‘History is written by the victors’ is one of those many quotes that gets attributed to Winston Churchill. History is written about the victors might by more accurate when it comes to sport. It’s the stories of winners that we remember and that get the most books, articles and attention.
As with every other aspect of life, 2020 refuses to follow the normal rules. So it’s only fitting that this year should see the publication of a football book celebrating those occasions when great teams fell short of their ultimate ambitions whether by bad luck, bad planning or because the team ceased to exist!
From the Jaws of Victory is a collection of essays from a variety of excellent football writers each one focusing on particular team which fell short of their ultimate goal. The essays range in style from deeply personal reflections to historical inquiry and wistful thoughts of what might have been. They range in time from Bolton Wanderers in 1953 to Steven Gerard’s slip for Liverpool in 2013/14.
I particularly enjoyed the essays that looked beyond British football including a very personal piece on the Fiorentina 98/99 team (glorious memories of Football Italia), the treble runner-up’s Bayer Leverkusen team of 2001-02, the Romanian team of USA 1994 (Hagi!) and my favourite essay on what may have been had Yugoslavia remained a single country until after USA ’94.
The quality of the writers shines through and like the best collections, the sum of the book is even greater than its parts (a testament to the editors, who are the team behind @magicspongers on twitter). Overall, this is a very enjoyable read that collectively captures some of the magic of football. As an fan of the Ireland football teams knows, its those moments of hope, just as much as the exceedingly rare moments of actual joy, that keep us coming back for more.
This is also a great companion piece to a separate essay collection published this year, Losers, which reflected on the meaning of defeat in sport.