The Guardian cartoonist David Squires’ first book ‘The Illustrated History of Football’ provides a wonderfully entertaining take on some of football’s big moments.
Squires provides a humorous and insightful journey through the evolution of the game commencing with primal man and moving right up to Jamie Vardy. Well maybe not so much of a journey then?
His 91 comic strips and complementary commentaries are factually correct but they are seen from Squires comedic modern day perspective. There are some hilariously funny takes on the formation of the FA, FIFA, the European Cup, the abolition of the maximum wage and the 1966 World Cup.
In ‘They Think It’s All Over’ he compares the distinctive rhythm of England’s brand of football with that of the Brazilians, Spanish and Germans.
“The Brazilians have the Samba drums; the Spanish, the confident steps of the flamenco dancer; Germany, the technically pristine coordination of synth-pop. England play to the beat of six sunburnt blokes in plastic bowler hats farting ‘God Save the Queen’ through dented brass instruments. As such, their football boasts the fluidity of a bowl of congealed custard at a royal wedding street party. This is England’s DNA. If you were emotionally capable, you would cry.”
Squires’ cartoons are not of the digital age but are hand-drawn and he still relies on glueing bits of paper together and using old school correction fluid. The end product often bears little resemblance to the original collages.
His skilled drawing ensures easily recognisable characters from real life and his caricatures are amusingly accurate.
The comic strips are often concerned with the darker side of football. With his acerbic wit he attacks everything that is wrong with the modern game: corrupt football authorities; self-obsessed modern footballers and managers; corporate sponsors and so on.
Squires has the ability to come up with the sharp phrase, cutting through the pomposity that afflicts the modern game. He superbly lampoons the football authorities FIFA and the FA who are, of course, spectacularly easy targets.
The book is stacked with deliciously scathing put downs, for example in ‘The Formation of the Football League,’ he attacks the self-interest of the current Premier League clubs.
“Members of the Southern League and northern leagues were incorporated in the early 1920’s, creating four professional leagues that would eventually include ninety-two clubs. At no point did any of them demand putting their reserve sides in the lower tiers.”
Also in ‘The Great Innovator’ when describing the influence of Herbert Chapman he takes time out to lambast the objectionable Piers Morgan.
“It took him five years to win Arsenal’s first trophy but there was no inter-war equivalent of Piers Morgan to whine like an entitled crybaby shitehawk.”
In ‘Bavarian Brilliance’ and ‘Bob Stokoe’s Red Leggings’ Leeds United take some brickbats,
“Leeds United supporters still seethe about the events of the 1975 final. They must have a case because if there’s one thing you don’t expect from Yorkshiremen, it’s a longstanding sense of resentment.”
“Leeds United weren’t always a club trapped in a bleak cycle of self-loathing, megalomaniac owners and journeyman managers.”
Squires creates delightful surrealism, for example, in ‘Follow That Star’ Jose Mourinho’s birth is seen as an immaculate conception and the three wise men are Ranieri, Benitez and Wenger.
In ‘Super Subs – Denmark win Euro 92’ he creates Peter Schmeichel as a giant ink-spraying creature who defies the Germans.
His satire exposes the hypocrisy and self-interest that is damaging our beloved game and his hilarious cartoons bring some light relief just when the ridiculousness of it all is threatening to become too much.
Squires is the master of the football comic strip and this collection is recommended reading for enlightened football fans everywhere.
The Illustrated History of Football by David Squires is published by Century.
This review was published in the December/January 2016 edition of Late Tackle magazine.