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Book Review
Book Review

Feet of the Chameleon Review

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 14/10/2009

IN this week's article I look at a new book called Feet of the Chameleon by Ian Hawkey, which is about African football.

Feet of the Chameleon is a book celebrating African Football. This is obviously a massive subject area, so what the book attempts to do is present a series of articles looking at particular events or countries over the last few decades.

I suppose the idea is that by looking at several areas in detail it hopefully gives you a brighter picture in mosaics than the duller image portrayed by a more generic, chronological history of football on the continent would.

The reality is that the book is actually a series of long articles with very little connection between them. Most of the articles are interesting in themselves, but in reality there is little to connect them and you would not lose much by reading them in the wrong "order" I suspect, or even missing some articles out.

With the next World Cup due to take place in Africa the spotlight will turn on African football like never before, so I suppose this book may have been timed to fulfil a possible need amongst football fans curious about sport on the continent.

It's no surprise then that one of the stories looks at South African football before and after apartheid, surely one of the maddest political systems ever devised. The South Africans were forbidden to enter international sporting events so had to invent "international" competitions between their own races. Although blacks, whites and indians were not allowed to play in the same teams they were allowed to compete against one another, so you'd usually end up with a Blacks v Whites final!

Another chapter in the book looks at the arrival of African footballers in the Premiership. There used to be a time when black players were unusual in English football, let alone black Africans but now you hardly bat an eyelid with the arrival of each new African player into our game. The chapter looks at how they get here in the first place.

There are several chapters dedicated to the various teams which have done well in the different world cups - Algerian, Cameroon, Senegal and so on. That's the only time I have ever taken any interest in African football, and I have some fond memories of all those shock opening games you seem to get in World Cups. It's interesting to revisit events from an African perspective.

Another highly amusing chapter is that dedicated to witch doctors and shamanism. It really is bizarre what teams used to get up to, even up to international level, and some still do by the sounds of it.

All in all it's a well written book by a top Sunday Times journalist. My only real issue with it is it just comes over as a series of disconnected articles for (say) the Sunday Times magazine, rather than a book with any coherent theme or message.

The real test of a book's quality though is how long it lives with you after you have read it. I suspect this book will live with me for quite a long time, both when I'm watching African teams in the World Cup, or when a new African player arrives in the Premiership.

Feet of the Chameleon is available from Amazon

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