It's a good question. At peak moments, sport, which can bring millions of joyful citizens on to the streets in celebration of World Cup successes, has shown itself capable of transforming the very idea of
Martin has given us an elegantly structured and meticulously researched history of modern
Sport is now routinely discussed in the context of economics, politics and culture. But few writers have managed to demonstrate that sport can also shape these wider forces. Despite its title this is not a book about a 'love affair' so much as a rich and sharply observed exploration of this new power.
Games in their modern form first arrived in the peninsula in the mid-19th Century with German-style gym clubs. When we think of the combination of sport with militant nationalism and militarism we tend to think of fascism. But, in the wake of the Risorgimento, it was Italian liberals who got there first.
Early gymnastic societies had names such as Strength and Courage and a writer in the magazine Educazione Politica declared an aim of physical exercise in schools should be to 'give tomorrow's Italian citizens a healthy courage to kill for the freedom of the nation'.
As sport of all kinds boomed in the early 20th Century both the political Left and the
Mussolini, however, had no doubts about the usefulness of a medium that could be made to fit neatly with fascist ideas of virility, heroism and courage. For Mussolini sport was a way to project the national prestige of Italy– as when its team won the World Cup in 1934 and 1938. Sport could also stimulate the 'physical and moral improvement of the race'.
Sports organizations fell under fascist control, stadiums were built in huge numbers and Il Duce was depicted as 'Sportsman Number One', photographed swimming, sailing, skiing, fencing and riding motor bikes.
The significance of sport scarcely diminished after Liberation but now reflected a new brand of politics. The epic rivalry between cyclists
Martin deploys a cast of sometimes tragic characters adeptly. These include the diminutive, drug-assisted and doomed cyclist
When, in the early 1990s, the tangentopoli corruption scandals destroyed the Christian Democrats and their allies who had dominated politics for 50 years, sport was left standing as almost the only political currency that counted.
Berlusconi announced his entry into political arena with a sporting metaphor -- 'entering the field' -- then promised to make the nation as successful as AC Milan. He even named his political party Forza Italia! (Go Italy!) after a football chant.
By curious coincidence Italian football history has just repeated itself.
At the 1970 World Cup the azzurri beat the Germans in an epic semi-final and were then crushed a few days later in the final by the beautiful football of the best team in history, the
At this summer's
Then in 2008,
Now, at last, under the guidance of
Tiki-taka is derived from
The answer, as
Burns is an engaging guide in this overview of the history of the development of the Spanish game, mixing politics and history with travelogue, interviews and personal reminiscences.
He traces football's development from the late 19th Century, when it arrived with British expats, through the era of Basque domination to the Argentine influence of men such as
Burns clears Real of the false charge often levelled by
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(c) 2012 Distributed by Tribune Media Services