I read The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss on the recommendation of UEFA Champions League commentators Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth. I so respect Rae’s commentating that I did not bother to learn anything about the book before I began reading it. What I found was a captivating first-hand account of the first season in Serie B of a team from a tiny town in the Abruzzo region of Italy written by a megalomaniac. McGinniss was given unfettered access to the team’s management and players. The subplots of crime, sex, drugs and tragic death were more than enough to keep me turning pages. Unfortunately McGinniss too often makes the story about himself. His passion for the team is undeniable but his unsolicited advice on lineups and formations to the manager and his disrespect to the team’s ownership portray him as a terrible American caricature. McGinniss attempts to soften this portrayal by occasionally tossing in some self-deprecating comments; sadly it comes off insincere and is too often followed by insistence that his ideas and ideals are better. All is not lost, however.
For all of McGinniss’s self-aggrandizing rhetoric, he wonderfully captures a team full of diverse, endearing characters. He is uncompromising in his portrayals, bravely including subplots of corruption and racism. The suspense of the struggle of Castel di Sangro to stay out of the relegation zone is excellently described; it kept me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment, though 10 years gone, and become a fan of the team.
What I most enjoyed about the book is the peek into football culture it provided, from the peculiar management style of the “bulldozer” to the player transfer sagas and family dramas. I also enjoyed the wonderful descriptions of the travel and environments of the club. When I found a picture of the stadium, it was nearly as I pictured it and, if possible, made me long to go back to Italy even more.