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Football for Dummies

Rating:

A series that began in 1991 with DOS for Dummies and now has well over 1,000 titles finally finds its way towards the beautiful game almost two decades on. Timed neatly to coincide with the run-up to the World Cup, Football for Dummies offers those who are yet to climb on board the bandwagon a leg up.

Due to the nature of the series, there's something of an unavoidable 'no child left behind' approach ("If Team A has scored one goal and Team B hasn't scored any then the score is 1-0. If Team B then scores two goals the score is 1-2"). Thankfully, author Scott Murray - a regular Guardian writer - has had the good sense to break things up a little.

For example, while explaining that the "4-4-2 formation has four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers", the information is placed in context, showing how formations gradually mutated from the patently silly 19th century 1-2-7 and why. The accompanying illustrations are useful for the sport's newcomers, but more knowledgeable readers may also find it illuminating to view obsolete positions like half back and three-quarter back.

It's that historical emphasis that makes it relevant to a broader readership. While clearly no self-respecting football follower is going to feel comfortable buying or reading this book in public, it's still interesting enough to pick up and read.

So while Murray is obliged to inform readers that the object of the game is for a team of 11 players to try to score more goals than the opposition, the facing page debunks the myth that 'soccer' is an Americanism (Oxford student Charles Wreford-Brown created it in the 1880s as a 'rugger' style nickname for association football).

It also has a decent stab at preparing readers to play the game, with step-by-step advice on how to practise and perfect specific skills like volleys and dribbling, and even health and fitness advice. For those without the initiative to go about booking a pitch, it really is a dummy's delight.

Clearly, covering so many topics in one book means that it falls short of specialist books on its individual subject areas, and the committed football fan would be better served reading something more specific to unearth interesting titbits about, say, catenaccio (which was actually developed in Switzerland in the '30s). As an introduction for a youngster or partner, though, it's hard to fault, and it's to be recommended if you want to get someone up to speed before the summer.

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