“Games matter, in part, because they don’t really matter,” writes Mark Edmundson in his excellent meditation on the meaning of football. He adds: “But a football game (any game) can be a ground where we encounter life in displaced form.”
Edmundson is an English professor and essayist and it shows in the quality of the writing here. This is one of the best-written football books that you will come across. Edmundson started thinking about football when his son began playing – and proved to be pretty good. That starts him thinking about how he feels about safety and the violence of the game but also about what the sport means to fathers and sons; he reflects on how football was an important part of his relationship with his own father.
Edmundson played football when he was younger – not very well, by his own admission – but he tells stories from his brief career as a player and what he learned about being part of a team and about conquering his fears and building character. He considers wider social implications of the game, too, including race and patriotism.
It’s a thoughtful and rewarding read, one that doesn’t shy away from the more troubling aspects of the game while also acknowledging the power of sport.