Saturday, 8 September 2007

Book Review: Once in a Lifetime, by Gavin Newsham (2006)

Beyond easily-dismissable player biographies, there are precious few serious books about football out there. Once in a Lifetime is quite a refreshing and engrossing read. British writer Gavin Newsham chronicles the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos, from obscurity to world-wide fame to disappearance, all in a matter of less than two decades.

The strength of the book is weaving events on the field with the actions and motivations of the men (and they are all men) behind the scenes. Personalities like Warner Bros. executives Steve Ross and Jay Emmett; League Executive Clive Toye; and Coach Gordon Bradley play as large a part in the book as players like Pele and Beckenbauer. Towering above them all is Giorgio Chinaglia, the legendary Italian scoring machine who, the book reveals, had at least as much influence off-the-field as his astonishing strike rate had on-the-field.

Newsham keeps the story moving briskly, from the football fields of the North American Soccer League (NASL) to the boardrooms at Warner Bros. (the owner of the Cosmos) to the home countries of the many foreigners recruited to star for the Cosmos.

Where the book does stumble, somewhat, is in the very weak attempt to introduce overall societal and political events as a backdrop against which the Cosmos story unfolds. This is such a half-baked effort that it comes across as almost childish. However, these sections of the book are short and barely interfere with the narrative flow.

This is a useful and entertaining addition to the accessible library of knowledge on world football, and specifically the colourful but brief chapter written by the NASL, when glamour, money, entertainment and football collided to create the bright shooting star called the New York Cosmos.

Paperback published by Grove Press, 260 pages.

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