Unseen Academicals
February 21, 2024 7:59 PM - Subscribe

Lord Vetinari, the tyrant Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, hates Football. Everyone knows this. It doesn't stop the mob-rules sides from battling it out in the back streets of the city, but the chaos and violence that inevitably results is at odds with his ability to impose order. When the Wizards at Unseen University discover that their beloved food budget is dependent on them fielding a team at least once every twenty years, though, it seems like it's time for the disc to finally organize the beautiful game. And four lowly employees at UU get swept along in all the furor, catching a whiff of dreams they never would have previously thought possible... (Industrial Revolution #6, Discworld #37) By Terry Pratchett.

Welcome welcome welcome back to the Discworld Book Club, where we're ever so close to finishing what we started!

The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Small Gods
Lords and Ladies
Men At Arms
Soul Music
Interesting Times
Feet of Clay
The Last Continent
Carpe Jugulum
The Fifth Elephant
The Truth
Thief of Time
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
Night Watch
The Wee Free Men
Monstrous Regiment
A Hat Full of Sky
Going Postal
Making Money
The Shepherd's Crown

Our next book will be I Shall Wear Midnight


Ah, Football. The smell of nutrition-free pies. The feel of the cobbles under your feet. The thrill of being part of the shove. Why, if you're lucky you might even catch sight of the makeshift ball before an opposing supporter knocks your face in. Really, there's nothing like it.

And that's why Lord Vetinari detests football, so the rumors say anyway. The Wizards at Unseen University don't even really know anything about it, which sets them up for a bit of a shock when Ponder Stibbons, now the Master of the Traditions in addition to his other dozen key roles in the administration, discovers that a large portion of their endowment depends upon their playing it. The Wizards are not particularly known for being athletically-inclined, nor do they really know anything at all about the game as it's played, but that's okay, because there are kitchen maids and candle dribblers in the University's employ who live and breathe it in the lower-class neighborhoods where they sleep at night.

They are:

Glenda Sugarbean, a cook from Dolly Sisters who runs the Night Kitchens at UU and might very well make the best pies on the Disc. She reads dimestore novels that all have the same silly plot, usually falls asleep in her armchair with her three-eyed teddy bear, and has spent her life basically raising her best friend:

Juliet Stollop, a simple but sweet and astonishingly beautiful young woman, also from Dolly Sisters, from a family of die-hard supporters for the local club, though they would do their best to make sure that any other supporters die hard first. She is in love with:

Trevor Likely, a "face" for the Dimwell club, the fiercest rivals of Dolly Sisters. His father was a legendary player, having scored a record career four goals, and dying at the hands of the sport. After that, his late mother made Trevor swear to never play the game himself, though he's renowned with his skills at kicking a tin can. He's the best friend, and social mentor, of:

Nutt, or Mr Nutt if you're feeling formal. A goblin, as far as anyone can guess, and so already an outsider in any social setting, Nutt sets himself apart by also being off-puttingly erudite, and intensely knowledgeable about essentially anything that has ever been put down in a book. He is obsessed with proving that he has "worth," and his personal yardstick for that seems to be impossibly high.

As Archchancellor Ridcully works with Lord Vetinari to organize the game into something that can be played on an actual pitch, with actual rules, enforced by an actual referee, Ponder Stibbons is put in charge of turning the Wizards into an actual, well, team. Thankfully he almost immediately delegates this task to Nutt, who seems to have a preternatural philosophical understanding of the sport.

Meanwhile, as Glenda tries to protect her friend from the cruelties of the Disc (and the affections of a no-account "Dimmer" like Trevor), Juliet is discovered by the world of Dwarven Fashion, becoming an up-and-coming star and darling of the gossip papers - a state of affairs that Glenda has quite a few problems with.

And Trevor just hopes to try to keep the peace with all the Dimwell sociopaths he grew up with - folks who prefer the game the way it used to be, and have a lot of experience in playing dirty.

There's grime! There's glamor! There's bitter rivalries between aged Archchancellors! There's vampires and necromancy and revolutionary new types of chainmail and self-administered psycho-analysis! And in the end, there's even a spot of football.
posted by Navelgazer (9 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This was one that I really knew almost nothing about going into it, except that it had something to do with the Wizards playing soccer, and that it's not particularly well-loved from what I could tell.

Well whatever, I adored this. As a showcase for the Wizards, it works, because they get to be an ensemble and they all get to be clear and distinct characters. But it's not really about them, it's about the four lower-class staffers at the University, and they're fantastic.

Nutt is just heartbreaking as the one who has so internalized all the prejudice against his race that he thinks that no amount of self-improvement can ever be good enough. Trevor is a fun window into jus thow dodgy the dodgy parts of Ankh-Morpork can be (we've gotten this a lot in the City Watch books, of course, but it's much different seen through the eyes of someone who has to get along in those parts of town and doesn't have a badge to protect him - it's notable that Trevor fears the Watch rather than trusts them.) Juliet is a risky character - oh, the pretty but dim girl, real groundbreaking there - but she's so genuine that it's hard not to like her anyway, and like Nutt, she's internalized her supposed "place" to a degree that even when her dream is breaking her door down to find her, she can't help but assume that she'd just screw it up.

Which leads us to Glenda, probably first among equals in this story. Because this story is all about the "Crab bucket," of course, and it's through Glenda that we see that that instinct to pull others back down to your level doesn't necessarily come from a mean-spirited place. It's still a misguided instinct, as Glenda learns, but her repressive advice to Juliet truly comes from a place of concern and protection, and the greatest victories in the story are from Glenda realizing that she, too, has talents great enough to warrant bigger dreams and that she deserves to stop giving a shit what the folks in Dolly Sisters might think of her.

It's kind of wild that this book, which came out in 2009, shares so many themes with Ted Lasso, but the one most interesting to me is how both divide time between the Football world and the Fashion world, while satirizing but respecting both. I also like how early in this book some characters state outright that it's basically tradition now that, in Ankh-Morpork, the first stage of acceptance of other races is in the Watch. It makes sense, then, that the last adopters of tolerance would be the goons taking part in mob-rules football in the streets for the chance to get into a fight.

It's a very long book by Discworld standards, but I didn't mind, because I loved hanging out with these characters. And I think that's about the best endorsement I can give it.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:19 PM on February 21 [9 favorites]

I also don't care much for sports and the football scenes here were thrilling! I still occasionally think of Nutt and his deep difficulties in finding a place of his own.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:48 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

I listened to the audiobook of this book -- one of my first Discworld experiences -- and it was wonderful!

(I think I was painting every six-panel door in the house, so maybe my memories are affected by the fumes...)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:12 AM on February 22 [3 favorites]

As someone who has always been homely, I appreciated Pratchett not sugarcoating the differences in how people treat Juliet and Glenda. Yep, that's real familiar.

Macarona's chant with all his titles will never not crack me up. I work in academia. I know more than a few Macaronas, without the soccer talent.

It's a blink-and-you-miss-it throwaway, but I do like knowing what Mightily Oats has been up to all this time. Good for him. I would read the hell out of an Oats-Nutt-Glenda adventure fanfic.

I spent my librarian career working toward open access to scholarly literature. This exchange therefore absolutely SLEW ME, I am completely and utterly DECEASED:

‘So people you know at Brazeneck send you stuff?’ said Ridcully.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Ponder.
‘For free?’
‘Of course, sir,’ said Ponder, looking surprised. ‘The free sharing of information is central to the pursuit of natural philosophy.’
‘And so you tell them things, do you?’
Ponder sighed. ‘Yes, of course.’
‘I don’t think I approve of that,’ said Ridcully. ‘I’m all for the free sharing of information, provided it’s them sharing their information with us.’
‘Yes, sir, but I think we’re rather hampered by the meaning of the word “sharing”.’
posted by humbug at 7:26 PM on February 22 [6 favorites]

It's great to see love for this book here, I think it's absolutely amazing, and yea, the audiobook is so fun to listen to, the voices stephen briggs gives all the characters are spot on.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:11 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]

humbug: YES! And I adored Stibbons' rant about holding enough positions to form a majority by himself on any committee. Paraphrasing here, but: "Did anyone notice you were acquiring this much authority?" "Yes, I did." "I'm very sorry, I swear it wasn't intentional." "I believe you, very little that happens here is." Et cetera.

Ponder is just a great minor character throughout the series and this was a great culmination of how put-upon he's always been.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:14 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]

I put off reading this one because I thought, for some reason, it was like one of the ones where they go into the whys and wherefores of Magic on the Disc. My brother, the source of all Discworld in my life, informed me that it was a novel and so I finally listened to it on Audible and I bloody loved it.

It has had the effect of making me notice strange bits of lore about soccer (football whatevs) that come up in articles now and then and go ooh yeah, that was in the Terry Pratchett football book with the wizzards.

I always love revisiting characters so the faculty were bound to be good. Ho,The Megapode! is a cry for the ages.
posted by h00py at 2:59 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]

For folks who know more about soccer than I do: It seemed clear to me that Macarona's name was a reference to Maradona (and probably to Macarena, but I'll forgive an aging Pratchett making a name-joke 15 years past its prime), but were there any other similarities between the professor and the real-world footballer? Aside from talent, I mean? All I really know about Maradona is that he was Argentine, one of the all-time greats, and of course the "Hand of God" play, and if there was a Hand of God reference here, I definitely missed it.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:11 PM on February 23

I too really enjoyed this book.
posted by maxwelton at 7:43 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

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