By Ryan Fleming
Many sportswriters often dream of covering “the big game.” Depending on what sport you’re talking about, whether it be hockey, baseball, or soccer, you often work your entire life toward that game.
Irishman John Doyle, a television critic, has covered four of those elusive but priceless sporting events. For Doyle, the pinnacle of a sports writer’s life happens to be sent on assignment to cover two World Cups and two European Championships. Not bad for someone who writes about TV.
In Doyle’s book, “The World Is A Ball,” he writes about how life growing up in Ireland affected his vision and idea of soccer, how his family, particularly his father, frowned upon the “English game,” but at the same time how it eventually grew on him.
From Toronto, Ontario, where the author currently resides and works at The Globe and Mail, he sends the reader first to the 2002 World Cup and immediately displays his wit and humor.
The beauty, the disgrace and the frustration of being a mere writer from a small European country covering the world’s biggest sporting event, Doyle is perhaps over his head at times and admits it, but he gives the reader enlightening insight into what a reporter covering the game – especially traveling to a foreign country – has to endure.
Doyle does a great job throughout “The World Is A Ball” of describing the pure awe the World Cup can have over a person. Whether it is the “waves of orange” the Dutch supporters bring or how countries truly embrace the event for what it is, a time for celebration. At times I found myself in Doyle’s shoes, amidst an army of supporters, of colors, of an ethnic diversity so intense, one would often have to take a second, stand still, and take it all in.
Doyle often takes it all in, and he tries to bring the reader with him the best he can. He comes to the terms – especially on such a tremendous assignment – that it is “very, very difficult to get sleep in the sports writing racket.” At times of utmost glee, the same elation or while frustrated, readers will often feel for the writer. Whether it be his unfriendly Berlin Best Western manager or waking up to the sun rising in Vienna, the entire time it’s as if Doyle has brought his readers right there with him. The drivers he meets, the English supporters on a train, or the citizens of different countries about to clash on the field, meeting in the streets taking pictures with one another. As weird as it might sound, Doyle explains, “That’s the way it is. We are all friends.”
From the World Cup in Korea and Japan in 2002, to Portugal for the 2004 Euro, away to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, and in beautiful Austria and Switzerland for the 2008 Euro, John Doyle has seen a lot. When speaking about his home in Ireland, or speaking about his views on the 2010 World Cup, one can see how the world connects, interlopes and comes together for at least a month every two years. Putting differences aside to find that one sport in common brings people together. Doyle explains it perfectly when trying to talk over a singing Australian crowd: “We can barely hear each other speak. This is the life.” All the while, one could swear you’re there with him.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com