North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

#99 – Miracle of Castel di Sangro

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Two books in and the challenge is looking harder then ever. I had a heck of a time finding copies of the next two on my list (only one library in Ontario had a copy of “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars, apparently) and I don’t know when I’ll actually get them.

In the meantime, I’m reading the first of my sports books that didn’t make the cut: Ralph Wiley’s Serenity. I may post a review of it later, as well as some NFL stuff.

In the meantime, here’s my review of Joe McGinness’ Miracle of Castel di Sangro, after the jump.

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy by Joe McGinniss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Joe McGinness’ year abroad following the exploits of a minor league soccer team is funny, sad, scary and never dull, even to somebody who has never followed soccer, let alone any played in Italy.

And while he gets deep into the game, plunging in with reckless abandon, it’s by no means just a book about soccer. It’s about the people who play the game, the personalities that drive it and make it more then just something played on a pitch.

There’s the Che Guevara worshipping midfielder, the stoic team captain with barely a word to say and the long-suffering backup goaltender. There’s Jaconi, the bullheaded coach whose only English words are “I bulldozer”, a succinct and accurate description of his personality and coaching methodology. It’s these characters that drive the work along.

But of course, soccer (or as McGinness calls it, il calcio) is always present. The book follows the author as he moves to a remote Italian town to witness what some were calling the miracle of Castel did Sangro: this small, remote desert town’s soccer team has slowly worked its way up the myriad ranks of Italian soccer, right up to Serie B, the second-highest division of the sport. Think the Durham Bulls playing their way into the National League.

Once there, McGinness establishes himself as a curiosity in the town – a football-mad American, the rarest of rare animals. He follows the team daily, travels with them to away matches and, as he put it himself, descends into madness only two matches into the season.

He does more then root for the team; he lives and dies with them. Throughout the book there is a palpable sense of agony, of just how in love he fell with the team. Surely it was more then he wished. And as the narrative unwinds, with several unforeseen and almost unbelievable twists, his emotions only roar more to the forefront.

And through it all, he uses the same detailed reporting he has in his true-crime works to cut through the BS and fearlessly report on everything that happens. It would have been all too easy to tow the line and agree with everybody and produce a sanitized work on the team, but here he reveals all – good and bad.

This isn’t to say the book is grim, however. In parts it’s moving and in others hilarious. For example, after a poorly officiated game, one fan tells McGinness about another poorly officiated game from years past and it’s aftermath: fans tracked down the poor ref and lynched him, while local police reasoned it by saying how terrible the ref was.

That’s just one of the many apocryphal tales in his book, which serves not only to chronicle the wins and losses on the pitch, but off it too. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the read.

View all my reviews >>

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