Having set myself the challenge of reviewing the various football books I got for Christmas, I’ve been able to combine two of my passions; learning about the Beautiful Game and writing. Today’s instalment of Reading the Game covers Blue & Gold Passion by Daniel Williamson. The first English-language history of Boca Juniors, this book seeks to tell the story of one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Like virtually all club histories (including my own, very niche, title), the earliest years of the club are covered in a lot less detail than the modern era. There are 17 chapters in this book, with the first 50 years of Boca Juniors’ activities covered by the end of chapter four. This is understandable; football coverage in the early 20th century was nowhere near as detailed as it is now and the author was, of course, working in Spanish during much of his research, which will have been an additional challenge.
Those initial chapters are good; that we get so many is a testament to the effort Daniel Williamson put into that research but the story really comes to life once the Copa Libertadores is established in 1960. In fact, much the same could be said about Boca Juniors, who have played in more Copa Finals than anyone else and lifted the trophy six times – only compatriots Independiente can boast more Libertadores titles. All eleven seasons in which Boca Juniors reached the continental Final are covered in some depth within Blue & Gold Passion but without ever bogging the reader down in blow-by-blow detail. There is, as might be expected, an entire chapter devoted to the ill-fated 2018 Final against bitter rivals River Plate, which was eventually concluded in Madrid, in River’s favour.
The narrative runs chronologically, but draws skilfully on interviews conducted with former players, the club statistician and journalists, including the Brazil-based native of Hemel Hempstead, Tim Vickery. For many British football fans, Vickery is seen as the leading authority on South American football, thanks to his ever-present status as a panellist on BBC Radio 5 Live’s World Football Phone In. Gaining access to garlanded players, such as Jorge Ribolzi, who won five trophies as a Boca player then another five during 2005-06 as a member of the coaching staff, helps Williamson to really capture the atmosphere within the club.
Because of this, boardroom machinations, such as the institutional issues in which the club became mired during the 1980s or the more recent elections for the role of Club President which put legendary former players Diego Maradona and Juan Román Riquelme on opposite sides of the debate, are covered with authority and just the right level of detail.
It’s to the author’s credit that the book reads very easily and remains engaging throughout. It is helped by a selection of photographs in the centre section of the book, because those pictures help to bring the text to life.
The 21st Century is covered in the greatest detail of all but, given that this is the era with which most readers are likely to be most familiar, this was inevitable. The major events of the last two details are recounted with flair; there are chapters about significant (i.e., trophy-laden) years and Riquelme’s second spell in the azul y oro shirt.
There aren’t any statistics presented within Blue & Gold Passion but given the convoluted nature of Argentine club football, that’s probably just as well. At varying times, Boca have played for two League Championships per season, or in a 30-team top flight, or in zoned groups leading to a knockout phase. Then there’s the continental competitions… Trying to set out the match records and League Tables in a coherent problem would probably have doubled the size of the book!
Ultimately, I enjoyed Blue & Gold Passion. It is a well-written and comprehensive look at one of the greatest clubs in World Football. Like many of the books I’ve read recently, it is published by Pitch Publishing and you can buy it via their website. If you have any sort of interest in club football in South America, it is a rewarding read.