Up Pompey: Chuck Culpepper
The full title suggests, in a self-deprecating manner, that you will be taken through this book by 'a clueless American sportswriter', who will 'bumble' his way into the world of English football in a bid to break his disillusionment with U.S. sports.
And to a certain extent, the book does what it says on the cover; although Culpepper is not nearly as 'clueless' as he would have you think.
Adopting Portsmouth as his team, he charts the strains that the 2006/07 season had on himself and the club and is completely taken over by Premiership fever. With a combination of fear, anxiety, desperation and envy, Culpepper finds out just what it is like to be a fan of a mediocre Premier League side. And not only does he find the pain, but he somehow wheedles out the joy as well.
Undoubtedly aimed at the American market, it is interesting to read from an English perspective to see what drives a writer to immerse themselves in totally unfamiliar territory. However, after staring in wonder at everything from the pie-shop to the English public transport system, you are left feeling that Culpepper is slightly too excitable. Anybody who categorises 'Torquay United' and 'dream' in the same sentence must be one stick short of a bundle.
Still, it is fascinating to see a fully grown man experience such child-like joy at watching something that has become a fairly mundane pastime for most English fans.
No longer are we surprised by the abuse directed at the referee from the sidelines, the hour-long queues for the train home or the utter garbage that spills from players' mouths once the final whistle has blown. But Culpepper apparently is.
However, one of the issues to be found with the book is that you can hardly believe that he doesn't know what he's watching. Statements like 'somebody named Gary O'Neil scored in the 54th minute, after somebody named Benjani Mwaruwari rampaged up the right and slide him the ball,' just don't wash for a twice nominated Pulitzer Prize journalist.
Try as he might, the 'ignorant American' cliché is hard to pull off when the narrative is infused with in-depth match commentary and league standings that help to paint the picture of Portsmouth's poor season. Furthermore, after such exerts, the annoying thing by the end is that you are left with the fact that despite all his experiences, he hasn't really learned anything about the game: 'I still waited for referees to blow the whistle for a five second violation, a la basketball, whenever the players took a long time to take a throw,' he says, playing up to his persona.
That said, it really is an intriguing read once you get past the self-deprecation, and it goes through an entire spectrum of emotions from cynicism to the most incredible pleasure upon Portsmouth's successful battle against relegation. Sure, you may have an author who still can't pronounce 'Pompey' (by his own admission) at the end of a 38 game season and you may wonder if it was all worthwhile; but if that's what it takes to get people interested in the game then so be it.
If an American can fall in love with Portsmouth, then maybe there's hope for David Beckham's promotion of the MLS yet.