Book review: “All Played Out” is the tale of Italia ’90, with a focus on England’s time there. It is interesting reading it now as in many ways despite not being that long ago it seems a different era. This was a time when the Premier League hadn’t begun, when Lineker had scored only thirty-odd goals for England, and when it was still just 2-points for a win. Also “these were the horror days of a nation all played out, a nation of riot and yobbery, a nation whose football was oafish and whose fans were louts.” Hooligans are far less an issue these days of course.
Along the way as the author follows England there is a lot of talk of the “fans” and the thuggish behaviour of a minority, always written about in the English press in an over-exaggerated manner, and the thuggish behaviour of the Italians too, plus their baton-wielding police. There is also a lot of talk about the English press, “the worst disciplined press in Western Europe”, because the author of the book was a fully signed-up member of the press pack with all the privileged access that brings, this access allowing him to conduct several interviews in the book with members of England’s playing squad, as well as the manager.
Some of these interviews are interesting retrospectively now, like how Lineker would “like to go into television”, and how Waddle thought Gazza with his personality could be a danger to himself when he was older. Also retrospectively it looks odd why Bobby Robson got so many negative headlines as England manager with his impressive record of a world cup quarter-final followed by a semi-final, but when the author maligns the press behaviour through much of the book you can probably begin to see why that happened.
The book also delves into football more technically than other offerings, with lots in particular on systems with 4-4-2 being said to be “all played out”. The author also covers all the wider football stuff going on at the World Cup in “Planet Football” with England players performing commercial activities such as casually modelling clothes or delivering Malaysian sound-bites, and some remarks on the official cheese of Italia ’90 with a multitude of tall, beautiful cheesewomen being present at various press events, never failing to impress the author, although the cheese less so as he never talks about tasting it.
The book covers more than just football though. For example it starts before the World Cup with a journey to Sardinia and Cagliari, England’s World Cup base for their group games, and delves into the history and culture of the place. Some of this works better than other bits, for example all the administration bits about waiting for fax machines to work etc. as he tries to obtain press tickets and the like could have been left out.
There is also a good writing style present too. On the unpredictable Gazza getting fouled: “Will he clout the guy? Or will he get up and shake his hand, pat his face and ruffle his hair, then embrace the referee?” And on the stadiums: “where the ordinary folk go to watch the men who’ve got gold in their shoes.”
Overall then an enjoyable read, and if you want to play a game whilst reading then see if you predict when the author is just about to use his favourite phrases “all played out” and “Planet Football”.
Published: 29 Oct 1990