Italian Football Book Review: The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinniss
The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, American writer Joe McGinniss’s adventure through Serie B, has been cited as a Italian Football book that happens to have enough twists and turns to be placed alongside a Scorsese film in terms of shady deals and corporate twists, but it is perhaps more prudent to think of McGinniss’s Calcio adventure as a full scale thriller, that just so happens to take place alongside fleeting moments of football.
Beginning with a entertaining prologue concerning a court marshalled Army Officer, whose chief concern was not his next career move, but the footballing fates of AC Milan and whether the author would witness them with him, set the the tone for a novel that not only portrays a marked message to how important “Il Calcio” is to Italy, but to how a persons own fate and fortunes can be laid out like the fixtures of the upcoming season.
The self confessed Calcio fanatic follows the minnows around as a journalist reporting on the “Miracle” of Castel’s achievement, having earnt promotion to B following a fairy tale ascent through the murky waters of Italy’s lower domestic divisions, and soon becomes part of the furniture at the club, acquiring friendships with numerous players as well as benefiting from his esteemed position as Di Sangro’s chief reporter – giving McGinniss’s tale a personal touch in combination with the sharp insight into the more distasteful elements to the clubs protocol.
This personal touch allows McGinniss to flourish his tale with Italian dialogue – simultaneously connecting to the reader as well as giving the adventure a more true to life feel.
McGinniss relays the vivid characters that only Calcio could bring out of the woodwork with almost loving detail, each piece in Di Sangro’s vicious game given a back story and emotive context, from the mysterious, wily Signor Rezza to the grumpy, stubborn head coach Osvaldo Jaconi, all characters borne from McGinnis’s pen become clearer as “Il Miracolo” turns darker in equal measure.
As the story unfolds, one follows the matches and results like a fan, sweeping with the tide of allegation and underhand movements like an Ultra, taking the roller coaster ride, feeling the vindication, the passion and the unbridled joy like any other.
McGinniss begins his tale as a stereotypical outsider, pausing for moments to explain the rules of Football to an American audience, giving an “outside the fishbowl” perspective, and as the Journalist becomes more indoctrinated into the unwritten rules of the Italian game and the subtle(and sometimes immoral) principle that entrenches it, the unraveling events have a more refined impact.
Considering The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro is written with the humble naivety that the writer clearly feels, it offers more depth into Serie B than many an encyclopaedia, as it combines the pitfalls and victories that make up the 38 game season an emotionally exhausting experience.
A compelling and incisive read, The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro combines the subversive, unrelenting sucker – punch of a back alley movie script – with the carefree hope and sky blue optimism that accompanies the greatest adventure of all – Sport.
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