Death or Glory
The Dark History of the World Cup
By Jon Spurling
Online shop price: £11.49
In 1974 Zaire’s football team were summoned into a room in their West German hotel and told that if they lost to Brazil by more than three goals the following day they would never see their families again.
In this astonishing book Jon Spurling has travelled the world to scratch beneath the glossy, confetti-strewn surface of the world’s biggest sporting event to uncover its dark secrets.
What lengths did Argentina's right-wing military junta really go to in order to ensure their national team won the World Cup at home in 1978? Why did Idi Amin instruct Uganda’s footballers to “break the teeth” of their Tanzanian counterparts in a World Cup qualifier? What really happened during the infamous ‘Soccer War’ between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969? Which country’s players were sent to work in a chicken-plucking factory as punishment for a poor result during qualifying in 1994?
Part travelogue, part history, Death or Glory is based on more than 100 exclusive interviews with players, supporters, writers and team officials. Its 16 chapters take you on a fascinating journey through sport, politics, conflict and civil strife that ultimately reveals the astonishing power of the world’s greatest sporting event – a power that goes far beyond a few games of football every four years.
The Death or Glory ebook is now available for the Kindle and Kindle iPhone App. Please go to Amazon to download a free sample or the whole book.
In his introduction to this jaw-dropping expose of the seamier side of the World Cup, author Jon Spurling sets the scene for the cast of grotesques that this tournament has spawned, asking: "just how do footballers and football followers cope in the presence of turmoil, social upheaval and downright evil?" But as he goes on to discover, many don't.
With the book some 10 years in the making, Spurling has put in the airmiles to track down those with a story to tell. Interweaving first-hand accounts with analysis of the political backdrop and historical enmities between nations, both the beauty and ugliness of the World Cup are superbly evoked.
Taking in 11 tournaments from 1930 to 2002, the exhaustively researched stories are both old and new, but all are enlivened by fresh recollections of the protagonists.
The books recurring theme is of psychopathic despots seeking political capital out of the game. For example, President Mobutu's decree in 1974 that if Zaire conceded more than three goals to Brazil, the players would "never see Zaire or your families again". It turns out Mwepu Ilunga had good reason to boot the ball upfield as Brazil prepared to to take free-kick leading 2-0. "I thought I could waste some time," he says.
Spurling also reveals why an East German coach insisted his players drive Trabants, and names the team that produced a urine sample from a pregnant woman. The author also hopes that this book is testimony to football's universal power. Thankfully it is.
Steve Goff, Washington Post
"Spurling takes us on a chilling voyage into the shadows of the planet's quadrennial carnival, shedding light on its most infamous and sinister characters and episodes. Highly recommended."
"Brilliantly insightful...he consistently unearths and spotlights the kind of footballing stories you just can't help but be interested in."
Simon Kuper, Financial Times
"You have to like a book that features an elderly Italian Fascist with happy memories of the national teams of Mussolini's day plus his disgusted anti-Fascist son. A 95 year old Argentine beats Spurling at arm wrestling in a bar and then recounts how he didn't quite make it to the first World Cup Final in 1930. One difficulty of football writing is access...but Spurling has tracked down some vivid characters."
A Cultured Left Foot
"Football writing has come a long way in the last two decades since All Played Out, and this book rests comfortably with the best of them."
"...for the full flavour of what's to come, it's best to try some of the summer's more creative new books...Death Or Glory: The Dark History Of The World Cup tells an occasionally humorous tale of despots and dictators, police and politics."
When Saturday Comes
Spurling's attention to detail, his gumshoe approach and informed travel writer's eloquence help paint a clearer picture of the intensity - and occasional idiocy - that surrounds the world's most watched sporting event.