If you’ve been enjoying my series of football book reviews, you might have noticed a bit of a theme. The first four books I’ve reviewed have tended to take “the road less travelled” (i.e., away from the Premier League. If you missed any of them, so far we have had:
- British Football’s Greatest Grounds by Mike Bayley
- My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes by Gary Imlach
- Extra Time by Daniel Gray
- Blue & Gold Passion by Daniel Williamson
Today’s fifth part of the mission doesn’t just take “the road less travelled”; it goes off-road completely. The Turning Season by Michael Wagg is a book about football in the former East Germany in so far as the clubs who made up the 1989-90 Oberliga are the subjects Wagg is attempting to examine. That’s the first “quirk” of this intriguing book; it doesn’t focus on the final season of the East German season but the one which went before and during which the Berlin Wall fell. The campaign in which everything “turned” if you will.
What follows is a sort of extended ground-hop, as Wagg sets out to revisit each of the 14 clubs who were competing for the East German Championship while the nation itself was falling apart. When he arrives at each, he writes with warmth about the clubs and the people keeping them alive; many have fallen on hard times since reunification. We meet Mr Schmidt, the amateur scoreboard engineer helping to keep Stahl Brandenburg going, the former Captain of Dynamo Dresden and an army of supporters, volunteers and players along the way.
This isn’t a football book in the traditional sense; if you’re looking for a critical look at the race for the Oberliga title, or a detailed history of East German football, this isn’t the title for you. However, what it does have in spades is the emotion driven by the game. The people Wagg meets at each of the clubs are hugely passionate about their teams; to the people still turning up every week, it doesn’t matter that there are a few hundred souls dotted around a concrete bowl. What matters is that there is a game to watch at all; that these towns still have their clubs, even if they are playing semi-professional football in a regional league.
Of course, being a follower of the English non-League game, I’m naturally inclined to agree with this viewpoint, but what becomes clear is that these football teams are hugely important to their local communities, in the same way that Prescot Cables, Marine, Ashford Town (Middlesex), the author’s own Dulwich Hamlet or any number of other clubs are to theirs.
We do, of course, learn something about where each club sat within the pecking order of the Oberliga and what happened to them once the two football pyramids became one is covered, but that’s not really the main aim of the book which, instead, seeks to both look back at life in the East German state and celebrate how those who emerged from it have adapted.
Woven into the tales told by the locals and Wagg’s recollections of each match attended are stories of his meandering journey around East Germany. These stories are told with the same warmth as those of the clubs he visits; this book is clearly a “passion project” for the author and that comes through in the text.
Having picked an unusual subject and then approached it in a slightly left-field fashion, the author has crafted an excellent read. The Turning Season is a book full of charm, warmth and humour and I rattled through it in a couple of days.
This book is the written equivalent of a spectacular trip to an away match, which starts and ends with beer on the train while you talk rubbish with your mates. You know, the kind of trip where the match might have been a bit rubbish, but no-one cared because it was at a massive, old-fashioned ground you’d never seen before and everyone was there together and it was just a bloody good adventure.
Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much?
This is the third book in this series of reviews to have been published by Pitch Publishing. I hadn’t heard of them until a couple of years ago, yet their titles seem to have colonised my bookshelves and have been consistently enjoyable. If you want The Turning Season in your library, it can be ordered via the Pitch website.