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The Game of Their Lives Hardcover – September, 1996

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1950 in Belo Horizonte, a Brazilian mining town, the U.S. soccer team met the British in one of the preliminary rounds of the World Cup matches. The U.S. had not qualified to go to the World Cup since 1934 and, being from a country where soccer was definitely a minor sport, had to field a semiprofessional team consisting mostly of the sons of immigrants, taught the game by older relatives. The British, by contrast, were the rulers of European soccer, considered certain to win the Cup. The U.S. won the game 1-0, staging what is still arguably the greatest upset in World Cup history. Douglas (Class), a skilled writer, is disappointing when he tries to impart an almost mythic significance to this contest on the grounds that the U.S. athletes played for little more than love of the game and asked nothing but joy. He excels and becomes almost poetic, however, in his depiction of life in the ethnic big-city ghettos from which most of the players came, such as Dago Hill in St. Louis and Kensington in Philadelphia, where trust, closeness, loyalty and a sense of being part of something were a way of life.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In 1950, in the little stadium of Belo Horizorite, a mining town 300 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, the U.S. men's World Cup soccer team pulled off a stunning triumph by defeating powerhouse England 1-0. Unquestionably, this win ranks as one of the biggest upsets in the history of U.S. sport, a victory few Americans know anything about. The Game of Their Lives is the story of the 11 men from all over the United States who orchestrated that amazing upset. Incidentally, the team ended the tournament with a record of two losses (3-1 to Spain and 5-2 against Chile) and a single, but tremendous, win. Douglas (Class: The Wreckage of an American Family, LJ 10/1/92; LJ's Best Books of 1992) does a superb job in not only retelling the contest but chronicling the lives of these humble few in the years following the match. A refreshing tale of sporting heroes?no pretensions, no glamour, no high salaries, just ordinary people playing a game they love?this is a good, heartwarming read. Recommended for public libraries.
-?L.R. Little, Penticton P.L., B.C.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 146 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; 1st edition (September 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805038752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805038750
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I felt the book was good and it showed how guys with desire and determination can win even though the odds are against them. Also, the fact that 5 of the starting players on the team were from St Louis, Missouri, and knew each other helped bring together a winning combination. Walter Bahr and Ed McElvinney played together for the Philadelphia Nationals, as well as John Souza and Ed Souza who played together in Falls River,Massachusetts. In previous years, many of us have played against each other. The 1950 game was a most memorable experience for me as goalie for the USA team.
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Format: Hardcover
In the 1950 World Cup, the United States fielded a team of scrappy immigrants' sons which the world refused to take seriously. Three games later, respect had been gained. The U.S. had defeated England, the land where soccer was born, in the most shocking upset in World Cup history, 1 goal to none.

Far beyond a story of a sporting journey to Brazil in 1950, The Game of Their Lives offers a glimpse into the lives of eleven elegantly simple Americans. Centering on 50's St. Louis, then the soccer capital of the U.S., these men recount life growing up as a first-generation American. This inspiring tale is a humbling read in the face of the millions pro athletes make today. There was a time when the sheer thrill of victory and the honor of playing for your country was pay enough.

Douglas recaptures an inspiration created 47 years ago and immortalizes it for all in the pages of this book. A must-read for any U.S. soccer fan.
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Format: Paperback
Rather than investigating the events surrounding the team from an academic or even journalistic perspective, Douglas basically records the recollections of the surviving members, with more emphasis on their idyllic childhoods than anything that happened at or after the World Cup. There was much more material to be had here had the book had a wider scope or more comprehensive research. As an example, Walter Bahr is one of the seminal figures of American soccer, but the descriptions of him in the book are limited to sepia-toned recollections of his youth in "simpler times." Still and all, it is nice to read about a team that history has not accorded its due, and if one can accept the book for what it is rather than wishing it were something more, the short time it takes to read it is worthwhile.
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Format: Paperback
I grew up watching soccer. I enjoyed playing soccer with friends and then later for my high school team. In this country soccer is considered to be mostly enjoyed by kids. It is growing in popularity; it just has not crossed that threshold or the tipping point to take it into the mainstream. After watching the U.S. Soccer team's great run in the Confederation Cup this past summer culminating in the loss to Brazil, the most feared team of this time, I was inspired to find a book written about the game of soccer. I came across a book titled The Game of their Lives authored by Geoffrey Douglas and this is the subject of this review.

The setting of the book is about a famous soccer match between the United States and England, the most feared team of that time, in the 1950 World Cup. Although at times in the beginning of the story the detailed play by play account of the soccer match can seem to be tedious reading, the author does convey the beauty of the game of soccer in a concise manner and also providing some history throughout the book. The author provides some of the best descriptions of the game of soccer in small doses throughout the book. At one point in the beginning of the book, the author goes on a smooth ride describing the gorgeous game of soccer. The following is an example from the book comparing the sport of soccer to other sports:

"The rhythms of most sports rely on stop-and-start devisements: four downs, nine innings, eighteen holes-and play is halted, breaths are caught, adrenaline depletes. In soccer, where play is continuous-there are no huddles, inning changes, set pieces, or lulls between tackles or points-the rhythms determine themselves."

Throughout the book the author appropriately conveys the reason why soccer is an exciting game.
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By A Customer on October 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I would recommend this book a US soccer fan that may only know the final score for this historic game. This book does describe the state of US soccer in the 50's. For example, some people may not be aware that there is a national club championship open to all US teams (the National Challenge Cup, today this cup tournament is called the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup). This team was made up of players that came from some of the teams that won the cup such as Simpkins-Ford (1948 & 1950 with Gino Pariano, Charlie Colombo, Frank Borghi, and Frank Wallace) or New York Brookhattan (1945 Joe Gaetjens team). For the die hard soccer fan this book needs more details on how this team won its spot in the World Cup. Also, there really is not enough detail on the game itself, which may be a result of the dearth of information even at the time (still there is enough there to get your hear pounding and help the reader imagine the excitement of the game). Considering how the English team felt humiliated by result they sure did not want to discuss the game and the US press could hardly care any less. Also, it would be nice to have the perspective of the English players; however, that was not the writer's purpose. This is a story about the men who played the game because they loved it. There needs to be a more detailed treatment of these men and specifically Joseph "Joe" Gaetjens. That being said there is not much out there on the subject and this is still an enjoyable story of perseverance. I hope this book and the upcoming movie bring more people to examine this
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