From Publishers Weekly
In the throes of becoming jaded and cynical about the American sportswriting scene, Culpepper, a London-based Los Angeles Times
journalist covering European sporting events, writes about the internationally known Premiership soccer league and its overzealous fans. The rough-and tumble British soccer sport quickly captivates Culpepper, who wrote on American sports for 15 years, as he learns the rivalries between the fans and teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Portsmouth. A humorist of sorts, he can't help making snide comparisons between the rowdy, cheering British fans and their more somber American brethren, while touting the emotional high of regional pride over big team profits. He falls under the spell of the struggling Portsmouth squad, realizing that the die-hard fans live and die with the fortunes of their players and teams, describing vivid action scenes as thrilling as any in American hockey or football. (Aug.)
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*Starred Review* Veteran sportswriter Culpepper was sick and tired of his job. The world of sports was corrupt. Athletes had nothing to say. Sportswriters weren’t allowed to cheer—but who wanted to? He moved to London, the center of what is arguably the planet’s most popular pastime, Premier League soccer, where he bought tickets, sat with the fans, and learned to cheer again. “It was like childhood,” he writes, “with beer.” Pulling for scrappy Portsmouth, he found himself sharing long-suffering fans’ ecstasy at the team’s best season ever. There’s a long tradition of Americans trying to understand soccer, and Culpepper’s effort ranks among the best. Rather than explaining the rules, he discusses what makes the sport exciting, offering the relegation system (the worst teams are demoted while the best are promoted) as evidence of a more enlightened society. Even better are his explorations of fan psychology—Why do we attach our self-worth to the efforts of highly paid mercenaries?—and his own search for a new community raises another pertinent question: Can you really choose your team? Culpepper occasionally overdoes the clueless-American act, and the deletion of expletives is unduly prim, but this lighthearted look at English soccer in the post-hooligan era is a necessary update to Bill Buford’s landmark Among the Thugs (1992). --Keir Graff