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The Fall of the House of FIFA By David Conn

Release date: 07th July, 2017
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £16.99
Our Price: £13.99
You Save: £3 (17%)
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Sports books of the year 2017:
Numbers 6-10

During the course of a year, we sift through between a dozen and 20 sports books every week. The ones featured here are considered the best we’ve received each week as we make a point of trying to ensure the column appeals to fans of all sports.

A few weeks before Christmas comes the task of selecting the year’s top ten, a project best described as “a tough ask”. Traditionally, we do this over two weeks, so in time-honoured fashion, here’s a summary of the year’s best sports books, numbered 10 to 6.

10. Four Mums In A Boat by Jeanette Benaddi and her fellow rowers is the captivating story of four women in their forties and fifties who went from meeting at their local rowing club each Saturday morning in order to get some exercise and enjoy a laugh, to rowing the Atlantic in record time. The quartet are not professionals, just people who set their minds on achieving something different. Four Mums offers a compelling form of sporting inspiration.

9. Crazy by Chris Lewis is a world away from what might be called the ‘standard’ sporting biography, a fascinating mixture of heady success, a remarkable fall from grace and, hopefully for the author, redemption.

8. No British football manager has lifted three European Cups, yet it’s fair to say that Bob Paisley, who did so at Liverpool, has never received the praise he deserved. As Ian Herbert explains in Quiet Genius, Paisley never complained. Instead, he got on with his job, nurturing outstanding footballers, usually by ensuring they played simple football. “Play the way you’re facing,” was a standard Paisley refrain, an effective tactic that invariably yielded scintillating football and remarkable success.

7. Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig needed to be special to compete with the veritable library of Muhammed Ali biographies, photographic collections, tittle-tattle, statistical tomes and hastily-prepared cut-and-paste ‘appreciations’. Until this year, it was widely held that Thomas Hauser had written the definitive Ali biography, but Ali: A Life is equally impressive.

6 The Descent by Thomas Decker is a sports book with a difference. It’s not often that prior to its official launch, an author says he doesn’t care whether his book sells a single copy (his publishers may have felt otherwise when this was published in July), but former professional cyclist Dekker clearly isn’t fussed: “I just felt that I needed to write this story down,” he told one interviewer by way of cathartic justification. Readers will be glad that Dekker submitted his often hedonistic, occasionally sordid tale to print.

David Conn’s long list of literary successes are legion, but following publication of his latest book, The Fall of the House of FIFA, it’s arguable that he may have surpassed everything that has gone before, even his highly acclaimed work, The Beautiful Game?

Like The Beautiful Game?, which shone a bright spotlight on domestic football’s darkest corners, revealing a distasteful capacity to attract kleptomaniacal club chairmen and administrators for whom greed and incompetence were a way of life, The Fall of the House of FIFA does an equally impressive job on a global level.

Significantly, perhaps, both books trace football’s fall from grace back to the 1970s, a decade during which those running the game began ignoring its traditional roots and started taking much greater notice of its ability to make serious money.

Conn believes FIFA’s fall can be traced back to 1974 when Joao Havelange was elected to the post of president, an early sign of rampant anti-British sentiment in the sporting sphere that would become increasingly prevalent over the subsequent four decades.

Sir Stanley Rous, the man Havelange defeated, clearly realised the organisation had been overrun by a large cohort of corrupt, self-serving officials, many of whom had bribed their way to positions of influence, when he wrote, “There was in my defeat something symbolic of changing attitudes and standards.” This, sadly, was a statement of staggering prescience.

FIFA’s excesses have been well documented over the last few years, but Conn’s investigative prowess details further examples of embezzlement and corruption on an industrial scale.

Perhaps recognising that if they were to ever regain any influence on the world stage, in 2010, the FA decided to bid for the 2018 World Cup and conform to FIFA’s new ways of doing things, an expensive and embarrassing mistake. The FA were way out of their league; they had been out of the game far too long and, like sharks at a poker table, the FIFA’s pack of moneyed mobsters took everything the FA could give them and laughed. Another victory for the kleptomaniacs.

Tales of FIFA’s inherent corruption are nothing new, but given its definitive nature, David Conn’s account deserves the widest possible audience. Buy it.

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