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Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

Release date: 09th May, 2005
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £8.99
Our Price: £6.29
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Friday Night Lights
By H. G. Bissinger
Yellow Jersey Press

4sportsbooks.co.uk price: £ 6.29 (saving 30% on rrp)

At its most basic level, this book is about one comparatively short American Football season. If that brief synopsis has you half turning the page in search of yesterday's racing results, get this: Bissinger doesn't even concern himself with a professional team, but with the Permian High School side of 17- and 18-year-olds based in Odessa, Texas. But please, before you disappear to check the results from Chepstow, you should absolutely not let the seemingly unpromising content put you off reading this quite extraordinary tale.

Encouragingly, the book does not requires an in depth understanding of an outside linebacker's role in an American Football team, although a rudimentary knowledge of the game undoubtedly makes for a more enjoyable read. No, only the loosest association with the things that make sport so attractive is essential, together with a willingness to appreciate what makes small town USA tick.

Readers will rarely have the opportunity to sense the sort of excitement and tension one normally only experiences listening to live radio commentary from reading the pages of a book. The action has already passed, everyone knows the result, yet Bissinger manages to describe a dying play as though it were taking place now:

"Twenty seconds leftÖAll the ingredients are there for another miracle. It has to happen. Each and every fan, those who have willingly travelled the 530 miles, those listening at home over the radio can feel it in his soul. The ball rises and almost seems to freeze in the exhausted air, spent by so much cheering and hitting and incomprehensible effortÖ"

The countdown to this particular passage is pure Alan Green at his commentating best, i.e. sufficient to get you on the edge of your seat - a rare quality in a sports book. As for those 530 miles, such was the importance of the match that Permian took the decision to spend $20,000 on chartering a 737 jet to take the team to their opponents; during the course of the season, they spent a further $50,000 on the same mode of transport.

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to be involved in sport in the US will tell you that from school level, through university and into the professional ranks, American sports facilities, coaching, backup and support are second to none. Astonishingly, the Panthers of Permian High regularly pull in crowds of 20,000 to their stadium. The football team defines the school, the town of Odessa, yet at times its hard to believe Bissinger is writing about 18-year-old boys.

On a secondary level, immediately below the description of a football season, the author reveals much about the best (and the worst) of American small town values, moving effortlessly between a sporting tale and social commentary. Aside from his crystal-clear (and thankfully, non-judgemental) observations on American society, Bissinger brings the book to life through individual characters, real people with whom we empathise. As some players progress, others, such as the unfortunate Boobie Miles, injured in a pre-season game, serve to highlight the razor-thin gap between sporting success and failure.

There are any number of passages that will cause the British reader to raise an eyebrow (the book was first published in the US in 1990 - this is its first publication in the UK), not least of which is the fact that Permian High spent more on PE than on English language textbooks. Similarly, the intensity and severity of coaching at the school is astonishing; several of the coaching staff make Sir Alex Ferguson sound like a wallflower. Accept it, because this is the way things are in the States. One final thing before you disappear to the racing pages - make a note to buy this book, as it will be some time before you read a better one.



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