Bamboo Goalposts by Rowan Simons

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Bamboo Goalposts by Rowan Simons

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Category: Sport
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A fascinating look at a Chinese way of life many of us will never see, in the context of football; something many of us can understand. It does end up more about the football than about China, though.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230703728

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When it comes to football, I'm in agreement with the great Bill Shankly when he said: Football is not a matter of life and death, it's far more important than that. When it comes to China, my knowledge is limited to what I've seen on the TV recently about the earthquake, the Olympics and the protests; vague memories of Tiananmen Square and a love of the cuisine, or at least the version that comes from my local takeaway. Like many in the Western world, I have no concept of what life is truly like in China.

After an enjoyable have football, will travel opening, telling of Rowan's encounters with South America we then hear about how he came to be in China in the first place and his first attempts to play football while he was there. Having got there and decided to stay, he attempts to build his career, his life and the game of football in China.

The opening part made me think of one of Tony Hawks' travel books, as Simons writes with a similar relaxed feel that makes you think he's just one of your mates in the pub. Given that he's essentially talking about football and a holiday, this may not be so far from the truth. This light tone continues as he recounts his days as a student in China and I was starting to feel that this was going to be something akin to Tony Hawks Round Ireland With a Fridge, except with a football.

Once he becomes more involved in living and working in China, the tone becomes a lot more serious, especially as he saw the events of Tiananmen Square first hand, although even these sections are easy to read, if less pleasant. Part of this is due to the Chinese way of life being so different to the English one that he's not just having to tell us about his life, he's almost having to explain it. This is made easier by the fact that he is trying to live a life as close to the one he's used to as he can; it's just that many of the things he wants to have or do aren't nearly so easy.

The best example of this is how he recounts his conversations. Much like everything else, the Chinese language seems to involve saying things more than once to get the point across. To show how it works, Simons uses Chinese sentence construction when reporting on conversations he's had in Chinese, which can be a little confusing, but also quite amusing. Strangely enough, although it does take some getting used to, once you've become accustomed to seeing passages written in this way, it doesn't become a barrier to the flow of the book, as I expected it would early on.

As readable as this book is, Simons' life revolves around football and this is the main focus of the book. Admittedly, he does make brief forays into his personal life, but apart from an early visit from his parents and a female friend he takes on a nightmare trip on several Chinese buses, these are frequently little more than passing mentions. From my perspective, this was not necessarily a bad thing, but anyone who is less of a football fan might have welcomed the distraction.

Despite the book helping to introduce a Chinese way of life, it is unmistakably a football book. The sport is Simons' obsession; helping him make new friends, providing him with entertainment, exercise and a purpose in life. With this much of his attention devoted to the game, it does mean that virtually everything he does and therefore every aspect of the book revolves around football in some way. He works mostly as a football journalist and most of his spare time is spent trying to improve the football system within China and talking about the system as it is.

This means that those without my interest in football may become bored. There isn't enough focus elsewhere to keep the casual reader interested, as when there is a mention about how things are done in China, it's mostly in the context of how difficult that makes playing the game or setting up a team. For this reason even football fans may become bored because, whilst the book is about football, there is very little football actually taking place. The one saving grace for the fan is that there are mentions of touring teams from England and Spain coming to China and his time reporting on World Cup and FA Cup football, so there is a little familiar ground.

In the end, however, this is for people with a deep love of the game, rather than those who watch it on TV down the pub and shout at the screen. This is a book for anyone who has had their head in their hands at any decision made by the English Football Association as it shows us that no matter how bad they are, things could be worse. This does limit the scope of appeal a fair amount as it falls a little between the obvious audiences of the average football fan and the person looking to know more about China. As a good read for someone interested in sports books in general, however, this is a triumph and as that is what I am, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Although on a rather different theme we think that if you've enjoyed this book you might also enjoy You'll Win Nothing With Kids by Jim White.

Booklists.jpg Bamboo Goalposts by Rowan Simons is in the Top Ten Books For Your Boyfriend.

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