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Kloppite

David Segar

Pitch Publishing, 2017

Softback, 288pp, £12.99

 

There’s always a danger with a book that looks at an evolving situation that, upon publication, it is already out of date, overtaken by events. However, in this case - a narrative of Jurgen Klopp’s first two seasons at Liverpool – there is much that appears either unchanged or in a state of continuity. So, this narrative of his tenure at Anfield is timely and pertinent, with many of the questions as well as the optimism still holding good.

The success and dominance of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s has become something of a millstone around the necks of managers since. Yes, there have been intermittent achievements and trophies with Houllier and Benitez both winning European tournaments, but if anything these have served to underline the fact that there has been no consistent challenge in the league or elsewhere. Despite Brendan Rogers winning Manager of the Year in 2014 after the club’s second place, he was sacked after not winning any major trophy in three years.

The appointment of Klopp seemed to have an inevitability about it. He had guided a team from mid-table to Bundesliga titles, had revelled in and harnessed the fanatical support in Dortmund, and shown passion and an understanding of the link between fans and the club. His positive style of play -gegenpressing- was one which seemed to be suited to the traditions of Liverpool, and he had said that a job in England outside for a club that wasn’t fulfilling its potential would appeal. Plus, of course, a name that is heaven sent for headline (or book) writers when talking of Liverpool.

There was certainly a widespread optimism that Klopp was the man to turn the club into a major force again. For those that didn’t share it, the man himself said one of his tasks was to turn doubters into believers. The author, a committed supporter, doesn’t let his narrative become a rose tinted one. Nor does he express frustration at any perceived lack of progress in the first couple of seasons. There’s a recognition that Liverpool doesn’t have the big money that competitors can draw on and that maybe the club was a bit further back than was apparently the case. The second-place finish in 2014, for instance, owed much to them having the outstanding talent of Luis Suarez at the time. Without him the sum of the parts wasn’t possibly as good as others had.

Klopp is recognised as an outstanding coach; transformation of players such as Henderson and Milner into new roles and the development of Lallana are given as examples. Yet, at the same time as being successful at getting more from some players there’s a nagging doubt that tactically Klopp has not yet imposed himself in the English game. At Dortmund there was a feeling that other clubs learned to cope with his tactics and that’s a criticism that’s growing here. Maybe it’s too early to fully appraise his player recruitment but this season (and last) the defensive squad seemed lightweight. The author looks at both the ups and downs of the Klopp reign, it’s an honest and detailed story of one of the most charismatic and interesting managers in the country. When appointed he talked of three years as a measure for achievement. Now, after two, it’s an appropriate time to assess whether the believers have grown in number or not.

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It’s Not All About The Old Firm

Scott Burns

Pitch Publishing, updated edition 2017,

Softback, 449pp, £12.99

 

How many successful clubs are there in Scotland? Presently there is just one that dominates football there and in a manner that is probably not matched in any other European country, certainly not over a period of years. For decades, however, the pre-eminence was shared between Celtic and Rangers, the Old Firm.  Located in the most populous city, with an historic reach that’s rooted in cultural and religious loyalties, they have accrued more silverware, supporters and publicity than, probably, the rest of Scottish clubs put together. But there is much more to Scottish football and every so often the giants’ stranglehold has been loosened.  Scott Burns has produced an impressive volume that chronicles the “uprisings” of the past 30 years or so by teams from other parts of the country and gives hope that they can continue.

 

The first Scottish league championship was shared; between Dumbarton and Rangers in 1891. Indeed, it was Dumbarton who won it outright the following season and it wasn’t until the next year that Celtic first lifted the trophy. Similarly with Scottish FA Cup. In its first 18 seasons (starting 1874) neither of the Old Firm won it. Honours went to Queens Park, Third Lanark, Vale of Leven, Dumbarton, Renton, Hibs and Hearts.  So it was from the 1890s that the Glasgow big two began their rise to pre-eminence and, to many outsiders, it has generally appeared to have been the case ever since (Rangers’ recent troubles set aside). Closer inspection obviously shows that it hasn’t always been a shoo in for them and the great Hibs team of the 1940s and 50s almost rocked the boat, with isolated success for other clubs perforating the litany of Old Firm success.

 

This book is really about the last 30 years or so. The author describes the winning achievements of Aberdeen and Dundee United. The “New Firm” he calls the teams of Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean with their feats both domestically and in Europe, and nearly half the chapters are concerned with these two clubs. There’s much more however and the glories, albeit temporary in many cases, of Hearts, St Mirren, Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell, Raith, Kilmarnock, Livingston, Hibs and St Johnstone are all chronicled. Based on over 100 interviews, the vast majority with ex-players, it is vibrant with passionate memories and there’s an ever-present sense of pride and affection that not only has the duopoly been breached but that each individual club has achieved something, regardless of the Old Firm having their noses put out of joint.

 

For supporters of any club outside the elite in whatever country the ambition for glory is a driving force. There must be the hope, if not the expectation, that their day will come. Even if it’s not your club that wins, the fact that another that is in similar circumstances does do so usually provides some satisfaction. So, this book, whilst of specific relevance to those following the clubs that are highlighted, is of value and interest to supporters anywhere who still dream of knocking the big guns off their perch.

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Where Have All the Irish Gone?

Kevin O’Neill

Pitch Publishing, 2017

Softback, 222pp, £12.99

 

The impact of players like Brady, Quinn, Irwin, Keane, Giles, McGrath, or Whelan upon English football, and indeed upon the international scene was undoubtedly significant. Star players for leading clubs, components of a national side that repeatedly punched above its weight, they were prime examples of the quality of Eire born footballers who crossed the Irish Sea in the 80s and 90s.

 

Yet, in 2013/4 three English Premier League clubs had no Irish players – including at youth/academy level. And the top five clubs at the end of 2012/13 had no Irishmen in their first team squads at the start of the next season.

 

Are there less talented players being born Irish? Or is it a result of other factors that the country is no longer a prime source of players for the top flight of England? Kevin O’Neill has looked at a range of contributory circumstances, from the structure of coaching and development in his native country, to finance, and, most tellingly surely, the vast influx of players from around the globe into the Premier League, and Championship. Indeed the “Irish” in the book’s title could just as easily been replaced with “English” or “Scottish”.  As clubs seek instant success it is easier to buy a readymade and proven player with experience of playing in a good league rather than nurturing and developing a youngster. It’s an analysis that is generally accepted, and one that on its own would not necessarily justify a book focusing on Irish players. O’Neill, however, looks wider and suggests that even if his countrymen are not impacting at the very top, there are still plenty plying their trade in other arenas.

 

The increased professionalism of English youth set ups, children from the age of eight being associated with big clubs, training and coaching several times a week, means that the equivalent Irish child is already behind in football development even if they were to come to England as teenagers. It is such disadvantage that has contributed to the release of players who have been part of Premiership set ups. Jack Byrne, tipped to make it at Manchester City, has just signed for Oldham, one of the many Irish players operating, and earning a decent living, in the EFL and Scottish leagues. Enda Stevens was with Aston Villa but moved on around cubs till he got to Portsmouth in League 2, and most weekends there are around 20 Irish players in that fourth tier. Others impact in Scotland: Adam Rooney has been a leading scorer with Aberdeen.  Some are choosing to stay in Ireland, or return there. The League of Ireland has seen signs of increasing in quality and Dundalk have shown it’s possible to progress in the Champions League.

 

So maybe it’s a question of realignment of aspirations. Just as many players from the British mainland can no longer expect to star at the top so it is for those from Ireland too. The Irish haven’t stopped playing football it’s just that they are contributing on different stages.

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29 Minutes From Wembley

Steve Phelps

Pitch Publishing 2017

Softback, 192 pages, £12.99

 

Gordon Milne was one of football’s brightest young managers in the 70s and 80s. Success at Wigan, then non-league, Leicester, and in Turkey (becoming a legend at Besiktas) surrounded his achievements at Coventry from 1972-81. Shortlisted for the England job after Sir Alf Ramsey, Milne built an exciting team at Highfield Road, one that was committed to attack and entertainment. Assuring the club’s status in the top flight he also got the club tantalisingly close to their first Wembley cup final. This book tells the story of that tilt at the League Cup in 1981.

The Coventry of the seventies was a club that was never far away from publicity. Not surprisingly with Jimmy Hill as Chairman/Managing Director it pioneered attempts to shake up the way the game was administered and presented. Big on sponsorship tried to change its name to Coventry Talbot to link with a local car factory. It was the second club to go with new kit manufacturers Admiral and its iconic “tramline” shirts and brown away kit are still remembered. But it backed up the off the field activity with a team that punched above its weight. Steve Phelps sets out the background of how the club developed in that period and how the team was built and performed.

The narrative build with an account of how they went on a League Cup run, getting past Manchester Utd, Brighton, Cambridge and Watford before playing West Ham in the two-legged semi-final. The furthest the club had been in a senior competition, the promise of Wembley looked close. Indeed, after the first game the Sky Blues held a 3-2 advantage. City were still in the lead and Wembley bound until the 61-minute mark. It was then, 29 minutes to go, that West Ham equalised, snatching victory in the dying minutes Less than half an hour from the final the Coventry tilt at glory was over.

The strength of the book is in the memories and testimonies of players (including opposition), officials and others involved. It’s never a dry factual narrative but a momentum of emotion and memories that convey well not only the one season but a period in the life of Coventry City. A team that had Tommy Hutchison, Mick Ferguson, Les Sealey, Ian Wallace and Mark Hateley was bound to have character and it comes to life fully here.

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Russian Winters: The Autobiography

Andrei Kanchelskis

De Coubertin Books, 2017

Hardback, 248pp, £20

 

A Lithuanian surname, Ukrainian mother, childhood in the Soviet Union, British passport and capped for Russia. Just from that one could guess that Andrei Kanchelskis was destined to have a career that spanned several countries and would be influenced by cultures and politics from each of them.  With the World Cup in Russia imminent he has brought together not only stories from his playing and managerial days but also personal insight into present day life there and football there.

Growing up and developing as a young footballer was in a society that was still a controlled one, with little in the way of luxuries but support for many who shone at sport. Kanchelskis was a boy in Kirovograd , and was selected for a football academy in Kharkov (although his first love was ice hockey). Even though he was initially told he was too little and too slow his perseverance and talent earned him a contract with Dinamo Kiev. Like all Dinamo teams it was part of the security and police forces network and although he still had to do national service it was only three months and he proudly writes that he’s now proficient in assembling and using a Kalashnikov!

Moving from Kiev to Shakthar Donetsk gave him more certainty of first team football and stability, important at a time the Soviet Union was beginning to break down. Kanchelskis points out how fortunate he was as a footballer; the Donetsk supporters were mainly miners still working in conditions that were dangerous and demanding. Shakthar players were taken down the mines to see the conditions and it was a sobering experience. The emergence of private enterprise saw agents appear for players and it was an agent-arranged move to Manchester United with Kanchelskis not knowing who he would be signing for even when he was on the flight to England.

As part of Ferguson’s team his impact was immense, a flying winger who scored goals frequently, although he found the manager difficult to adapt to. Kanchelskis certainly comes across as someone with self-confidence and who isn’t afraid to voice an opinion, attributes that led to an erratic relationship with Fergie.  A move from Old Trafford was almost inevitable and Arsenal, Liverpool and Middlesbrough were all interested. Joe Royle, manager at Everton, was the successful suitor (after telling Kanchelskis that Middlesbrough was “like Chernobyl”) and there’s clear mutual admiration between the two, with Joe writing an afterword in the book, and resigning the player for Manchester City later.

Moves to Glasgow Rangers, Fiorentina, Southampton, Saudi Arabia, and back to Russia followed, a playing career that finished at Krylia Svetov in 1996. Less success came with management in Russia and Latvia, but there are few who ever saw him play that would begrudge him accolades as a footballer. Against a background of both Russian and Italian Mafia involvement, bombings, backhanders and politics, the Kanchelskis story is a good one to read.

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Russian Winters: The Autobiography

Andrei Kanchelskis

De Coubertin Books, 2017

Hardback, 248pp, £20

 

A Lithuanian surname, Ukrainian mother, childhood in the Soviet Union, British passport and capped for Russia. Just from that one could guess that Andrei Kanchelskis was destined to have a career that spanned several countries and would be influenced by cultures and politics from each of them.  With the World Cup in Russia imminent he has brought together not only stories from his playing and managerial days but also personal insight into present day life there and football there.

Growing up and developing as a young footballer was in a society that was still a controlled one, with little in the way of luxuries but support for many who shone at sport. Kanchelskis was a boy in Kirovograd , and was selected for a football academy in Kharkov (although his first love was ice hockey). Even though he was initially told he was too little and too slow his perseverance and talent earned him a contract with Dinamo Kiev. Like all Dinamo teams it was part of the security and police forces network and although he still had to do national service it was only three months and he proudly writes that he’s now proficient in assembling and using a Kalashnikov!

Moving from Kiev to Shakthar Donetsk gave him more certainty of first team football and stability, important at a time the Soviet Union was beginning to break down. Kanchelskis points out how fortunate he was as a footballer; the Donetsk supporters were mainly miners still working in conditions that were dangerous and demanding. Shakthar players were taken down the mines to see the conditions and it was a sobering experience. The emergence of private enterprise saw agents appear for players and it was an agent-arranged move to Manchester United with Kanchelskis not knowing who he would be signing for even when he was on the flight to England.

As part of Ferguson’s team his impact was immense, a flying winger who scored goals frequently, although he found the manager difficult to adapt to. Kanchelskis certainly comes across as someone with self-confidence and who isn’t afraid to voice an opinion, attributes that led to an erratic relationship with Fergie.  A move from Old Trafford was almost inevitable and Arsenal, Liverpool and Middlesbrough were all interested. Joe Royle, manager at Everton, was the successful suitor (after telling Kanchelskis that Middlesbrough was “like Chernobyl”) and there’s clear mutual admiration between the two, with Joe writing an afterword in the book, and resigning the player for Manchester City later.

Moves to Glasgow Rangers, Fiorentina, Southampton, Saudi Arabia, and back to Russia followed, a playing career that finished at Krylia Svetov in 1996. Less success came with management in Russia and Latvia, but there are few who ever saw him play that would begrudge him accolades as a footballer. Against a background of both Russian and Italian Mafia involvement, bombings, backhanders and politics, the Kanchelskis story is a good one to read.

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On The Brink: A journey through English football’s North West

Simon Hughes

DeCoubertin Books, 2017

Hardback, 290pp, £18.99

 

The professional game that we follow and love was massively shaped by clubs from the North West. Six of the original twelve Football League teams were from Lancashire, so were eight of the first ten non-amateur winners of the FA Cup. Despite all the changes since, the region, regarded in the book as stretching from Carlisle down to Northwich in Cheshire, remains a major force at all levels of the pyramid. Whilst some teams have fallen from grace and out of the League (E.g. Barrow, Stockport, Southport) others have replaced them (Fleetwood, Macclesfield, Morecambe), have bounced back (Tranmere, Accrington), or are not far from knocking on the door (Salford, Fylde).  And five of the Premier League’s top eight hail from here too.

Simon Hughes takes the rich raw material that results from this and paints not only pictures of individual clubs and communities but also of trends and shared issues. Themes emerge of which some are encouraging, and some portray a history of poor decision-making allied to external factors that have led to hard times. Whether it’s the classic wealthy benefactor owning and running a club or decline of local economies and consequent impact on the local team, he describes them with an understanding and analysis that’s praiseworthy.

Not every club is looked at but there’s enough breadth of coverage to ensure interest at many levels and sets of circumstances. Each case study is well illustrated through interviews with key players in the club, perhaps not always giving every side of a story but certainly enough to make a point that’s worth discussion. Along the way there is a continuous series of stories, anecdotes and insights. John Coleman and Jimmy Bell (“thick as thieves”) were pleased when bad weather meant they had to train on astroturf. It meant they didn’t have to tell some new loanees that Accrington didn’t have a training pitch. Joe Royle tells of the weather at Oldham’s Boundary Park where all four corner flags would blow in different directions. David Haythornthwaite, owner of AFC Fylde with League status an ambition by 2022, adorns the boardroom with pictures of Churchill and Thatcher, supports fracking and opposes new housing near his own home and appears as a modern-day Bob Lord, the patriarch of Burnley.

The re-emergence of Tranmere and its juxtaposition across the Mersey to the probable site of Everton’s new ground is revealingly dealt with by, from the former, Chief Executive Mark Palios and, from Everton, local supporters groups. That’s neatly linked to similar movements amongst Liverpool fans and their impact on recent history at Anfield. The link between club and community is highlighted in nearly every chapter, whether it’s the importance a thriving team can make, or the reverse, what a difference a community in economic or social decline has on football.

So, from rural Cheshire through the former industrial giants of towns in Lancashire right up to the Scottish border, there’s a rich story of connections, hopes, ambitions, and backs to the wall struggles. The past, present, and future of North West football is probably that of English football too.

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World In Motion

Simon Hart

deCoubertin Books, 2018

Hardback, 382pp, £18.99

 

The eyes of Schillachi, tears of Gazza, celebration of Milla, and voice of Pavarotti. The 1990 World Cup was replete with iconic incidents, personalities, and matches. A tournament that coincided with the final manifestation of some nations, and with the most extensive tv coverage to date, it was possibly one of the least attractive in terms of pure football but captured the imagination of spectators and viewers across the world.

The author has delivered an outstanding series of stories about some of the most significant elements of Italia 90. Context, personalities involved, and consequences are all dealt with through a range of illuminating interviews with key protagonists as well from his own thoughtful analysis. The result is a book that not only celebrates and commemorates a remarkable few weeks of football but allows the reader to reflect on their legacy for football today.

Hart rejects a match-by-match narrative and provides a tapestry that ranges from the big nations to the smaller ones and their consequent expectations and experiences. Football was still pretty much governed by its history, so for an African nation, Cameroun, to reach the last eight for the first time is as crucial as was the final between West Germany (making their last appearance) and Argentina (who lived up to stereotype with two players sent off). For the United Arab Emirates, it was a nation only 19 years old that made its bow and saw their impact not so much on the field but in the exposure and credibility that was gained, helping doors open in business and politics in the months afterwards. Less than 30 years on it is the UAE that wields power in the Premier League and elsewhere.

Each chapter is excellently constructed around research that has tracked down those involved on and off the field at the time. Whether it’s Dragan Stojkovic of the soon to be extinct Yugoslavia team, Argentine keeper Goycochea, Schillachi himself, or referee George Courtney, Hart has extracted illuminating and articulate insights and memories. The qualifying journey to Italy, the matches at the tournament, the financial and political back ground in many of the countries, and the ensuing careers of participants are all excellently conveyed. For us in the British Isles it has varying degrees of fondness. For England it is still regarded as a glorious failure, a so near tournament whilst Scotland a few weeks that ended in ignominy when its domestic product was seemingly strong (Rangers had more players in the England squad, four, than any other club).  The Republic of Ireland saw a collection from the Irish diaspora and from home create a pride and enjoyment that gave a new momentum to the country’s status internationally, s sporting manifestation of the Celtic Dragon.

Why has Italia 90 achieved such a strong recollection rating? After all there have been six other World Cups since. Undoubtedly, as the author chronicles, it was partly due to tv. In the season before the tournament there were just 12 live broadcasts of English league fixtures. The explosion of coverage in that summer was still somewhat a novelty. Time zones were sympathetic, the BBC had a masterpiece of a musical theme, and football somehow began to be fashionable again.  The best World Cup (other than 1966)? Possibly, and Paul Hart marks it superbly well with this book.

 

 

 

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