Rory Smith was absolutely the right person to write this.
Mister, which is the story of the Football Association’s age of evangelism and the missionaries who took part, is essentially a broad range of tales which have had to be painstankingly researched. The premise is simple enough, but weaving these men’s stories into a coherent, highly readable story must have taken some doing.
Smith strikes a smart balance here. Any project which seeks to re-state English football’s original influence on the rest of the world runs certain risks. Particularly now, particularly given the atmosphere in this country and the attitude towards it from outside. Where Mister succeeds, though, is in giving these men their dues without attempting to exaggerate their importance. Some are genuinely pivotal figures within history who can legitimately claim to have seeded the game’s growth, but others are more peripheral and the intention here clearly isn’t to claim football innovation as a British patent.
Smith is a wonderful writer – anyone who reads his work at The New York Times will know that – but his style and turns of phrase are especially suited to this level of depth. With a different author, Mister is the kind of book which might be left wheezing under the weight of its own detail. Presumably, that must have been the biggest challenge.
It’s one conquered, though, and this is ideal for anyone who enjoys quality prose, but who is also looking to take a long step back from modern football’s sense-assaulting narratives. It’s rich and detailed, humourous and stylish, and it covers a lot of ground while always remaining a pleasure to read.