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The Hate Game - Ben DIrs

 

Eubank, Benn, Watson.

 

I think that was the book the presenter of Boxing Matters on boxnation might have mentioned as being a top read.

 

The Road to Nowhere by Tris Dixon is supposed to be a good book.

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If Only Simon Turner Pitch Publishing 2017 Softback, 382pp, £9.99   Subtitled “An Alternative History of The Beautiful Game”, this is a series of six scenarios where history

Have Boots Will Travel – The story of Frank Large Author: Paul F Large Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd RRP: £17.99 Hardback   If you watched football between the late 1950s and the 70s, you’ll p

Read that too. Really good. Plenty of fallen heros in it. Really sad that Matthew Saad Muhammed is no longer with us. He features heavily in it and helps Tris a lot.

I think that was the book the presenter of Boxing Matters on boxnation might have mentioned as being a top read.

 

The Road to Nowhere by Tris Dixon is supposed to be a good book.

 

Read that too. Really good. Plenty of fallen heros in it. Really sad that Matthew Saad Muhammed is no longer with us. He features heavily in it and helps Tris a lot.

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John Lyall-A Life in Football

Phil Stevens

Apex Publishing, 2014

Hardback, £20, 248pp

West Ham’s most successful manager was, in many ways, a model of the Hammers’ “brand”. John Lyall grew up locally, signed on as a youngster , graduated to the first team, stayed with the club after injury and , on becoming manager, developed teams that played the “West ham way”. The debate of the last couple of years about whether that is still appropriate, or even possible, is still running , but Lyall grew from a culture based on Moore, Peters etc. and nurtured it through the 70s and 80s to bring trophies to the Boleyn Ground.

 

Phil Stevens has delivered a detailed life story of John Lyall, family life , schooldays, playing, coaching , managing are all related in a way that shows an absorption with the man, and a love of the Hammers. Perhaps, for those not as committed to the club, there’s a little too much detail but that doesn’t detract from what’s a compelling story of the success of a manager over a long period – at Ipswich as well as West Ham. Lyall dealt with strong characters, bought and sold well, developed what were innovative coaching methods, and was immensely respected by other managers – Alex Ferguson asking him to become his assistant at Old Trafford, and he helped Terry Venables at Spurs.

 

Although he started part time youth coaching at West Ham in 1964 (aged just 24) it was seven years later that he became assistant manager to Ron Greenwood, succeeding him in 1975. Over the next 14 years he led the club to two FA Cup wins and its highest ever finish in the top flight, third in 1986. Lyall brought on players who not only had the class of Brooking or Sissons or Devonshire, but brought in those who went on to deliver great things, such as David Cross, Phil Parkes, or Frank McAvennie.

 

But “the boys of’86” couldn’t keep going and, just three years later, West Ham were relegated and Lyall sacked. Despite the drop into the old Div 2, the sacking was a big shock and Lyall took a rest – although that included helping Bobby Robson prepare for Italia 90. The call from another club known for its football culture, Ipswich, came and Lyall immersed himself in reinvigorating the East Anglians. His talent for excellent buys and coaching got them into the Premier League within a couple of seasons, leading to the local paper’s headline “Glory days mirror Ramsey era”. In fact the top division proved tough and in 1994 he resigned after a poor run of results.

 

John Lyall’s career was a long and, by any yardstick, a successful one. He played a massive role in establishing expectations of good football, possibly ones that have ultimately been a burden for more recent West Ham bosses, and is rightly revered as by the club’s fans, and respected by anyone who was a follower of football in the 70s and 80s. Only 66 when died in 2006, his achievements are rightly remembered and celebrated in this biography.

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A bit more 'low brow' than some of the other books mentioned here but I read Roy Keane's latest book 'The Second Half' on a recent flight back from England to Oz. Read it in one go and enjoyed it, despite my animosity towards Keane as a player (although I would have him in my squad any day of the week). Came across as a man racked by self-doubt despite his huge (on-pitch) personality and character, but pretty likeable and honest about himself and his faults. Maybe not the most rational of thinkers and prone to thinking more with his heart than his head, but someone who came across as a pretty decent man manager. I enjoyed it - and his attitude towards Fergie was illuminating.

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Ta Ra Fergie

Author : Pete Molyneux

Publisher: The History Press

Softback, £9.99

416pp, 2013

 

I opened this book with mixed feelings and closed it with them too, though of a different type.

 

Over 400 pages devoted to Manchester Utd ? A tough task for anyone who isn’t of that persuasion, let alone someone who is still smarting from Mark Hughes’ last minute of extra time equaliser in the 1994 FA Cup semi-final. Yet I was , in a perverse way, looking forward to reading an apology from someone who got it so very wrong about Alex Ferguson. So in I plunged.

 

Fair play to the author, he is from Salford and has supported them from being a young boy in the early 60s. So he has known relatively lean years , including relegation to the Second Division. And it’s impossible for someone like me, or the vast majority of football supporters, to have an attitude shaped by 25 years of pretty much constant success. So if his narrative does come across as being a bit of litany of expecting (and achieving) trophies , sometimes a little blasé, then that’s understandable. And there’s much that’s good that even a non-Red can appreciate.

 

The book is more than a match-by-match saga of his years as a supporter. It’s a very good story of how life has changed for the ordinary fan (and even big clubs have them !). Pete Molyneux is excellent at conveying his journey from young teenager, desperate to buy a combat jacket and be allowed to stand on the Stretford End, to a dad and someone au fait with stadia across Europe. He paints a very good picture of the tension, violence and facilities that fans experienced in the 70s and 80s, of the development in the 90s to what we know now. And it’s done in an entertaining style.

 

It’s a long book , so you get your moneysworth , but at times there’s a sense of descriptions without any analysis. A lot of match and travel stories but not a great deal about how he feels about the global armchair fandom, or what he thinks the next ten years will bring. Is Manchester United an unstoppable force? Is it an entity that would excite him as a nine year old now, just as Best, Law, Charlton, Rimmer etc did in 1963?

 

So, at the end I left the book with a sense of appreciation for the author as a supporter but not necessarily feeling any warmer about the club! For anyone who wants to know about the club’s last 50 years from the perspective of a fan, then it’s a must-read. For anyone who dreams about a change of name on the honours board …it isn’t.

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O, Louis : In search of Louis Van Gaal

Hugo Borst

Publisher : Yellow Jersey Press

Paperback, £9.99

298pp

 

The arrival of Van Gaal in England seems to have caused a somewhat perplexed view amongst much of the media. There’s been a widespread acceptance that his record as both club and national manager deserves respect yet, at the same time, a caution about the man himself.

 

After umpteen years of Fergie we knew quite a bit about his character – his sense of humour, how he’d react in situations etc. But now there’s a new “big beast” in charge at Old Trafford and there’s an uncertainty about him as a person. An imposing figure, a commanding physical presence, but with no history of anecdotes and stories in this country. Who is Louis Van Gaal?

 

Hugo Borst is a Dutch football writer who first knew Van Gaal when he was a player with Borst’s team Sparta Rotterdam. Since then, as a print and broadcast journalist, Borst has had a relationship that has veered from the collaborative to one that’s been, at best, frosty and distant . But he hasn’t relied solely on his own experience to pull together a fascinating and feisty picture of the man who said “Everything with my face on it sells well”.

 

The author spoke to a wide range of people who have met or observed Van Gaal ; psychiatrist, theatre director, players, politicians, writers and comedians amongst others. Is there a unanimity of perception? Yes and no. The former centres around the massive self confidence that the subject had as a player and has as a coach, his “talent” to alienate, and his ability to create winning teams (at least for the first two/three years in a job). However he’s seen as very different by some of the contributors. His characteristics probably lead to that with an inevitability. Arrogant, sympathetic, talented, inflexible…the contradictions are all there. He’s someone who can hold grudges for a very long time (so there’s a link with Fergie), who fell out spectacularly with Cruyff and other big names of Dutch football, and who has “the conviction that he’s the only god he will ever have”.

 

Louis Van Gaal will fill pages and pages , hours and hours, of our media. For how long remains to be seen. Whilst he’s here this book is a fine introduction to trying to understand the man.

 

 

 

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Hard Case: The Autobiography of Jimmy Case

Publisher: John Blake

Hardback, 261pp, £18.99

 

It must have been tough when you were the only member of the first team that wasn’t called up for international duty. The England cap that never came is probably the only honour that Jimmy Case didn’t pick up as part of the excellent team of the 1970s. Three European Cup wins, four Div 1 championships, and “bits and pieces” like Charity Shields, League Cup, and European Super Cup. Ok, not an FA Cup winner, but twice a finalist.

 

A classic local boy made good story, Case was born in Liverpool, and played as a youth for South Liverpool before being put on the books at Anfield. It’s his career there that takes up the bulk of this straightforward book, how he worked his way up, the relationships with managers and teammates, and with the fans too. Ironically, however, Case spent more time playing “down South” than he did for Liverpool, and had more matches for Southampton than for the Reds.

 

One of the key themes that comes through is that he had a real love of playing football. He wanted to turn out and so his career took him where he was appreciated and an integral part of the names on the team sheet – a massed subsitutes’ bench was a thing of the future. His reputation as a hard tackler tended to overshadow other aspects of his game, notably a great ability to spot and deliver a pass, and he galvanised Brighton, Southampton and Bournemouth to relative success.

 

Not afraid of the social side of the game in the 70s, Case was a handful for Bob Paisley, culminating in his departure from Anfield after a “disturbance” stimulated by a few bevvies – and the development of Sammy Lee as a possible replacement. There’s a view that the move away from the area where his friends and roots were did him a favour , both on and off the field, and he gained respect and admiration on the South Coast.

 

It’s an honest tale, simply told in a book that will have great appeal to supporters of Liverpool and other teams he played for. It’s not going to win a literary award, but it’s a good read.

 

 

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Can i suggest the UGLY GAME Story of the Qatar World cup plot by Hiedi Blake and Jonathan Calvert. The lenghts officials would go to win votes and cash in. While double crossing each other.

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Fathers of Football

Keith Baker

Pitch Publishing, 2015

Softback, 160pp, £12.95

 

Subtitled “Great Britons who took the game to the world”, this is an intriguing look at how football took root in Europe and South America thanks to the efforts and energy of expatriates. And how, in many of these countries, the pioneers are revered and still honoured.

From Spain to Russia, Argentina to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the British were catalysts in introducing and establishing the game, laying down foundations that have helped build some of the most famous clubs across the planet. In a relatively short period at a time when communications, transport and travel was much slower than today, football went from a disorganised game in this country played under different sets of rules to something that became part of cultures internationally.

In 1863 the FA was founded and in about 30 years Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Italy all had clubs. In Argentina a mini-league had been set up, and in nearly all these countries it was largely due to British stimulus. Whilst there had been reports of British sailors and soldiers having kickabouts in foreign parts for a while, it was our industrial and economic strength rather than military that helped spread the game. It was the commercial links with other countries that sent many of the pioneers of football abroad, setting up businesses or using technical skills to develop industries there. The Charnock brothers, textile engineers from Blackburn, helped set up textile factories not far from Moscow, and overcame initial apathy and scepticism from both workers and officials to set up the club that became Moscow Dynamo. Three expat English businessmen, Edwards,Berra and Barnett, decided to organise a few games of cricket and football in a norther Italian city and by 1900 the nucleus of AC Milan was in place.

Interestingly it wasn’t in the Empire countries such as Canada or Australia that growth took place. It seems it was easier for “mad Englishmen” (Scots too) to enthuse wholly foreign cultures and societies. Despite difficulties at times initially in obtaining equipment (there were no football manufacturers in most places!) ingenuity and perseverance – the very common characteristics of Victorian industrialists – overcame barriers. The result is clubs such as Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona, and Genoa. But the British impact also extended through other avenues and the arrival of players and coaches gave impetus to further growth. Ex-Celtic player Johnny Madden arrived in Prague in 1905 and developed Slavia into a major force, whilst Lancastrian coach Jimmy Hogan won two Hungarian titles for MTK Budapest.

Football is now truly the world game. The author tells an intriguing story of why that is, and how much is owed to Britons spreading the gospel...

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Underdog: 50 Years of Trials and Triumphs with Football’s Also-Rans

Tim Quelch

Pitch Publishing

Paperback Edition 2015, £12.99, 538pp

 

Spanning 50 years of football, this is a marvellous saga of the game, both clubs and events, and how it has interacted with the wider social changes of the period since the end of the fifties. Tim Quelch puts his story together with a passion and understanding that makes the book a fascinating and ever-interesting read.

In football as in most things there’s still a British yearning for the underdog to do well and this is a superbly researched and written panorama of unlikely victories and campaigns, and of failures. The author shows his love for all levels of the game, and how even the so-called “mighty”, such as Chelse or Manchester City, can experience hardships and struggle. But the emphasis is squarely on how clubs can and do punch above their weight , whether in glorious one-off matches, over cup runs, or in league campaigns.

Each season from 58/9 onwards is looked at and exemplified with matches , clubs and players that have tilted at the odds , and all placed in the wider landscape of what was happening to the sport and to society. Whilst great cup runs such as Norwich , Hereford and Wimbledon are reflected on, so are the relative riches to rags and back again tales of Swansea or Burnley, the phoenix that is Aldershot, and ongoing struggles of non-league Matlock and Hastings. All are set against a backdrop of political, cultural and economic change and each fantastically illustrated with quotes, newspaper items, and an impressive sourcing of material from print and online media. Hundreds of players and managers are mentioned and the end result is an honest, endearing panorama of the game over time. Nostalgic yes but not in a warm sepia tinged manner, rather as told by someone who loves football, can see its warts but still recognises its romance and how it brings shared experience to so many of us.

One of the best sports books I have read, it can be dipped in and out of, not necessarily in chronological order, or read straight through. So if you’re unsure of what to buy with your Christmas book token or postal order (bit of nostalgia there), then this is probably the answer.

 

 

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Match of My Life – AFC Bournemouth

Alex Crook & Pat Symes

Pitch Publishing, 2015

Hardback, 192pp, £16.99

 

 

There’s probably never been a better time to be a Bournemouth fan. From 91st position seven years ago to the Premier League is a heck of a trip in itself but before that there were years and years of primarily lower division existence. In fact they joined the Football League in 1923 and for nearly 50 years were neither promoted nor relegated. Yet that doesn’t mean that life has been boring and this book highlights key matches that have meant a great deal not only to the individual players and managers but to the club itself.

More than 20 Bournemouth “legends” talk about the games that meant the most to them in their time at the club. Steve Fletcher played over 700 times, others much less. Some went on to bigger clubs, Darren Anderton and Matt Holland as examples, others, such as Luther Blissett , had come from time in the top echelons of the game, whilst others never experienced it. Eddie Howe, was both player and manager (like Fletcher and Sean O’Driscoll) and the selection of contributions ranges over games from 1957 through to Callum Wilson’s choice – their first win in the top flight in Aug 2015.

Not every match ended in success, there are defeats in there too, but for the person concerned they were immensely significant. O’Driscoll’s choice, from over 1000 he was involved in at Bournemouth, is a loss at Stoke because it was the start of loanee Jermain Defoe’s run of ten goals in ten consecutive matches. That of midfielder Ian Cox losing to Grimsby at Wembley in the Auto Windscreens Final just months after nearly going out of existence. But the glorious victories are here too; Ian Thompson scored in the cup win over Manchester Utd, Carl Feletcher in the Div 3 play off final, and Ted MacDougall bagged nine goals in the 11-0 win against Margate.

Each contribution is given in a manner that puts it in the person’s own context and that of the club. Not only in terms of the circumstances at the time but, in many cases, what it meant for the future. They all run to several pages and the authors have crafted entertaining and insightful stories from everyone. A good read for Bournemouth followers, naturally, but also for anyone who can respect the tribulations and consequent success of the club.

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It’s Mick Not Mike

Mick Duxbury

Pitch Publishing, 2015

Hardback, 255pp, £18.99

 

Despite nearly 400 games for Manchester Utd, and caps for England, Mick Duxbury probably isn’t one of the first players thought of as an Old Trafford legend. To be honest if the title of your autobiography is clarifying what your name is…then maybe your legacy isn’t that strong.

 

However Duxbury was a much respected member of the Utd teams in the 70s and 80s (he’s a school teacher now) and was a part of the eras of Sexton, Docherty, and Atkinson, as well as the early years of Fergie. His story is a classic of joining a club as a schoolboy (though nearly joining both Everton and Liverpool) and staying there for most of his career. Some of the notes on the cover of the book are headed “Holding On”, “Dedication”, and “Professionalism” and it’s that overwhelming sense of keeping his head down and doing his job that comes through. There’s no doubt that he was an excellent player, he kept his Utd place for many years under several managers and picked up 10 caps for England (interestingly all in eleven months in 1983 and 1984). A quality, hardworking pro, who delivered consistency in an era before the superstar revolution brought in by the Premier League and TV money.

 

Mick was probably never the life and soul of the dressing room – and certainly not part of the drinking culture there was at Old Trafford for part of his time there. His view of managers also indicates his character: Ron Atkinson “brash…training sessions to satisfy his own ego”. Dave Sexton “people have been critical of his personality but at least someone I could talk to”. And if it’s juicy tittle tattle about other players you want then this isn’t the book. Even though he roomed with some “characters” such as Mickey Thomas his escapades were of the innocuous type, “I joined in the fun where I could – cutting the ties, emptying the toothpaste..things like that”.

 

The book is the story of a modest man who had a great family life, played football at the highest level, and is now doing what he loves in coaching youngsters. Not a bad life to look back on.

Edited by LaticsPete
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Baggies Abroad

Tony Matthews

Pitch Publishing, 2015

Softback, 160pp, £9.95

From West Brom’s first foray off the British mainland in 1893, to their victory over Richmond Kickers in the USA last July, this is , as the sub-title claims a complete record of the Baggies’ global travels. There’s a report, or brief notes at the very least, of every game they’ve played in 44 republics, islands, states and territories, in the 122 years. If there’s room for pedantry then the “abroad” , implying a foreign country, doesn’t kick in until 1909, earlier trips being to Northern Ireland, but they were across a sea so let’s not quibble too much.

From that first match played off the mainland, a 3-1 loss to Linfield Athletic, to post World War II, the Albion weren’t great travellers. In fact other than Denmark & Sweden in 1909, it was Ireland (both Ulster and the new Irish Free State) that was their destination of choice. But since 1946 it’s been a globetrotting period – boosted by playing in the Cup Winners and UEFA Cups, as well as the Anglo-Italian competition and pre-season tournaments.

Along the way there have been big names and stadia such as Roma, Ajax, Benfica and Galatasary , as well as the lesser known Greve Fodbold (Denmark), Slovenian side Nafta, and the Damascus Police XI. From their longest trip, 7800 miles to China (where over 89,000 watched them beat the host national side in Beijing) , to the “derby” with Birmingham played in Guernsey, every game is logged and the overall result is an entertaining saga of how internationalism has impacted on one club.

As well as the match reports there’s a section of photographs of players, programmes and tickets ( some nice collectibles ) and a list of all West Brom players born outside the British Isles.

As a footnote and reminder that some things don’t change, there’s a mention of indiscipline on that first journey to Northern Ireland back in the 1890s. Centre forward Henry Boyd apparently exchanged blows with Joe Darby the world champion spring jumper who was accompanying the team. A summons was issued but Boyd didn’t turn up in court , disappearing for a while and was transfer listed. What would Tony Pulis have made of that ?

 

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A Football Fling

Steve Mingle

Pitch Publishing, 2015

Softback, 288pp, £12.99

 

 

Definitely a different perspective; a book written by a club sponsoring pensions consultant. Don’t let those last two words put you off, this is written with humour and by a genuine football supporter. A two season look at whether, in the words of the subtitle, Oxford United could steal the heart of a Manchester City fanatic.

Back in 2013 he and his business partner put up £1000 to enter a draw to become the U’s shirt sponsors. Neither were supporters of their local team but both “football daft” and happy to support the idea – and delighted when they won. Recognising that there wasn’t probably going to be a lot of new direct business resulting from sponsoring a League 2 team they just enjoyed the fact that they were able to get involved in a way they could never at a “big” club.

Their two years were eventful, and the growing relationship they had with players and backroom staff caused them anxiety that they probably hadn’t envisaged. Three managers in the two seasons and the inevitable turnover of players, several of whom they had grown to know and like, meant that it was all easy. Nor was the exposure always good. A live TV game saw their name on the shirts reach a wide audience, but the 5-1 thrashing generally meant a shot of a downcast Oxford player accompanying their company logo.

At the beginning of the relationship the author has an immediate worry of how he will be able to get to see his real love, City, and the U’s. The more sensible scheduling of League 2 games as opposed to the vagaries of the Premier League meant that this wasn’t an overriding problem but when there was a conflict it was the Citizens that won. So the answer to the question of whether his heart would be stolen is no. Oxford had his affection and much of his attention but his real love remained with the team he’d supported for years.

It’s a well written journal of the events, insights and relationships of the two years, with humour and humility running through it. When you next see a shirt sponsor’s name and wonder “who on earth is that?”, maybe spare a thought for those who aren’t in it for the big corporate glory, but for the chance to be part of the game and whose involvement means a lot to the clubs outside the top flights.

Edited by LaticsPete
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Men In White Suits

Simon Hughes

Corgi Books, 2016

Softback, £8.99, 394pp

A few minutes in football history that came to represent a change in Liverpool’s outlook and character, the Armani clad team at the 1996 Cup Final is an image that nearly everyone remembers. The “Spice Boys” epithet symbolised the new celebrity culture of young footballers and, pointed to the challenges that this change meant for Liverpool.

Simon Hughes talked with nine players and two managers who were at Anfield in the 1990s and pulls together a story of the times that has some consistent themes, although most with the benefit of hindsight. Whether his interviewees were through choice or not (did McMananam and Fowler say no whilst Redknapp say yes for instance), his line-up is wide enough to bring together a range of perspectives. Whilst Souness and Molby were stars, David Thompson and Nick Tanner might not immediately spring to mind.

The result is a series of articulate personal stories of what brought them to Liverpool and how and why they thrived or not, each captured in a manner that conveys the character and personality of the contributor. The self-belief of some seems to be almost denial of any personal contribution to failings at the club whilst others are able to be more objective in understanding the factors that caused Liverpool to fall behind. There is, however, a consistency in appreciating that the stability of “the Liverpool way”, and longevity of players and staff, repetition of what had been successful previously, had turned from strength to vulnerability. The more than 30 years of Shankly, Paisley and Fagan were ones of continuity and consistency, strong leaders on the staff and in the dressing room. The new riches of high wages, the different approaches and styles of play of overseas players, even a French manager in Houllier, combined to shake and dismantle the edifice of invulnerability that existed.

It’s a fascinating book that helps set out how changes in society and attitudes happened too fast for the Liverpool organisation to cope with successfully. Football sometimes needs lean years to create change – Ferguson at Manchester Utd was able to rebuild, maybe Moyes and Van Gaal didn’t have that breathing space – and Liverpool didn’t adapt well enough to what was going on. They had been successful so why do so? If there is a voice missing from the book it’s that from the boardroom but it’s an excellent read.

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“The Last Line”

 

Packie Bonner

 

Ebury Press, 2015.

 

Softback 360pp, £8.99

 

 

The island of Ireland has produced two outstanding goalkeepers of similar character, stature in the game, and who would have graced the international teams of nearly every nation under the sun.

 

Pat Jennings is one, the Ulsterman who was a legend for both Spurs and Arsenal as well as Norther Ireland. The other was a one club man, clocking up 641 appearances for Glasgow Celtic, a visibly reassuring presence for the Hoops and equally for the Republic of Ireland in his 80 matches for his country. Packie Bonner’s story is almost an archetypal one of small town Irish boy signing for the club of his dreams and becoming an iconic figure for Irish football fans everywhere.

 

Bonner was Jock Stein’s last signing for Celtic and probably one of his best. If goalkeeping is about calmness, creating confidence to the rest of the team (and to supporters), as well as physical ability then he was instrumental in Celtic’s four league championships, three Scottish Cups and one League Cup – and that’s before his role for the Republic. A part of the team that got to the last eight in Italia 90, his was the crucial save in a penalty shoot-out against Romania that let David O’Leary score the winner.

 

His autobiography is rather like the man. Steady, no flamboyance or sensationalism, this isn’t a “spill the beans” book, rather a thoughtful rather introspective look at his journey from the very rural background of Donegal to Glasgow and onto the international stage. Bonner made his Celtic debut on St Patrick’s Day and his heart was always back with his family and community where he had grown up. If you’re looking for excitement in the book then it will have to come from his steady narratives about the major football events and matches he took part in. There are no explosive revelations. Perhaps the closest he comes to showing anger is the frustration he had with Roy Keane after the latter’s actions in the 2002 World Cup, when Bonner almost resigned from a coaching role with the Irish FA when Keane was later reinstated into the squad.

 

There’s also an intriguing insight into the pressures he felt as an introverted and pivotal member of the team. Such was the stress he felt before the 1994 World Cup he went to see a psychologist, an episode that he deals with straightforwardly and with an understanding of how the pressure had built up. Like nearly all of his story, there’s never a sense of self-deception or self-aggrandisement. He knows he was a highly talented sportsman but it’s with a sense of gratitude and grounding that he tells his tale.

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A Man For All Seasons

Brian Owen & Rob Hadgett

Apex Publishing 2015

Paperback, 173pp, £9.99

Running through football is a strain of men who don’t have a big profile, rarely on the national back pages (let alone the front), and yet are known and respected by professionals up and down the country. For whatever reason they’ve never made it to stardom as a player or manager but their contribution has in many cases exceeded that of the “famous”. Some are one-club men, others have travelled from place to place, delivering commitment, skill, and, above all, showing a true love of the game. Brian Owen’s own service to the national game lasted over 50 years as player, coach, physio and scout but, to many like me, he has been unrecognised.

 

Probably unique in having filled all those roles and playing in the four divisions of the Football League clocking up over 300 matches, Owen started as an apprentice with Watford in 1961. His career saw him sometimes classed as a “journeyman” but he also contributed at the highest level, physio with the England team, and someone who knew every England manager from Alf Ramsey to Fabio Capello – and worked with most of them. If his playing career (with Watford, Wolves and Colchester) could be epitomised as that of someone who was reliable rather than a world beater, then his approach to physiotherapy was much more innovative. Injury had forced him to consider training in this fairly early on and he was one of those that brought both prevention as well as treatment of injuries into the dressing room. Recognition arrived with Bobby Robson taking him to Ipswich in a physio role but one that doubled up as coach, and he followed Robson into the England set up.

Owen’s book, co-authored with sportswriter Rob Hadgraft, has a wealth of anecdotes spanning the length of his career. The early days of Pat Jennings as a Watford keeper, toughening his hands by soaking them in vinegar, or being in the same room when Don Revie phoned his assistant Les Cocker to announce his resignation as England Manager, with the latter two in tears, are recalled in a matter of fact fashion, just part of a praiseworthy longevity in football. It’s not a story of celebrity spilling the beans but one that is a worthy memoir of someone who spanned decades of massive change in football. From the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961 through to the present day, Brian Owen was part of the integral backbone of the game. Playing, coaching, identifying talent, and looking after the physical impact on players, he did it all, and with recognisable success.

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The Bald Facts: The David Armstrong Biography

Pat Symes

Pitch Publishing, paperback edition 2016

224pp, £8.99

A book that starts with what seems like a series of hard luck stories doesn’t immediately make the reader warm to the subject. Bemoaning that he was only picked for England three times, and those over four years, that he had an acrimonious divorce, and that an injury has meant he is partially disabled and recipient of charity, Armstrong sets his stall out for a riches-to-rags tale. There is, however, a good story waiting to unfold, one that sets out how one of the most consistent and talented footballers of his generation earned a respected reputation playing at the top level.

 

Despite the book being authored by Pat Symes it is written in the first person, as Armstrong speaking. As such the intensely personal feelings of the former Middlesboro, Southampton and Bournemouth player are clear and well presented. The overwhelming, and sad, irony of his career is that it was an injury at just 32 that put him out of the game – after an incredible injury-free career that included 356 consecutive appearances for Boro as well as appearing in nearly 90% of the Saints’ games. In total he had 695 first team appearances, scoring 146 goals

 

An outstanding left-sided attacking midfielder, Armstrong was a major part of the 70s success at Ayresome Park, a relatively local lad who became revered on Teesside. The influence of Jack Charlton as manager, allied to players like Souness, Murdoch, Mills, Boam and Maddren, ensured that Boro were a feared and respected outfit. With Big Jack’s retirement came cost-cutting and the departure of stalwarts, including Armstrong himself in 1981 for a club record fee of £600,000 to Southampton. Once again part of a side with great strength (Keegan, Ball, Channon for instance) he again impressed nearly everyone in the game, apart from England manager Bobby Robson. Armstrong certainly lets his resentment about this show, stating that Robson “never gave me a chance”. He is equally forthright on other managers, loving Laurie McMenemy and Harry Redknapp but with little time for Chris Nicholl and John Neal.

 

The book is an intensely personal one, much of his career and afterwards being dogged by money problems. The root of these was divorce from his first wife (marrying her was “the second biggest regret of my life”), which cost him significant sums of money – though even he admits turning up for the hearing in a shiny red new Mercedes was gifting a goal to his wife’s lawyers! It also cost him estrangement from his daughter (the No 1 regret).

 

Life after football hasn’t been a bed of roses, but his story is certainly one of a significant contribution to the game. Never a superstar but definitely not far off.

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Retired

Alan Gernon

Pitch Publishing, 2016

256pp, Softback £9.99

 

Anyone looking at a career choice from a logical, long-term perspective would see the statistics and say “Footballer? No thanks”. Injury and disability, financial problems, marriage break up and even prison all loom large when the time comes to stop playing, voluntarily or otherwise. Of course wanting to play professional football isn’t much about thoughts of post-career realities, but this excellent book throws a fascinating, and at times depressing, light on “what happens to footballers when the game’s up”.

 

Some of the data that’s available puts it into perspective. Amongst retired players, 80% can expect to suffer from osteo-arthritis (around 15% in general population), a third of footballers will divorce within 12 months of retirement, 40% face bankruptcy in the first five years after playing, and 35% of ex-pros have problems with depression or anxiety, about double the rest of us. And just to really cheer up any players reading this, in October 2015 there were 141 former colleagues in prison.

 

Alan Gernon has talked with many ex-players to understand how this situation has come about and also with XPRO, a charity that helps and supports former professionals. The result is a perceptive and realistic narrative that isn’t just about the Premier League stars on fantastic money but also those lower down the table, whether it’s League 2 players on an average wage of £750 a week, many with no security other than a 12-month contract. The shock of leaving a very structured workplace and environment and the lack of preparation for what comes next places pressure on families, finances and motivation. Of course people in most careers have adjustments to make when jobs come to an end but in the great majority of cases there has been longer to prepare and plan. And whilst the emphasis is on those who retire in their 30s, the author points out those much younger who are “retired” early in their career, cut loose by clubs yet having known very little else since being children.

 

Poor advice, and advisers, a cocooned existence and lack of study or qualifications in another possible role all contribute to the rude awakening so many get whenever they finish. There are only so many media jobs, or coaching opportunities, and the transition to “normal” life can be brutal. Whilst the PFA have increased the training courses available, if the individual player ignores them then the next phase of life can be incredibly daunting. For some the end may have been foreseen, for others the non-renewal of a contract or a severe injury can make a sudden realignment necessary. The financial cushion won’t necessarily last long as pensions can’t now be accessed until age 55 – and other investments have proved costly for many.

 

Whenever photos of teams from the past appear there’s a “what are they doing now” question. The answers are always intriguing – the bulwark of the defence who is now a painter and decorator, the goalie who sells cars and so on. Alan Gernon describes brilliantly the paths of many who have had to readjust, as he says from “hero to zero”, some with much more success than others. Perhaps even more importantly he investigates what is being done for current players and what is still to be done, both by the game as a whole and also by the individuals. In an industry where employers generally absolve themselves of responsibility after a short contract, then not only does the football family need to address the problem but players have to look forward more quickly than they have done previously.

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Trevor Ford: The Authorised Biography


Neil Palmer


Amberley Publishing, 2016


Softback, 158pp, £14.99




At a time when Welsh international football is at its most successful for nearly 60 years, this story of one the country’s greatest ever players is opportune. Ironically, he missed out on the 1958 World Cup, but his legendary status amongst Welsh fans is up there with John Charles and like him, as well as modern day Gareth Bale, he showed foreign fans his class by playing for a continental club.



The son of a miner, Ford was born in 1923 in Swansea, and although he never forgot his origins his career moved him to an almost film star status, his dark good looks and style of play helping to attract big crowds wherever he turned out. In a period when the maximum wage was in force, Ford knew his worth both on and off the field, often ruffling feathers, whether those of other players, directors, or the game’s hierarchy.



His success as a goal scorer is unquestioned. With 175 goals in 349 games, top scorer at Aston Villa for three seasons on the trot after signing from his hometown club in 1947. It’s worth noting that his career record would almost certainly have been even more impressive if the Second World War hadn’t delayed it until he was 22. It took a British record fee of £30000 for Sunderland to sign him and his debut included a hat-trick, breaking an opposition player’s jaw, and breaking a goalpost. Life at Roker Park was eventful, a clash of personality with Len Shackleton evident, but the club tried to look after Ford. Apparently, a director challenged him to a game of snooker for a bet of £100. Ford knew that he was putting five weeks’ wages at risk but didn’t back down – and won. Each week the same thing happened, the director always seeming to have an off-day.



Trevor Ford returned to Wales, Cardiff City this time in December 1953, and the Ninian Park crowd rose by 10,000 on his debut. A falling out with manager Trevor Morris, including over shirt number and a proposed change in his contract, disrupted his time there and it wasn’t helped by him announcing that he was going to publish an autobiography. “I Lead the Attack” was serialised in the Sunday Express, a critique of how Welsh football could be better organised and how players at many clubs were receiving illegal payments. Immediately suspended by his club, Ford was summoned to the FA and suspended from football in Britain. Quickly PSV Eindhoven stepped in, offered a very lucrative contract and he scored 14 goals in his first season of 22 games in 1957/8.



Wales had qualified for the World Cup Finals in Sweden and, despite not being in Britain, Ford desperately hoped to be part of the team, despite being 35 years old. When the initial squad of 40 was announced, it included 3rd & 4th Division players, some from non-league, but not Ford. He wasn’t to pull on the red shirt again.



Retirement saw him still regarded as a legend by Welsh football fans, loved in Eindhoven, and respected and admired by previous opponents and teammates. Diagnosed with cancer, Trevor Ford died in 2003, a true great of the game.

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Spencer Vignes

Pitch Publishing, 2016

Softback , £9.99, 191pp

Lost in France

 

I had no idea that, when I played in goal for Aberystwyth University in 1977, I was following in the footsteps of a man who had been called “the Prince of Goalkeepers” and, as in the subtitle of this book, “Football’s First Superstar”. Leigh Roose was not only someone who played for his country 24 times, for top flight clubs including Everton, Sunderland and Stoke, but the person who revolutionised the art of goalkeeping and was probably responsible for changing the rule that had previously allowed keepers to handle the ball anywhere in his own half. He was a war hero too, a man who died on the Somme, and, hence the title of the book, whose body was never found.

 

Roose was born in 1877, the son of a Presbyterian minister and took up goalkeeping at his school, Holt Academy in his home village just outside Wrexham. A big lad, nearly 6ft at age 15, he needed his physique in what was a perilous position. Forget how keepers are now over protected, in Victorian and Edwardian times they were “cannon fodder”, subject to “rushing” when an opponent would physically take them out whether in possession of the ball or not. Bones were broken and heads split, little wonder that goalies tended to stay on or near their goal lines. When Roose went to university he easily made the team (not surprising from about 250 male students) but his style of play was to take on the opposing forwards – diving on the ball, clattering into forwards and tidying up every loose ball behind his defenders. The forerunner of modern keeping. He was also immensely strong apparently able to punch the old leather balls further than many could kick them. He took advantage of the then laws by bouncing the ball up to the halfway line before launching an accurate kick or throw to launch attacks.

 

His persona was big too. Whilst other players walked on to the pitch, Roose ran on, raising his arm to any applause, and stalked the goal are before the game. His good looks began to attract female students to the games and he’d flirt with them during games. An exhibitionist and entertainer he was soon playing for Aberystwyth Town the local ambitious and successful club, introducing his style of play to spectators over a much wider area and to professional clubs. His stock rose, his feats grew, and he made his debut for Wales in 1900. Ever the showman he bowed to the 6000 crowd at the interval and kept another clean sheet. At club level Aber Town had a great season, winning three trophies including the Welsh Cup and Roose was carried shoulder high from the pitch after the final.

 

Spencer Vignes writes a wonderful story of Roose’s career, his time with League clubs (as an amateur he received no wages but his expenses claims were both imaginative and lucrative), his career ending injury, his playboy off the field activities, and his impact on the game. From 1912 keepers were forbidden to handle the ball outside the penalty area but he reached further than that. Whereas previously goalkeepers were thought to be almost an afterthought, managers began to recognise their importance, a good keeper often the first name on the team sheet. Vignes is superb at setting Roose not only in the context of his time but in the history of the game. And he delivers the final chapter in the story of Leigh Roose, his death.

 

Roose volunteered for the Army as soon as he could, as a former medical student he was in the Royal Army Medical Corps initially and his family was told that he was missing in action after the Gallipoli landings of 1915. In fact he joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1916, earning the Military Medal before being killed later that year. Even then there was confusion, the name on the memorial at Thiepval naming a casualty as Rouse not Roose. It was only earlier this century, after research and dedicated lobbying that it was determined that this soldier was, in fact Leigh Roose, and the inscription corrected.

 

An immensely moving and powerful story, superbly told. One of my top five football books.

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Just finished two good books recently first being

 

The Peoples game about Football in the Old East Germany. A very good read goes into life in the East German state, players who used international competitions to escape to West. How the Stasi would spy and only select there own represntiavites to go watch East German clubs in Europe.

 

How players where being spied on by there team mates how Dynamo Berlin where basically had the referees in there pockets and towards the end of East Germany football being used to protest but wasn't all bad and used to help the country and society also.

 

Was written by Alan McDougall a good insight.

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