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Wednesday 1 June 2011

Reading and Football

Yesterday I trotted along to a book swap run by the Edinburgh Book Shop at Henderson’s in Hanover Street in Edinburgh.

The place was packed. There were two speakers: Sara Sheridan and Ian Rankin, who was kindly substituting for someone who hadn’t been able to come. That’s probably trading up but I don’t know who the original speaker was.

The idea is that, over a glass of wine, people pass on books they have bought specially for the event, and receive another they would like to read. I gave a Judge Dee book by Robert van Gulik, and received David Mitchell’s One Day. I’m not sure how many people had actually bought a book, rather than go to their shelves.

Conversation was various but I particularly remember a chat about FC Barcelona. For those who don’t know, Barcelona won the European Cup last Saturday and were rather impressive. Their trainer is the elegant Josep (Pep) Guardiola. He is a reader – not something closely associated with most football trainers in the United Kingdom. In Catalonia, as in other parts of Spain, it is traditional on April 23 to give someone a rose and a book.

I remember a footballer called Michel in Real Madrid saying that his greatest regret was that he had not studied as a boy and in consequence was the only member of the first team not have taken or be taking a degree.

Recently the Madrid version of Guardiola, the elegant, well-read Jorge Valdano (often referred to in Spain as the ‘philosopher of football’), has lost out to the ex-trainer of Chelsea. Those who read Spanish can consult writer Javier Marias’ articles for El Pais – there he gives vent to his disappointment that the club he grew up with has decided on a different tactic that he considers meaner, chippier and altogether less generous. It’s not just about winning, but winning with great skill, honest manners and the kind of intelligence that values these attributes as much as just winning.

Romantic? I hope not.

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