Thursday, 2 April 2020

Book Review: Tim Parks 'A Season With Verona'

With the complete lack of anything else to do, I've started to read. The Athletic's new football book club proved a good place to start - Tim Parks' 'A Season with Verona' leading the way. The book chronicles Parks' travels home and away following Serie A's self-proclaimed misfits Hellas Verona.

It's important to stress it's not just a football book. It's a travel book and an exploration of Italian society as a whole. The way current events are threaded through the book gives everything an extra dimension. Sure, sometimes it's a bit of a stretch, but it continually builds context. From the tale of Luis Marsiglia, and what it betrays about people's perception of Verona, to the impending election and the parallels within football. Particularly given Berlusconi's prominence in both formats.

As you read you find yourself drawing parallels to your own experiences. The emotions experienced during Verona's crucial, come-behind win against Parma are remarkably similar to a trip I had to Portman Road last season. The passion of those within the Curva is evident, and, particularly during an unprecedented period of no football, it lets you live vicariously through those at The Bentegodi twenty years ago. Whether it's the all-night bus trips, improbable victories, or disheartening defeats (and there are more than few), you feel every emotion.

The supporters of Hellas are convinced that the odds are stacked against them, and as the season end draws closer that negativity overrides all other emotions. The games are rigged, they don't want the thugs from Hellas Verona in Serie A. That may prove to be false in 2001, but there's more than a little dramatic irony. Half a decade later Calciopoli would prove that paranoia more than justified.

It is odd to read a book that condemns racism in the lightest terms while simultaneously using terminology best left in the 1980s. That's not necessarily a criticism of Parks, you cannot change the era you wrote the book in, but again and again, white players are referred to by their nationality, while everyone else is simply defined by their ethnicity. Obviously in a book that more than touches on race, ethnicity is a relevant attribute, but to separate 'Italian' from 'blacks' as he so often does is hard to stomach.

Worse still, there's an implicit acceptance of the Brigate GialloblĂș's mindset - that it is not racism, it's simply trying to provoke. The book ends with the postscript of sorts:

"On 25 August 2001, the black Colombian player Johnnier Estainer Montano made his debut for Hellas Verona at The Bentegodi.
He was warmly welcomed by the Curva Sud"

I guess all the monkey noises, that are consistent throughout the book, are forgiven then.

Meanwhile, he seems to lack any adjective other than 'pretty' when it comes to describing women. Always accompanied by a note of how they could not possibly understand the intricacies of football, nor would they want to. One particularly cringeworthy passage details a group of Verona fans descending on a "pretty young girl" while on the train to Napoli. Parks notes her discomfort more than once, but there's a certain glee in the story, explained away - again - as "just a joke, so not to think of the game".

Overall the book is well worth a read. There are a few segments where you grimace, but if nothing else Parks picked a pretty incredible season to follow.

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