Skip to main content

The Literature of Soccer-Football, Volume II: Brilliant Orange

As a lover of literature and a lover of soccer-football, I'm on a quest to discover the best books about the sport. In each installment of this series I will review a different soccer book with an eye toward how it has helped me develop a greater understanding of the history, culture, tactics, and players of the game. Hopefully this series will serve as a game-plan for those looking to do the same...

Book: Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football

Author: David Winner

Rating: Three Points

What It's About: In a nutshell, Brilliant Orange is an examination of how Dutch culture influenced the unique style of football played in Holland and by the Dutch national team. In the late 60s and early 70s, the Dutch club team Ajax flourished under the leadership of superstar Johan Cruyff (say: Croif) and to some extent their manager Rinus Michels and created a soccer philosophy known as "Total Football." The main principles of Total Football are a.) relentless attack and b.) interchangeable positions--a goalie who comes out of the penalty area to play center midfield and orchestrate plays; strikers who play defense; backs who play offense, etc.

Much of the book focuses on the intricacies of Dutch culture that allowed this somewhat radical (at the time) idea of football to grow. Things like the lack of a landscape (Holland is very, very flat), a certain pervasive "communal" spirit, and -- oddly enough -- a guilt about being too good, are deeply rooted fibers in the fabric of Dutch society that, apparently, have had a profound effect on the development of Dutch soccer and unfortunately also on Holland's near-misses at international glory on the World Cup stage.

Who Should Read It: Not to mix metaphors too much, but this book is definitely "insider baseball"; for soccer junkies only. If the idea of spending 240 pages reading about Holland, Dutch history, Ajax, and Johan Cruyff doesn't raise your pulse, then do not read this book. On the other hand, if you're a student of the game -- including it's culture and history -- and you've ever wondered about that peculiar little country whose players wear orange and fly around the pitch scoring from 30 yards out and sucking-ass at penalties and who never seem to have quite what it takes to lift the cup...then yeah, read it. You'll learn a hell of a lot about Holland and its football history.

Highlights: If for no other reason, read it for Winner's fascinating look into the tragic (for the Dutch) World Cup of 1974 in which the Total Football-playing Dutch were expected to trounce the rest of the world and bring home the country's first World Cup Championship...which they almost did except for the final against West Germany in Munich which they lost, 2-1. It was a crushing defeat for the Dutch soccer ego, especially given all-too-recent geopolitical events (WWII) and the feeling that the 1974 Dutch team was Holland's golden generation. But there's much more to the story than that.

Throughout the book, Winner delves deep into the psychology of the Dutch people. If you're at all fascinated by such anthropological geekery, Brilliant Orange will be well worth the read. He talks about the effect of World War II on the Dutch psyche and how the lingering effects of the war, such as animosity toward the Germans and embarrassment over widespread collaboration with the Nazis, affected Holland in the post-war years and even up through the present day. He reaches far back into Dutch history to explain how geography became destiny, as early inhabitants had to work together to drain vast swaths of land and create dykes to make the land safe for habitation and how that spirit created a communal sense of shared civic responsibility in which  everyone pitches in for the good of the community, but at the same time someone who stands out too much from the crowd is looked down upon.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…