Trading Logs: A History of Dutch Shipping as Played Out by a Belgian Football Club by I. Klasky | Book review

By I. Klasky, translated by Jane Jacobs. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 120 pages, £12.99

Many histories of Dutch shipping are presented with either a sense of awe or contempt, as though, with this indomitable people who are a pivotal part of the United Kingdom, they are good people just punished by circumstance. So it is disappointing to see how little research goes into this saga of one of Dutch trading history’s most successful companies.

“One of the few profits this country has ever made from trade,” says this book’s epigraph, “is in standing back and watching the deeds of the Dutchman.” Years of looking, checking out ships, planning conferences about advertising have led Klasky to give the Dutch side of the story. They seem ready to embellish it too. Virtually everything about the book is over the top, from the graphic style (a “technical error” made the labels on each of the ships retrofitted with Google Maps images, which look almost like they are pulled from a Lonely Planet guidebook) to the daft subtitle: “A History of Dutch Shipping as Played Out by a Belgian Football Club.”

The plan to launch a Dutch player into the top flight, clearly conceived at a Dutch company’s HQ, is too farcical to make any real sense. Otherwise, one could at least have seen a connection between the football club and Dutch vessels, as the Dutch historical community is divided between Melbournians who would swear by the success of Dutch houses in this country, and those who prefer English shipping on Mersey water. But then Klasky writes: “When asked about the impact Dutch ships had on British’s determination to have their own flag, Dave Transeus, on the board of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary said that the Royal Navy’s celebrations in 1907 of the 500th anniversary of the Union Jack conveyed a very different picture to an outsider.”

A few of the actual details do help, but then it’s still a very short book. You can get the impression from quite a few of the supporting voices that they are embittered by their once-flourishing careers as footballers in the UK but others, like the Malta-born mother of young left winger Joshua Lindo, are rediscovering a lost culture. You also find that the page-turning pace suits a coach who whirls about in a Volvo station wagon, as he looks after an almost inherited club with his third coach and trying to keep up with bigger teams.

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