Most soccer books fall into two categories. The first type explains the tactics and strategies of the game and is usually written by a coach. The second is generally a biography of an outstanding player.
"The Soccer Tribe" by Desmond Morris is neither. Morris, a British zoologist best known for his books on animal behavior, describes every aspect of the game -- its origins, its costumes and customs, even its tribal chants and fan violence. Morris relates soccer, its heroes, the fans and their rituals, to tribal living, where ceremonies and superstitions also exist. The analogies he draws are not only valid, but make fascinating reading.
Morris, whose experience with the game has mostly been in England and Europe (he is a director of the Oxford United team), writes of soccer as a social drug: Certainly the typical European pre-match build-up, in which hordes of fans (tribal warriors) march through the streets to the stadium chanting praise for their team, or songs of abuse about the opponent (enemy), can act as a kind of drug.
One can understand the love and emotion that fans have for soccer. It is even said that industrial productivity increases in a city whose home team has been victorious and drops if a loss is suffered. Such love and passion is exemplified by a quote from a Scottish manager. "Some people think that soccer is a matter of life and death. Well it isn't. It's more important than that."
In Europe and South America, the players or heroes of the games are working-class people, factory workers' sons, for example. Today in North America, our heroes complete an extended education, but the demands of professional soccer are such that early "specialization" is a great advantage. Morris describes the qualities of a good player as I would like to have written it myself. He is possessed of "spontaneous inventiveness that sets the game alight and wins matches."
His many comparisons between North American soccer and that of the rest of the world are extremely interesting. As an American citizen who spent most of my playing days in England, I can understand the differences. In Europe, the stadiums, appropriately described by Morris as Great Temples, are mainly built in industrial areas with little or no parking. Inferior facilities abound, and the majority of the followers stand in all kinds of weather, as soccer is played through the winter months. Only a portion of the stadiums have seating. This is in contrast with our modern, stylish American "temples," some of which are totally covered. Although I have experienced both game-watching styles, I experienced even more from Morris' writings.
The book is illustrated with more than 500 color photographs, every one telling a story. I repeatedly looked them over and did eventually find the policeman on the white horse amid half a million ranting and raving fans at the opening game at Wembley Stadium in 1923.
This game that never sleeps has certainly come a long way from its beginning, and now that the United States has taken to the sport, we can see thousands of youngsters playing. This phenomenon called soccer is wonderfully described in "The Soccer Tribe."