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In the book: some essential reading for the Philly soccer fan

Today the Philly Soccer Page introduces a new feature, In the Book, a column reviewing books about soccer. To start things off, here are some essential books that every Philly soccer fan should have on their shelve.

Rangers, Rovers & Spindles bookRangers, Rovers & Spindles: Soccer, Immigration and Textiles in New England and New Jersey (2005) may sound like a dreary bit of academia.  It’s actually the only book-length examination of early American soccer history that I’m aware of and is filled with a great deal of very useful information. In the book, Roger Allaway (who was a copy editor at the Inquirer, the co-author of two previous books on American soccer history and one of the founders of the Society for American Soccer History) gives a thorough and very readable account of the development of the game in that cradle of American soccer, the West Hudson and southeastern New England. What is important about the book for the Philly soccer fan is the connection between the immigration of British textile workers and the development of league soccer where they settled. Much the same patterns that Allaway describes as happening in New England and New Jersey also occurred in and around Philadelphia in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Soccer in a Football World bookDavid Wangerin’s Soccer in a Football World: The Story of America’s Forgotten Game was originally published in England (2006) by the cool folks at When Staturday Comes and was recently republished by Temple University Press (2008). Though the author describes it as “a British book written by an American expatriate,” the book is good overview of the history of the game in America from its disconnected regional beginnings in the late 1800s through the various attempts at establishing professional leagues through much of the 1900s and ends with the impact of 2002 World Cup and MLS. Of particular interest to Philly soccer fans is a good review of the history of the Bethlehem Steel Soccer Club.  The team,”arguably the most winning soccer team in US history,” dominated in much of the 1910s and 1920s, and was, as the name suggests, started in nearby Bethlehem though they relocated to Philadelphia for a time.

The Game of Their Lives bookThe Game of Their Lives (1996), as has been discussed in an earlier post, was eventually made into a movie and is about the US team that beat England at the 1950 World Cup. A quick and entertaining read, the book helps to make the Philly soccer fan more familiar with the roles of Walter Bahr and Ed McIlvenny (whose name is unaccountably spelled by author Geoffrey Douglas as “McIlenny” throughout the book). Bahr, captain of the team, and McIlvenny, captain the day the team beat England, both played for the Philadelphia Nationals before being picked for the squad.

The Ball is Round bookFinally, for a comprehensive overview of the history of the game around the world, every Philly soccer fan should own David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round: A History of Soccer (USA 2008; or The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football if you happen to find the book in Britain like I did when it was published there in 2006). The book is the best of its kind to be published in years and the chronology is usefully organized by region. So, if you are looking to learn something about soccer developments in, say, Brazil in the 1950s, you can easily do so. Extensive end notes also make it easy for you to find sources to learn more about subjects you never knew you cared about.

With these books on your shelf you’ll be well on your way to entertaining all of your friends with endless anecdotes about the history of the game in Philly, the US and the world. It’s a rich history and, whether you know it yet or not, Philly, and the US, have a long and proud place in it.

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