I must have been around 12 or 13 when my soccer world got a lot bigger. Massively bigger, as they might say abroad.
I played pickup games with the local Latino kids and had the typical American parental coaching of the day (a guy in work boots doing the best he could with a severely limited knowledge of the game.) I did get an hour a week of TV soccer on PBS, an edited version of an English match.
Oh, and there were a few completely lame books in the library, the very definition of rudimentary soccer reading.
And then came Soccer Skills & Tactics, and what a wonderful world was flung open!
My parents ordered a book out of England and gave it to me for Christmas. And I devoured it, all 192 big pages of small-print insight and brilliant enlightenment. Over and over again.
This was not just a book; it was a more layered connection with the bigger game. It was everything I was missing but recognized as being out there, the history, lessons, chalk-talk and coaching all rolled into one tight, hardbound bundle. (Information-wise, it was pretty much what anyone gets from about a week of watching soccer now … but “back then” was hardly “now.”)
Soccer Skills & Tactics sketched out lessons on the game using diagrams and photos of famous goals, matches or situations, citing the all the famous names of the day. If my knowledge of the game was at the 5-yard line (to use an American football analogy), this book moved me about 30- or 40-yards forward.
I swear, I think everything I really need to know about soccer, even today, is in that book.
They were examples from the 70s of names I had heard about here and there, but never really knew much about. Diagrams of Pele’s famous goals, of George Best’s dribbling exploits, of Arsenal’s shrewd ability to isolate defenders, of that most famous of saves from Gordon Banks, or Rivelino’s free kicks for Brazil.
I read them and studied them over. And over. And over.
We know the modern game has change in many ways – but it’s amazing how much the game is exactly the same as it was 30 and 40 years ago. Examples of diagram-complete lessons in the book: Learning the near post run; The danger of first-time football; Attacking from the back; Creating two vs. one situations; Lessons on when and where to tackle; To catch or punch with 17 or 18 players inside the penalty area?
Every car trip, every moment not watching TV or out playing sports, that book was option No. 1 for about two years.
I still have that book, and still look through it every now and then.
Please feel free to share your favorite all-time soccer-related present in the comment section below. Richard Farley has his all-time fav soccer-related present coming later today on the blog.