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The story of Spanish football


No World Cup victory for Spain should be allowed to pass without a new recommendation for the acclaimed study of Spanish football, Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football.

Originally published in 2001 and updated in 2003, its examination of why the brilliance of Spain’s La Liga sides has not translated into success for the national team has been superseded by events but there is still much about the book that stands the test of time.

Morbo -- a Spanish word which defies precise translation but represents the mutually shared antagonism and hostility between clubs -- is particularly strong on how regionalism, history, language and politics underpin support for clubs all over the country.

The reader learns how the fierce enmity between Barcelona and Real Madrid is only one of many deeply entrenched rivalries, some of which make Liverpool’s differences with Everton, or Tottenham’s feelings towards Arsenal look almost friendly by comparison.

The book, published in 2001, marked the beginning of a new career for its author, Phil Ball, who was an English teacher at a comprehensive school in Hull but, after working in Peru and then Oman. settled in San Sebastian, in the Basque county, where he witnessed "nationalists" letting off fireworks to celebrate Spain’s defeat by South Korea in the 2002 World Cup.

Ball has also written White Storm: The Story of Real Madrid (2002), which tackles the club’s history from a social perspective in a similar way. It was published in Spanish in September 2009 under the title Tormenta Blanca.

His 2004 book An Englishman Abroad: Beckham's Spanish Adventure charted English footballer David Beckham’s spell at Real Madrid.

He moved away from football in 2006 with The Hapless Teacher's Handbook, in which he went back to the classroom to write with humour about his years in teaching.

He continues to write about football as a contributor to ESPNsoccernet and When Saturday Comes and has also written for the The New York Times and Financial Times.

Indeed, in his summing-up of the South Africa triumph, on the ESPNsoccernet site, he writes:

‘In the past, Spanish sides have always looked capable of winning tournaments, only to fall prey either to their strange inferiority complex, their lack of cultural and political unity, or their tendency to lose their heads. The first two have been talked about a-plenty now, but the third not so much.


‘For a nation that is traditionally better on ideas than following them through, the squad showed a new meticulous side to the national character, an ability to plan, keep your head, and deliver.’

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