‘Friday Night Lights’ by H.G. Bissinger
Saturday 2nd March – Wednesday 13th March
As with last winter, I am delving into the world of American sports books.
I first encountered this story several years ago when I discovered that one of my favourite bands, Explosions In The Sky, had provided the soundtrack for the film adaptation. Since then, I believe the basic premise has been turned into a TV series too.
It quickly becomes clear that this isn’t an ordinary sports book. The focus isn’t so much on the exploits of the team in question (Odessa’s Permian Panthers) as the context within which the team existed. H.G. Bissinger examines the social background of the town, the attitude to the schools system and the lives of the boys more than the action on the pitch.
The other aspect which differs from other books on a similar subject is that far from emphasising the euphoric highs of sport, it actually spends more time examining the many and varied lows and the way in which sport has a disproportionate impact on peoples’ lives. That’s not to say that the high points weren’t reported and celebrated but they were put into an appropriate perspective.
My only gripe with the book comes towards the end during the key game in the season, when the author somehow contrives to be in about six places at once. I can only assume he either spoke to each of the people, in detail, shortly after the events took place and then rewrote their account as if he were quietly looking over their shoulder, or he enlisted a handful of fellow observers and included their observations as part of his writing.
This will definitely go on my shelf as one of the best sports books I have read. As someone who spent his secondary school years obsessed with (soccer) football but never good enough to make the main school team, what struck me most was the accuracy of what H.G. Bissinger wrote about the school sport experience. Many of the criticisms he levelled at the school rang familiar bells, though the example in the book is far more extreme than anything I witnessed during my time at school.