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The Miracle of Castel di Sangro (1999)

by Joe McGinniss

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403844,368 (3.89)5
Through 1996 and 1997 bestselling author Joe McGinniss followed the Italian football season from Castel di Sangro, a small town nestled in the Abruzzi region of Italy. The motley crew that comprised the di Sangro soccer team in the early 90s masked an unparalleled prowess for playing soccer. This is the story of a team and a town with no aspirations, just a passion for the game, and how that passion allowed this team to rise to the top of the professional Italian soccer league. With the lust for life of Robert Crichton's THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA and the sporting dreams of modern movie classic FIELDS OF DREAMS, THE MIRACLE OF CASTEL DI SANGRO is an ebullient story of how a two-hour game transformed a dot on the map into a place of magic, miracles and wonder.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Joe McGinniss, as he explains to a mobster a few chapters into this non-fiction book that reads like fiction, turned down a million-dollar advance to write a book about the O. J. Simpson trial so he could fly to Italy and live for a year with a football team that even some in that country might not have heard of. The resulting book is one that anyone can enjoy even if they don't know much about soccer--although having experience with some sort of fandom would surely help.

McGinniss himself is a superfan, embedding himself with the team so thoroughly that he becomes mascot, cheerleader, and court fool. The tyrant of this court is coach Oswaldo Jaconi, whose brusque style, seemingly arbitrary decisions, and abuse of disfavored players are typical of a monarch. The powers behind the throne are Signor Rezza, who holds the money, and his grand vizier, Gabriele Gravina, the president of the local football association. McGinniss portrays their influence as one exclusively of cynicism and corruption, as opposed to the players' purity of heart and the leadership of Jaconi, which is honest, if misguided (in McGinniss's view).

The year that McGinniss spends with the club is as full of twists as in any thriller, as the team battles opponents external and internal and the Italian press, following the ups and downs of a little team playing in a league seemingly too big for it, simply makes up half of what it reports. Games are played ankle-deep in water, or in snow. Deadly, interminable losing streaks are snapped in the most unlikely ways. Gifts are rejected, dreams are shattered, and yet miracles still occur. A team from a town of a few thousand residents battles city teams and wins just often enough to keep going. If you've got any competitive spirit at all, it's impossible not to be moved. But more than a mere sports thriller, this is also a vivid portrait of a place, a time, and its people that's the next best thing to being there. ( )
1 vote john.cooper | Nov 14, 2019 |
“La potenza della speranza”

“I was an American obsessed with il calcio, and I had come to spend the season in Castel di Sangro to see what life was like in the aftermath of a miracle.”

Italy in the fall of 1996. Lots of characters! Signor Rezza and his cigar. The volatile allenatore (coach) Jacobi. The super shady Gravina. The story of the lynching of an arbitro (referee)! And the “pagano per i punti “, the clubs that pay for points in the standings. But most importantly, the soccer team of Castel Di Sangro and their amazing run! And the cast of characters that made up the team!

The negative of the book is the author himself. Not a fan of the author’s know-it-all attitude. He acts like he knows more about calcio than the coach, general manager, owner.. heck, all of Italy! Verrrrry full of himself. Rather than report on the miracle, he inserts himself in almost every aspect of the story, often casting himself over the team, the players, and the miracle itself. I wish his "character" wasn't in this!

But, he can write, and when it's not about him, it is a very good story! And I'm not even a soccer fan! I'm glad I read it and I salute the team of Castel di Sangro - warts and all!

“In bocca al lupo!” ( )
1 vote Stahl-Ricco | Jul 24, 2019 |
It all started one day when Joe McGinniss -- yes, the Fatal Vision author -- woke up and decided he liked soccer.

Well, no, it wasn't quite like that. It really started a few years before, when an out-of-nowhere soccer team suddenly started rising in the Italian leagues. For those who aren't familiar with the tiered system used in most European and Asian countries, every year a few good teams get promoted one level higher -- with corresponding access to more money and better players -- while poor teams are sent down to a lower tier (a process known as relegation, which is literally "re-league-ing"). Just imagine if the Yankees had a few bad seasons and wound up playing in the Appalachian League. This can (and sometimes does) happen in other countries, which is why sports sometimes seems more important than life or death!

And so this middle-of-nowhere team in the mountains of Italy, playing in a town of some 5000 people, surprised itself and everyone else by being promoted to Italy's Serie B, the second-highest soccer league in that country. (Hence, the titular "miracle.") It's at about this time when McGinniss has his epiphany about soccer, and since one quasi-religious experience is as good as another, he embeds himself with the little team of Castel di Sangro, appearing at all games (home and away, all over Italy), practices, and even meals.

His time spent there was an emotional roller coaster, with the joys of wins (and a few ties) against "better" teams, combined with the lows of intrasquad fighting and disappointment of losing to weaker teams. The book is generally humorous, sometimes unintentionally so. The team, for better or worse, becomes McGinniss' extended family. It's a grueling season, and the author doesn't spare us the worst parts of it.

Although I absolutely loved the book, I did have two major complaints. The most apparent was the arrogance that McGinniss showed throughout most of the book. One of the main storylines has him constantly confronting the team manager over lineups, formations, and tactics. Remember, McGinniss' soccer knowledge can probably still be measured in hours, while the manager had decades of experience. (Admittedly, the author's ideas are often worth at least some discussion, which the coach never allows.) My second complaint is the abrupt ending. The last few chapters hold a few surprises (it would spoil too much to say more). But essentially, there's the final game, and then McGinniss zips to the airport -- the end. There was no discussion or comparison of the two nations (US/Italy), of soccer in the countries, of politics, of anything. There's really not even an explicit statement as to whether the whole trip was even worth it. (The final chapters do, in fact, provide an ending that explains the abruptness, but I do wish there had been a tiny bit more wrapping up.)

Overall, it was a very enjoyable read, even when some of the very distinct characters started merging together (to this American, Albieri and Alberti start looking the same when reading before bed). Any soccer (or any other sport, really) fan would easily recognize the highs and lows of a tough season. Even non-sports fans will get caught up in the passion that McGinniss provides in this fascinating part-travelogue, part-memoir. Strongly recommended.

--------------------------------------------
LT Haiku:

The agony of
Defeat may lead to an end
Of Italian team. ( )
4 vote legallypuzzled | Aug 29, 2012 |
Very interesting read that provides the reader with insight into Italian culture and professional soccer. I was so engrossed in the book that I read it in one day. ( )
  willyt | Mar 12, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Years have gone by and I've finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: "A pretty move, for the love of God."
And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don't give a damn which team or country performs. it.
-- Eduardo Galeano
Dedication
For Nancy

And for Dylan, Sebastien, and Lauren
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In 1994 I traveled to Italy in pursuit of a fresh passion.
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The agony of

Defeat may lead to an end

Of Italian team.

(legallypuzzled)

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