An ode to the beautiful game
The book Globe columnist was born to write
THIS MONTH MARKS a return to the throngs of flagwaving, horn-honking sports fans taking to the streets in cars and on foot to celebrate another World Cup, soccer’s Holy Grail.
The event is watched by more people than the Olympic Games, the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl, combined with a religious fervour usually reserved for, well, God.
At least one person in town has sounded a clarion call to the hockey-loving masses to embrace the beautiful game. John Doyle, TV critic by day, has had a lifelong love affair with soccer, and his new book, The World Is a Ball, is his attempt to convey the essence of the sport as a global phenomenon.
“I think, in a way, the book is a kind of love story. Following this thing that you love all over the world, to be in its company, to admire it, to have it illuminate the world around you,” says Doyle.
“A love story because I fell in love with it when I was in Ireland at a time when Ireland was a fairly oppressive, dark place, where nationalism was vitally important.
Gaelic games were for true Irish, and soccer was the English game.… It was a forbidden thing, and as young boys do, I fell in love with the forbidden thing.”
Doyle didn’t start writing about soccer until 2002, when he penned an article on watching a game between Iran and Ireland at a bar in Toronto for his Globe column (he’s been the Globe and Mail’s television critic since 2000).
“It went over very well with a lot of people and was a good description of what it was like to watch the game on TV with both Irish and Iranians there,” Doyle explains.“Shortly after, I was asked if I was interested in going to the World Cup in Korea and Japan and writing about it as a fan of the game, from the perspective of someone who is passionate about the game.… It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Doyle has covered a number of competitions around the world since, including the run-up games to next month’s World Cup. But this book is his contribution to the game on a higher level and to describe what you don’t see on TV.
“Most people don’t really grasp what it’s like in the stands and in the streets outside in a city where a major soccer game is happening,” says Doyle. “On the subway in Lisbon, when one end of the subway car is filled with Croatians and the other with English fans, that is part and parcel with soccer.
It has never been described fully. It is my mission to describe all that.”
John Doyle's five favourite places to watch a World Cup game in Toronto:
1. The Football Factor, 164 Bathurst St., at Richmond Street West.
2. Il Gatto Nero, 720 College Street in Little Italy
3. McVeigh's New Windsor Tavern, 124 Church St., at Richmond Street East
4. Nino Diversa, 1 Toro Road in North York near Keele Street and Finch Avenue.
5. The Queen and Beaver Public House, 35 Elm St, the owner's a big soccer fan, and they run a classy operation.