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by Joe McGinniss

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-316-55736-6
Publisher: Little, Brown

This venture into the murky waters of Italian soccer begins as a radical departure for the best-selling journalist McGinnis (The Last Brother, not reviewed, etc.), known more for his true crime volumes than his sports reporting. Over the first few chapters McGinniss explains how he became enamored of the world’s most popular sport after watching the 1994 World Cup, which took place in the US. He pursued his newfound love to one of the hotbeds of football (to give it its proper name) mania, Italy. There he stumbled across an enchanting true-to-life fairy tale, the story of a beleaguered minor-league team from Castel di Sangro, a tiny mountain town in the gut-wrenchingly poor Abruzzo region, a team that had managed to climb up the ladder of soccer success. McGinniss resolved to spend the entire season with the Castel di Sangro team to see if they would survive a year in Serie B representing the smallest municipality to ever send a team that high in Italian football. At first, this seems unlikely and even unpromising material for McGinniss, but as he develops emotional ties to the individual players, the wacky coach who calls himself “a bulldozer,” and the somewhat sinister figures who run the team, the book takes on a certain delightful momentum. Gradually, readers will come to care for and admire these young men with the same intensity as the author. Regrettably, it all turns sour at the end—for reasons having nothing to do with the outcome of their season’s efforts—in ways that recapitulate the ending of McGinniss’s relationship with other subjects, notably Jeffrey Macdonald, whom he wrote about in Fatal Vision. Too often, the author makes himself the center of his story; but he is too good a reporter not to convey some of what makes the sport and the people around it so compelling. Up to the last 40 pages, an entertaining and often moving read.