go down was lost on me, as I knew what happened in the end. I wont sp
        oil it here, go and read it is a good book and well written to show all the passion and tense moments of being in that sort of situation. The book is overall very well written. Tim Parks is a great writer but also a football fan, not always a common combination. He is able to write about all the aspects of the game with detail and good understanding as well as fitting in with all the other fans to come up with some interesting and funny stories. Parks can also write about the political and other aspects of the game. The surroundings and history of clubs while keeping others interested. It was the year of the Italian elections which Berlusconi won, as he is the president of AC Milan it becomes relevant. All in all a very easy and enjoyable read. Sorry if this has been another long and boring football opinion from me. At least I am trying to get in some literature and education into be, though don’t hold your breath. You probable have to have some understanding of Football to really get the benefits of the Italian game, but that is not to exclude anyone and people should still find it an interesting read all the same. Hardback out now priced £16.99. ISBN 0-436027595-3, published by Secker and Warburg.

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      • Product Details

        Tim Parks writes of his devotion to Italian football club Hellas Verona.