There are two kinds of football fans: those who inherit their passion and those who discover it all on their own. Michael J. Agovino, sports correspondent for The Atlantic (among others) and author of new book The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the American Game, is the second kind of fan and is damn proud of himself. His book, published on June 1st, is half memoir and half history of the proliferation of the American game.
Much in the spirit of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, Agovino ties vignettes of his life as a soccer fan to individual games. But intent is really where the similarity ends because Agovino makes it overwhelmingly and irritatingly clear that he is not just a fan of the old New York Cosmos or USMNT, he’s a fan of the entire sport.
The attention to detail and soccer heroes is there. As someone who hasn’t really bothered to learn the deep, rich history of the sport, I came out of this reading experience wiser and (of course) much more appreciative of soccer’s struggle for legitimacy here in the US. However, the lack of personality in some of these vignettes takes away from the feeling and emotions that may actually be attached to the significant events (World Cup and Cosmos matches make up the bulk of them) described.
Truth be told, I really wanted to enjoy this book. It had the makings of a great read what with the author being so knowledgeable and dedicated to the same sport. His early life in the US with precious few-and-far-between soccer fans should have been the bulk of the narrative. But, instead of reading about the camaraderie that inherently comes with finding a fellow fan, even now, I sit through agonizing statistics about teams and matches that don’t adequately connect to his story.
There are a couple of gems in here, don’t get me wrong. Reading about how he struggled trying to learn to play soccer well is both endearing and saddening when you think about how great our AYSO programs, club teams, and youth academy initiatives are. Overall, however, this book was off target.