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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Game’, by Stuart Roy Clarke with John Williams

The RBM crew lose themselves in the sumptuous picture book chronicling football in Britain for a North American audience

A general view of Goodison Park on January 11, 2020 in Liverpool, England
A general view of Goodison Park on January 11, 2020 in Liverpool, England
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Our team was grateful enough to receive an early copy of The Game by Stuart Roy Clarke with John Williams. The book brings to life the history of the sport and how it quickly turned from a simple pastime to a cultural phenomenon, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the sport, both through the interesting tales and delightful photographs.

Stuart Roy Clarke is a football fanatic and photographer whose been around the sport for more than 30 years. Clarke’s photographs embody both the love and anguish of the game, which many fans of any sport have felt. John Williams is an associate professor who focuses in the sociology of sport at the University of Leicester. His writing brings the sport and fandom to life and are a clever complement to Clarke’s photographs.

The Game is a piece of art bound in book form. In it, Clarke and John Williams tell the story of football in a way that is winsome and unique. Certain stories transcend any one telling of them. Think of tales you heard as a child of Robin Hood or King Arthur and there are certain things you expect to hear: an archery competition won, a sword drawn from stone, victory and tragedy. As we get older we find there are many published versions of these tales, and the ones we end up liking best are those that touch that feeling we had when we were first mesmerized as a child. The story of football is much the same way.

In the early portion of this book, as Williams and Clarke discuss the story of football, you realize you are definitely getting a perspective unique to them. Clarke is a photographer and Williams teaches in the sociology department at the University of Leicester. These are men who professionally approach the world through the study of people, and that is how they tell the story of the game. It is familiar and nostalgic, and perhaps at some points slightly biased, but really enjoyable all the way through.

The Game not only idolizes the first players and teams who made the sport what it is today, but the impact of managers, ironically enough who first found their feet in England. The book seems to hit an almost perfect nerve with Evertonians when talking about the highs and lows of individuals’ managerial careers, and how their terms are becoming shorter and shorter. The Blues haven’t had much luck in the past decade or so ever since Moyes left, but Clarke and Williams made it clear that there’s always a brighter light over the horizon.

It is also worth noting that The Game is not just a book you are buying, it is a legitimate work of art you are investing in. With a layout designed by Ben Clarke Hickman, the photographs from Clarke (as well as the older pictures he mixes in with them) provide a handheld gallery of the beauty of the game and its people. My father has worked in the printing industry since the 1980s, and when I handed him the book for appraisal, he spent several minutes pointing out the quality of the paper, the detail in the binding, the custom endsheets, and the quality of the photographs. Over 150 straight pages of this book are simply photographs that draw you in and make you feel a part of the story of football.

The best part about reading this book is that it is formatted in a conversation, not your typical lengthy paragraph style. Clarke and Williams throw in their own clever quips and interjections to the other’s ideas as the book unfolds. You really feel like you’re right there with them listening to their conversation.

Clarke has said that football is about what we have in common, and I feel that in the pages of this book. So many clubs have their moment in the spotlight, but as you flip through each page you experience a kinship with the people on it regardless of what color their scarf is or what terrace they are standing on or what decade they are doing it all in. This is a wonderful book and will be a welcome addition to anyone’s football library, whether you are an avid fan or a newcomer to the sport. Whether it’s on your coffee table for friends and family to peruse or right next to your bedside, this book is one that has something for everybody. The Game is out on July 31st.

Our thanks to Adam Rifenberick at Press Box Publicity for getting us copies of the book to review.

The Game is out on July 31st, 2020 at all major book retail locations.