Friday night lights
A town, a team and a dream
Hg bissinger
Da capo press

In the cold dark winter days I tend to put my bike into temporary storage as I travel in and out work using public transport. It gives me a chance to read, tweet and sometimes play candy crush. As the same faceless people travel daily in preparation for what many is quite plainly an ordeal we tend to keep our heads down. Our bit of peace before the slog.

Of course as with anything that is done with some regularity familiarity becomes born. I bump into old friends and goes as we discuss the perils of daily life. One such comrade is an old friend from school days. We usually talk sport and sometimes books. Our conversation drifted into sporting biographies as moggy explained how much he didn’t like them. We agreed that nothing normally comes from them and then I was set a challenge to read this might took his well worn leaves and passed it on to me. A bit like me with torches of liberty 7”s when I bought 5 in record tape exchange years previously. I was told this is the pinnacle of sport books. So expecting the clash of the sporting novel I settled down to read this.

This book’s featured theme is a high school football team in Odessa, Texas. Not a big city glamour school but a town in the heart of Texas with all the trials and tribulations of small town us life. Odessa, a town that would nearly rather govern itself and one with religious gatherings on every second corner. Despite Jesus and guns it’s one big celebration was football and the local high school.

Odessa is the sort of town that agreed in1982 to spend $5.6 million on a stadium for its high school football team. A stadium complete with 19,032 seats and a full time caretaker. This was agreed by the residents and not pushed by the state. It’s school, Permian, had pupils of average build but could build these up to way more than average footballers. There was an intense magic in the air. What creates this madness though?

People do, of course. Expectations are made and standards are set. If people buy into them you are well on the way. People bought into them in Permian. People like boobie who’s high school life was the football team, who got away with school work because of his talent. There was potential in boobie like very few others. But the he got injured, and struggled to be that hero once more. When weakness shows in any kid in this team they are quickly removed to memory as there is always someone ready to step in and take over. what would any normal 18 year old do if his dream was slashed by injury? We hear other stories of players, kids who move home to play with Permian. Kids who leave choose one parent over another due to heir proximity to the school. Kids with a mindset to make football work for them.

Many of the players came from working class, white collar background. Kids who were used to fighting hard for any gains. Of course in 1980s Texas, people of color had to fight hard to gain any sort of recognition, the only time of recognition for some was on the football field as their education certainly wasn’t being treated equally

But the games in the field as detailed here are as competitive as any game in any sport. Permian are the team to beat in Texas and both sides will do anything to get victory in their games.

It is strange to read of a High school so fixated on football. Academic studies seem to take a distant second to success in the pitch. An Irish equivalent in sporting terms may be some rugby playing schools but marks don’t seem to lessen as a result of having top schoolboy rugby players. In Permian the footballers didn’t seem too concerned about homework and weren’t reminded of its importance. It wasn’t just Permian as there’s tales of what other schools did to ensure their kids got through school, including ways of masking grades. Some kids were getting examination enveloped in their questions, it went as far as court cases over eligibility to play.

Of course any town is part of any state and ultimately governed. Permian is no different. It is a town in Texas that reaped the benefits of an oil boom in the early 80s and the inevitable bust that went with it. As banks crashed due to reckless lending people went bankrupt due to reckless spending. Wealth dissipated and excess was shred in many cases. There certainly is similarities to that boom and our own Celtic tiger one score of years later. Lessons learned from history = 0

In Odessa more people know the name of the high school football coach than their local councilor or police commissioner, that’s how highly rated the job is. With that comes pressure and a resistance to defeat. Defeat is inevitable, eventually in sport everyone loses and when that happens in Permian the coach’s head is on the block. Or 7 for sale signs are placed inadvertently in his garden after one close loss.

This is an intriguing tale of sport and the lengths people will go to be victorious. I was thinking of my own team I coach as I leafed through the 350 pages. My view of sport being about participation would be gobbled up within seconds and completely ripped apart. Of course there’d be a lot less participants too.

The great thing about a book like this is that it reflects a team I jnew little of playing I game I know exists but have no clue of its record. The author followed Permian around for the season and is no idea what each game would bring. It’s a season of high school football, very well written and regardless of results there is a relentless push for perfection. A constant warning of leave nothing behind, regardless of talent just feel there’s nothing more you can do. All coaches preach that from their teams, not all get it but Permian coaches sure do.

Great read


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