In The Age of Football, David Goldblatt charts football’s global cultural ascent, its economic transformation and deep politicisation. Following the intersection of the game with money, power and identity, like no previous sports writer or historian, Goldblatt’s sweeping story is the account of how football has come to define every facet of our social, economic and cultural lives and at what cost, shaping who we think we are and who we want to be.
Goldblatt’s previous books...all had a slightly more hopeful cast than this one. They generally viewed the arc of the beautiful game, it seemed, as bending toward harmony between nations, the ultimate leveller of playing fields. Just over a decade on from that first book, however, Goldblatt emphasises more troubling evidence of the ways in which the sport has been used to divide peoples ... What is clear from Goldblatt’s indefatigable study is that, almost anywhere in the world apart from North America, no would-be dictator or democratic rabble-rouser or theocratic patriarch can afford to neglect the passions aroused in the hearts of football fans ... Goldblatt could go on and often does ... This is not a book for the armchair reader of either football or global politics, but it is an irrefutable argument against anyone who might still suggest that either is only a game.
...[an] extraordinarily wide-ranging new book ... There are two great lies told about football: that it is only a game, and that it shouldn’t mix with politics. The Age of Football exposes both ... From the Arab Spring to the leftist surge in South America, from prestige-building in the Caribbean to what Goldblatt refers to as the 'Potemkin village' of Vladimir Putin’s World Cup in Russia in 2018, The Age of Football offers an exhaustive and at times exhausting survey of how football has been used for political ends ... Goldblatt’s 2006 work The Ball is Round remains by some distance the best global history of football from a political and economic perspective. The Age of Football is essentially a companion work, offering a painstaking survey of the game as it is now and leaving no doubt that football is both a tool of globalisation and representative of its paradoxes.
...[a] penetrating study ... For all the sophistication of his analysis, Goldblatt provides no convincing answer to the question of why clubs, originally rooted in their communities, still command such loyalty when few of their teams contain local lads, and some not even a majority of English ones, but transient mercenaries. Nowadays, the allegiance of fans is simply to a brand, which conceals rather than reflects a club’s former identity. It may be that a psychologist, rather than a sociologist, as the author is, can best explain this paradox ... He ends with the hope that football might lead the way to a ‘more joyous, brighter and fairer society’. This is reckless optimism springing from an unreal nostalgia. Even match days, which he vividly describes, aren’t what they used to be. The so-called beautiful game reflects what the nation has become — and it’s not altogether a pleasant sight.