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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There’s always a danger with a book that looks at an evolving situation that, upon publication, it is already out of date, overtaken by events.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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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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Being Fulham

Roland Jaquarello

2017, Softback

250pp, £8.99

 

Fulham are now back in the Premier League and tipped by many to establish themselves relatively comfortably this season.  Promoted in May via the Play Offs, last season was one of continued progress and a resounding reinforcement of how they had developed in 2016-17 when they lost at the same stage. This book is a chronicle of that campaign, ultimately a losing one but, as it turns out, a solid stepping stone to the year that followed.

The concept of writing a match by match diary of a season isn’t new and there’s always a danger of it being of little interest to anyone who isn’t a follower of that particular club. Whilst this book is obviously going to have most appeal to Cottagers, it’s still lively enough to be a good read for other fans. As a supporter of a club for whom the Championship was (and is) a place still to be revisited, this was an entertaining review of activities that took place elsewhere and which I didn’t really dwell on at the time.

The author has been supporting Fulham for sixty years, so his credentials are on the table and, even if he didn’t go to every match, his reaction to each of them is like many of us in a similar position; valid and sometimes more intense by only being able to experience it through updates on tv or social media. There’s nothing like the score flash on Soccer Saturday to get you out of the chair, or make you sink deeper into it.  However, his attendance at home and away games (an inveterate traveller on supporters’ coaches) his more than consistent enough to give a true sense of the atmosphere and experiences of the season.

A couple of style points stand out. One is a seemingly reasonable attitude to opposition supporters. There’s an interesting passage about who Fulham’s real rivals are. Chelsea ? QPR? Brentford? Even in the case of the latter two, who Fulham played that season, there’s no real bitterness or venom neither when intuitively aggressive followings such as the 7000 from Leeds turn up at Craven Cottage. Each match review is well punctuated with descriptions of the chants and songs from each set of fans, but it’s done in a quite impartial manner. His personal encounters with them, especially at away games, seem to be ones of genuine pleasure too, recognising the shared elements of being football supporters rather than tribal differences.

The other is that a book like this must tread the line between setting out the non-football life of the author and boring the reader with its minutiae. Jacquarello manages it well, giving enough to show a person that does have another set of interests and relationships whilst understanding that the raison d’etre of the book is football, not autobiography.

It was a good season for Fulham even if not wholly successful. It’s well described in this book and a nice, entertaing read.

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For Latics fans this has the additional interest of interviews with Tommy Wright, Alan Young, Andy Lochhead, Ian Marshall, Paul Dickov, Gerry Taggart, and Peter Taylor.

 

 

 

Can’t Buy That Feeling

Simon Kimber & Gary Silke

Conker Editions, 2018

Softback, 206pp, £15.00

 

The Fox is a Leicester City fanzine that’s been published for around 30 years. Over that period, it has interviewed 130 players, managers, board members, famous fans and coaches from the club and has now brought lots of them together in a very nicely produced book. Lots of photos and clear design make this an attractive publication right from the start.

The span of years makes narratives of three divisions with consequent ups and downs along the way, and a host of individuals who talk of their relationship with the club. As an outsider, Leicester have always seemed to me to be a club that has had some very good players, not always at the same time until recently, and the names are nearly all likely to generate a “oh yes, I bet he’s got something interesting to say” reaction. It’s a great book for dipping in and out of and, whilst self evidently having greatest appeal to Foxes supporters, can genuinely be regarded as being one for the wider football supporting community.

The earliest interview goes back to 1989, with Ian Baraclough. Each is preceded by a paragraph reminding us of the person’s context in the club and at the time of the interview. Baraclough was a City youth player, a local lad, and dating the fanzine’s assistant editor’s sister. Most of the others took place after their playing days, and there’s a panoply of names at different points in their lives. Gary Lineker was interviewed in 2001, before his MOTD days, and talks about being a fan before a player, David Pleat another young fan and who returned to the club as manager. Jon Sammels is one of the few who had two interviews, once when a driving instructor in1992, and the other when retired in 2015, whilst Robbie Savage is another, who was apparently still keen to return to Leicester despite being roundly abused by fans after leaving previously.

Each interviewee is united in a great affection for the club with good memories even if things didn’t work out. A look at just part of the roster of names demonstrates not only top-quality players but also those solid professionals who supporters of other clubs would have had in their sides. Brian Little, Alan Smith, Gary McAllister alongside Gerry Taggart, Gary Mills and Muzzy Izzet. And the managerial roll call of interviewees isn’t bad either: Gordon Milne, Martin O’Neill, Frank O’Farrell, and Sven Goran Eriksson.

When Leicester won the Premier League in 2016, there was considerable pleasure amongst football supporters. Much to do with the fact that the “big boys” had been beaten, but surely also because it was Leicester City that had done so. A club that has consistently played a significant part in the game, never too flash, and which has been home to both stars and solid professionals.  “Can’t Buy That Feeling” is an enjoyable chronicle of the last three decades at Filbert Street and since, and of football more widely.

 

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Burnley FC On This Day

Philip Bird

Pitch Publishing 2018

Hardback 250pp £14.99

 

To state the blindingly obvious, something happens every day. Events that range from the momentous to the seemingly trivial. To anyone with a passion, or at least a deep interest, then even the apparently trifling can have a significance. Thus, for a club supporter, a book that presents a 365-day compilation of facts and figures, stories and happenings, can be a treasure trove. So, for Burnley fans this is probably a diary of delights.

The “On This Day” feature began in the Clarets’ programme in 2008 and continues to the present. Such is the nature of the football season , however, that such a series will never cover much of the summer months and this volume not only rectifies that but expands and introduces much more from the rest of the year. Some of the entries will, no doubt, be well ingrained in the minds of the Turf Moor faithful whilst others have been dug out from repositories of the forgotten or never noticed!

May 9th is a classic case of the former as it was on that day in 1987 that Burnley won the last game of the season against Orient to stay in the Football League, after being 92nd when the game kicked off.  On the other side of the coin of memorability, May 8th is remembered for a 2-1 victory over Walsall in 1982.

Maybe not April Fools Day, but the day after, April 2nd in 1983, saw Burnley striker Terry Donovan leave the Turf Moor pitch with hypothermia. Manager Frank Casper said, “Jimmy Holland had to undress him and carry him into the bath”. A date to remember for both Donovan and Holland perhaps. Another very unusual day was August 22nd when early in the season in 1968, manager Stan Ternent sacked four players giving a blunt opinion on Michael Williams that “he will never win the fans over and will not play for Burnley again”.

Burnley’s history is a long one, the club was a founder member of the Football League in 1888, and perhaps the book would have been a more comprehensive read if a greater number of mentions were of earlier days. The club’s first ever Football League game was on Sept 8th, 1888 but the date is recalled for matches against WBA in 1951 and Rotherham in 2001. It’s still a fascinating volume for anyone who has an affinity with the Clarets, and, at 250 pages, obviously full of memories and notable moments.

 

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Fantasy Football

Edward Couzens-Lake

Legends Publishing, 2012

Hardback, 220pp, £19.99

 

The first season of the Premier League was 1992/3 and, despite the best efforts of Sky, it was by no means a dramatically different animal than the old Div 1. Indeed, looking back, it seems quite a restrained change, with more, though still relatively limited tv coverage, and commentators and pundits still recognising that football wasn’t invented by its arrival. The hegemony of the handful of big clubs hadn’t become established meaning there was still hope for others, if not of winning the league at least being challengers. In fact, 4 out of the top 5 at the end of the season are no longer in the top flight (extending the comparison, thirteen of the original twenty-two teams are no longer there).  This book looks at the very successful season of one of the outsiders, “from the mouths of real Norwich City heroes” as the subtitle proclaims.

It hadn’t looked as though the campaign was going to be a delight. Only just escaping relegation the season before, a new manager in place, and terrace hero and goal scorer Robert Fleck having been sold, there wasn’t a great deal of expectation. The author has written eight books on the Canaries and knows the club both as an observer and supporter. He has excellently conveyed the moods of fans and that of the pundits and journalists. The former, hopeful but not necessarily optimistic, the latter almost wholly dismissive of the club from the wilds of East Anglia. This despite City having had 17 of the previous 20 seasons in the top flight and qualifying for Europe on three occasions.  The season, however, had its own story to tell.

This isn’t a blow by blow, match by match account. It’s a well-structured look, with many interviews, at the people associated, whether its those departed such as Fleck or the Club Secretary, numerous players, both regulars and understudies, and journalists that covered the club. All set to the background of the changing nature of football, on and off the field. The personal recollections and hindsight of those involved do make a rounded and fascinating story of one club at the very start of the Premier League. It’s that level of story in that there’s a “happy ending” (plot spoiler – Norwich finished third), but also because, despite the overwhelming affection the author has for Norwich, he can set eveeything in a wider context, relevant to readers whoever they support. More than 20 years on it may now feel like a fantasy that “smaller” clubs could be successful in the modern environment but having fantasies is surely what supporters of such clubs must have. 

 

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Booked! The Gospel According to Our Football Heroes

John Smith & Dan Trelfer

Pitch Publishing, 2018

Hardback  285pp £19.99

 

There are different types of footballers’ autobiographies. Some are straightforward, often detailed, often worthy chronicles of a player’s career, with greater or lesser degrees of objectivity and self-awareness. Good reads, frequently bringing new perspective and understanding about matches, clubs and relationships. There are also those that I shall call more “boisterous”. The emphasis is much more on either off the field activities (and I’m not talking about charity work), or dubious goings on during matches. In the middle of course are the books which focus on the authorised side of the game, but which burst into chapters of impropriety.

Let’s be honest. The sinful aspects of footballers’ lives catch the attention.  The juicy bits of many autobiographies are those that make the headlines and are the ones we turn to when browsing in a bookshop. Booked! saves us the trouble of seeking these episodes out. The authors have trawled over 120 titles and presents a digest of “sex, booze, cash, fights, glory, bitterness, fame and incessant, relentless banter.”. Whilst a part of me wants to be appalled it’s soon overruled. This is a book that pulls you in and fascinates. Partly horrified, frequently amused, and continuously intrigued, the reader is caught up in the hoard of tales and personalities presented in the book.

The style is rather like a Channel 5 documentary on gaffes and blunders by celebrities. You can almost hear the commentary as it sustains its presentation of weird, funny and bizarre stories from mouths, or pens, of footballers. There isn’t an index so we don’t know who gets the most mentions but there are definite characters who pop up frequently. Step forward, Mick Quinn, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Frank Worthington, Paul Merson and friends. However, these are just part of the grand panoply of hundreds of our former (and current) playing heroes and villains who pop up. They may be willing participants and instigators, or victims, but you’ll find someone that’s had a connection with your team (and possibly jeopardised it at some time).

There’s bitchiness and gossip as well as outrageous behaviour. A true treasure trove of grudges and resentment that have arisen especially between players and managers, or players and colleagues. Step forward Robbie Savage v Dion Dublin, Phil Thompson v Graeme Sourness, or Peter Schmeichel v Paul Ince. Top three for “banter”? Steve Harrison, Jimmy Bullard, and Ray Parlour. As a “ladies’ man” then there’s always Bestie, Frank Worthington, Frank McAvennie, and, of course, Mickey Thomas.

Steer clear of this book if you’re easily outraged or want an in-depth analysis of football in the last thirty years. Read it with delight if you want to be entertained by the dafter and undisciplined behaviour of those involved in it.

 

 

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Toshack’s Way

John Toshack

De Coubertin Books, 2018

Hardback 254pp  £20

 

John Toshack is arguably one of the most underrated British managers of the last 50 years. Success at home but notably abroad gives him an impressive record that most of the names that are put forward as top bosses would be proud of. Possibly because he did spend so much of his time in Spain, Portugal and elsewhere then he didn’t appear on the back pages of British newspapers, and there wasn’t the insatiable TV coverage of European football that we have now.  On top of a playing career that saw him score 241 goals at club and international level then it’s fair to say that he’s made a big contribution to the game and has a good story to tell.

 

He didn’t win as many trophies as Mourinho (who has?) and never managed in the Premier League. There are, however, some impressive achievements as manager. It might not have the deserved acclaim of Ranieri winning the Premiership with Leicester, but Toshack’s success with Swansea would nowadays be regarded as a footballing miracle. From Fourth Division to the top six in the First Division in just five seasons is unequalled. On the continent he won La Liga and cups in Spain, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Morocco. That’s without considering top four finishes with Sporting Lisbon, Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Besiktas, and Wydad Casablanca. There’s little doubt that there was a great deal of respect for him, evidenced by returns to both Sociedad and Madrid, and he evidently embraced foreign lifestyles. A recurring theme is how he made efforts to integrate into local communities and cultures, and, on appointment, he never brought in his own assistants. His philosophy was to work with those who knew a club, lessening disruption and building immediate bridges.

 

It seems that there were few approaches to him to manage in this country and Toshack has no problem with that, preferring to stay abroad and knowing his record would guarantee him work. The one exception, and it’s no surprise for a proud Welshman, was the Wales job. From 2005 to 2010 he had nearly a 40%-win record. This at a time when Brian Flynn, his number two, was scouring lists of players to find any with a Welsh surname or forename! Toshack believes he laid the foundations for the later success of Chris Coleman, and he certainly brought through players like Bale, Ramsay, and Williams. One aspect of the book is the comparative absence of disparaging comments about other people but both Craig Bellamy and Robbie Savage are singled out as not being helpful to Wales’ progress.

 

Of course, “Tosh” had a rather impressive playing record too and he documents in detail his time at Cardiff, Liverpool, and Swansea. They were demanding times, the first two having constant European ties, and with much smaller squads than today. It’s probably the case that his co-writer, Dan Sung, did a lot of research as there’s an almost encyclopaedic narrative of individual matches and line ups but, certainly for older readers, there are many iconic games and goals recalled.

 

John Toshack was a towering figure, in both senses, at the top level of football. From being the youngest player for Cardiff, to being part of the legendary Toshack/Keegan partnership at Liverpool, and on to a long list of managerial achievements, he has had a significant role in the game. Now nearly 70, his story is well chronicled and given due credit by this comprehensive and thoughtful piece of writing.

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Darkness and Light

Joe Thompson with Alec Fenn

Pitch Publishing, 2018

Hardback  256pp  £18.99

 

A truly riveting book, the story of Rochdale player Joe Thompson and his battle with cancer whilst pursuing his career as a respected lower league footballer. Actually, it’s almost three stories in one, each of which could have stood on its own. There is the football theme, from young boy to professional, that of his life-threatening illness, and that of his relationships with his mother and father. Each is absorbing, and each a testimony to the character of Thompson.

 

At the end of the 2017/18 season, indeed in the last match, Thompson was thrust into the media spotlight.  Broadcast live on tv, he scored the goal that kept Rochdale in League 1, sending local rivals Oldham down to the bottom tier. A noteworthy moment in anyone’s career but, and rightly so, feted across newspapers, radio and television because of his double struggle with cancer and the fact that he’d come back from that to play football again.  Given the challenge he had risen above, the focus was well deserved.

 

The football life of Thompson more or less started at the age of nine. Living in Rochdale with his aunt, scouts from Manchester United soon identified his young talent and he made the 12-mile journey to train with their juniors and become part of the youth set up. However, like s many youngsters, he was let go at 16 and it was then that his life with his local club began. At the end of last season, he had played over 200 times for them and his relationship with manager Keith Hill is described in a frank and insightful manner. It wasn’t always a warm and cuddly one, and his spells at Tranmere, Carlisle, Wrexham and Southport, in between leaving and returning to Spotland show that.  It’s an honest account of contract details, having an agent, and the ins and outs of trying to make a decent living at clubs with little money and knowing that a playing career is short.

 

Whilst that is probably enough for most footballers, being diagnosed with cancer at 23 is something that any of us from whatever walk of life would find horrendously daunting. The no holds barred explanation of his emotions and of the way in which he and those close to him faced up to this is superbly told. Co-writer Alec Fenn captures the sentiments and experiences of Thompson in a gripping yet unsensational way. This is even more apparent when cancer emerges again after it seemed to have been conquered. The devastating six months of chemotherapy, leaving him almost skeletal, would have seen off determination and bravery in many but Thompson in a truly inspirational manner re-emerges as a professional footballer in an almost heroic manner.

 

There is a backdrop to all this as well. As a child he witnessed his mother being subject to major domestic abuse, and he deals openly with the mental health issues that were part of her life later.  It’s a moving but not maudlin part of the narrative, as is the impact of his father. A drug user and criminal, he is absent from most of Thompson’s life. The meeting between them that took place after his second cancer battle is far from easy, is in prison, and without a fairy tale ending.

 

A book that is a success on several levels. One that works as a football story but is also genuinely inspirational in its narrative of overcoming many adversities.

Edited by LaticsPete
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Lancashire Turf Wars

Steve Tongue

Pitch Publishing 2018

Softback 350pp £12.99

 

 

It may be surprising, but Blackburn Rovers was originally the “posh” team in the town. Founded by the well connected, its original colours were Cambridge Blue and white. It was Blackburn Olympic that was the working-class club, founded in 1878 as a merger between Black Star and James Street. Within five years it had brought the FA Cup to Lancashire, beating Old Etonians, and the town was chosen to host the first England game outside London.

The power and influence of Lancashire clubs upon football has hardly paused since then, including 59 league championships, with its 16 league clubs outreaching any other county by far. It’s necessary to clarify what “Lancashire” means in this context. Steve Tongue has a definition that is open to dispute but works ok for his book. Basically, it’s the historic county, so including Liverpool, without Furness (so no mention of the former league club Barrow), but with Tranmere and Stockport (historically Cheshire). With that hopefully cleared up, this is a fine history not only of the county’s clubs not only individually but in the context of their rivalries and fluctuating pecking order.

The initial focus was very much outside Manchester and Liverpool. The initial Lancashire Football Association in 1878 had 28 teams, none of which were from those two cities. It was the Blackburn and Bolton areas that supplied most of the teams and the early competition outside of Rovers and Olympic was between clubs including six from Darwen , five from Bolton and two from Haslingden. It wasn’t until the latter part of the century that the landscape became populated by names that are more familiar now. By then, of course, Preston became the first Football League champions.  Newton Heath and Ardwick morphed into Manchester United and City, Bury became a major force, winning the FA Cup in 1900, Oldham, and Blackpool. emerged , and Bootle, a major player, faded whilst Liverpool and Everton became that city’s league clubs.

There are then three main periods of history. Up to the First World War, supremacy was shared amongst several clubs. Oldham were league runners up and cup semi-finalists, Liverpool, Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers, league champions. After 1918, however, the balance changed again. Burnley started off with two finishes in the top two, Bolton had a superb ten-year spell, three Cup wins and frequent top six finishes. The big city clubs began to draw massive crowds and others lost ground. Life for Rochdale was a constant struggle, Oldham dropped out of the top flight, Southport, Accrington Stanley and Southport were perpetual Div 3 North participants, and Nelson’s brief league membership ended, as did that of Wigan Borough.

Since 1945 the footballing world has become a different place again, especially in the last twenty years. Lancashire has brought back the European Cup, umpteen championships and cup successes whilst, at the other end of the wealth list, there have been ups and downs. Bolton, Preston, Blackburn, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool, Burnley and Oldham have all had spells in the top flight, but the bottom division has also been graced by some of these. Fleetwood, Wigan Athletic and Morecambe have joined the top 92, Southport and Barrow have left it. The thrusting operations at AFC Fylde and Salford are knocking on the door and the breadth of the game in the county still, to a greater or lesser degree thrives. Steve Tongue encapsulates all of it, including non-league, exceedingly well and this is a book that is both a good read and a reference work for years to come.

 

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Goal!  The Ted MacDougall Story

Neil Vachter & Ted MacDougall

Pitch Publishing 2018

Paperback 381pp £12.99

 

A player who scored 308 times in 617 matches is entitled to a soubriquet and “Super Mac” was certainly appropriately applied to Ted MacDougall as he racked up the goals in the 1960s and 70s.

 

His was a career that saw him succeed at nearly every level and club. Whether as part of a striking duo, as with Phil Boyer at Bournemouth and Norwich, or operating more alone, he invariably delivered the goods. Ironically his first three seasons as a league player saw York twice have to apply for re-election to the Fourth Division, and Bournemouth relegated. However, after that his “jinx effect” disappeared and he became part of the Cherries’ promotion line up and scored goals at a rapid pace in the Third Division.  From 1970 to 1972 his record was 96 goals in 102 games, including nine in one match in the FA Cup. The 70s was a period when top flight clubs had no problems in signing players from further down the league and Manchester United paid £195,000 to take him to Old Trafford. The title of the chapter in his book is “Nightmare at the Theatre of Dreams” and that sums it up. Signed by Frank O’Farrell and jettisoned by Tommy Docherty after 26 games, MacDougall then moved to another club where he became a legend - Norwich City.  Taking off from before he reclaimed his reputation as one of the country’s top strikers and maintained it after further moves to Southampton and back to Bournemouth.

 

He makes no bones about what he saw as his role in the team: to score goals. The concept of a workhorse, covering the pitch is not one that sits easily, but he relished learning about how to do his job better. When John Bond, manager at Bournemouth, said that he had the best striker in the land, Bond made it clear that the rest of the team had the responsibility to get the ball to Ted. Then, after hours honing movement, finding space and working on angles, Mac would more often than not put the ball in the net.  Despite his time at a “top club” not working out he maintained a fantastic strike rate in teams with so-called less able players. In all four divisions he appeared near, if not at, the top of the goal scorer charts. Whilst capped just six times by Scotland he still managed three goals, a 50% strike rate that mirrors his total career.

 

Super Mac is now long retired, but he is not short of opinions on the modern game.  Like many former centre forwards he regrets the “softening” of the game, with defenders not allowed to make rugged challenges and almost yearns for the return of Gordon McQueen and his like! There’s a continuing relationship with several of his former clubs despite him now living in the USA. Returns to Portsmouth, York, Norwich and, of course, Bournemouth, prompt him to offer a perspective on their stories between his time and more recently.

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Lionel Messi and The Art of Living

Andy West

Pitch Publishing 2018

Hardback 223pp £16.99

 

The greatest player of all time? If not, then certainly up there on the podium. Someone who can turn matches, competitions, seasons, and, seemingly, with an innate, instinctive talent. Is it really that simple? Or is there an underlying framework of processes and approach that can be analysed and possibly applied to other activities?

This book attempts to understand how Messi has got to the status he has, delving into his own development along with the manner in which the output of those alongside him has been maximised. It isn’t a chronology of his career rather a dissection of what has made it so successful. Assisted by interviews with just seven people, only two from football, the author provides a description of the persona that is Lionel Messi that helps the reader understand why it is like that - and are there lessons that can be taken from it.

This isn’t a management textbook, or a treatise on leadership, but it could hold its own against publications that set themselves up as such. It uses examples from Messi’s career to draw out approaches to life and work that could be applied by or to others. At a superficial level Messi appears to turn up and just be magnificent, something that most of us would struggle to do in our own lives. That level of excellence is something that has been achieved by building on natural ability with attitudes and outlooks on life and challenge that many others could adopt.

A readily understood blend of footballing situations, matches, and individuals together with a disassembling of how outcomes have been arrived at makes this a stimulating read. There are elements of philosophy, insofar as they illuminate how the performances of Messi are affected by an outlook on life and the author has never let go of their practical application.

 Messi has worked incredibly hard both mentally and physically to be where he is today. He has not achieved the complete success that he would have liked ( a World Cup win has been out of his reach) and he appreciates that there is still a joy to be had in the “workplace”. Disregard the rewards that come his way financially. He is still an employee who comprehends the responsibilities of turning up for work: not only has he an excellent appearance record, he knows that those around him both contribute to and benefit from his contributions. (I found the chapter titled “The Reciprocal Altruist” one of the most enjoyable and readily applicable to elsewhere.)

 

Failure and setbacks, dealing with personalities and the demands that the expectation of others place upon him, changing colleagues and managers, preparing for retirement; all positions most of us will recognise. The manner in which Messi copes with them, uses them to advantage on occasion, and maintains an apparent equilibrium on and off the field is in itself worthy of examination. The extra bonus of Andy West’s study is the lessons that can be extended to a wider arena than football. It is, indeed, about  “the art of living”.

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Face In the Crowd

Alan Dein

Four Corners Books  2018

Hardback 96pp £8

 

 

A crowd of people at a football match in the 1950s. Nothing unusual about of photograph of such a group. Probably a range of ages even if predominantly male and white. Invariably standing on the terraces. But there’s one individual that stands out although not because of any physical characteristic. He might not even know that he is being photographed but there’s no mistaking his importance. He has a white circle around his head.

For at least thirty years the “Face In The Crowd” feature was part of programmes up and down the country. The lucky supporter was able to claim a prize, often tickets for an upcoming match, sometimes cash, and his five minutes of fame was immortalised in the match programme. Looking back at these group images, always black and white, of anonymous fans is interesting in itself. The clothes, haircuts, expressions without passion (they usually but not always were taken before the match or at half time) are themselves a record of football history. This book has a collection of images from programmes spanning 1956-1980, a period that at the beginning saw most clubs introducing photographs for the first time and by its close barely a programme was without multiple pictures.

There’s an added dimension of interest. Who were these individuals? Where are they now? Do hey still follow the same club? Did they ever know they’d been singled out and claim their prize? And is there a spooky similarity to those pictures of people in a crowd identified as being wanted by the police, or who later became notorious for something else?  

Why did these competitions end? Are there any clubs that still carry such a feature? An intriguing little book that’s redolent of earlier days in the game.

 

P.S. For Latics fans. As far As I can discover the first time we used photographs in our programme was for the special issue to commemorate the floodlight commemorative match v Burnley in 1961/2. A glossy, art, paper was used for the content and team and individual pictures appeared. However it could be argued that from the beginning of the at season a photo appeared on the back cover - in an advert for JW Lees' Tulip Lager.

On a regular basis then I think photos began to be used in !966/7.

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Stanley Park Story: Life, Love and the Merseyside Derby

Jeff Goulding

Pitch Publishing 2018

Hardback 255pp £16.99

 

 

It used to be a cliche that Liverpool v Everton matches were different from other derby games. They were portrayed as distinct in that, despite the fierce rivalry, supporters from each team would stand (or sit) together and players would manifest a similar bond, competitive but without malice or vitriol. Families would be predominantly red or blue but would still tolerate the other team” via marriage. Indeed the author, a Liverpool supporter, married an Evertonian.

 

So is this an over romanticized account of the relationship between the two sets of fans? It’s important to recognise that the book is, to use a horrible word, “faction”. Based on real events on the football field and in local politics, it is nevertheless a story with imaginary main characters. It does allow a human narrative to develop around matches and gives the author a licence to accentuate or diminish particular aspects of life supporting the clubs from the early 1960s through to recent times. There’s no doubt that there’s a passion and love for his city and the football culture that is so vibrant there.

 

Excellently researched in terms of the matches, signings and other club related matters, the book describes fifty plus years of seesawing fortunes for Merseyside as well as the two teams, mixing together hard facts with dramatised events in the life of the story’s persona. So, the all Merseyside Cup Final of 1986and The Hillsborough  tragedy, and their impact, are witnessed from the fictional perspectives of characters in the book. What is lost in objectivity is replaced by an obviously heartfelt representation of the reactions of those affected. There are times of great joy in the book, but also those of sadness and despair. The friendship of the two main characters, one Blue and one Red, is tested many times but the dominant message is that regardless of that which divides, there is one love that brings them together. That of football in the city.

 

Outsiders sometimes say that people from Liverpool are over emotional and believe themselves to somehow receive a raw deal. It’s possible that there are aspects of that in this book and non-Scousers may raise an eyebrow at some of it. It is however a rich look at a vibrant 50 years when Everton and Liverpool have never been far from the headlines. Times may have changed and the derby matches certainly now have more vitriol and problems on and off the pitch, so perhaps the book is well timed. A reflection and reminder of a rivalry that actually did unite as well as divide.

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Bootham Crescent: A Second Home

Paul Bowser

Minsterman Books, 2019

Hardback, 274pp, £25

 

If it’s on your club’s fixture list, then an away trip to York is generally a must at some time. One of the great historic cities, good pubs and food, easy to get to, and a ground that’s as traditional as they come.

My first trip to Bootham Crescent was in 1963, watching Oldham get thumped 5-2, and much of the ground then is still recognisable now. In a matter of months the club is scheduled to move to a new “Community Stadium” and housing will replace the tight terraces and stands. It’s appropriate timing, therefore, for this excellent book to appear, chronicling the story of York City and their grounds up to 1960 (a second volume is in preparation).

It is a truly excellent publication, comprehensive, extremely well illustrated and tightly written by an author who clearly saw it as a labour of love. Although it’s subtitled as covering the period from 1922, when the present York City was formed, it actually begins with a chapter detailing story the first club of that name which lasted from 1908 until 1917. In a town where rugby league was the established spectator sport the club struggled, its 3000 attendances shrank with the outbreak of war and liquidation followed. As with the rest of the book this brief story is complete with contemporary photographs, press reports and other material, complementing and illuminating the narrative.

After the First War football began to grow again and three local clubs joined the newly established Yorkshire League which included Reserve teams from Football League clubs. This stimulated a desire for a professional club in the city and a public meeting in March 1922 called for the creation of York City. Ambitions were high and within six weeks an application to join the Football League was submitted. Bearing in mind that the club had no players or ground it was no surprise that hopes were dashed! However, over the next seven years playing success and financial progress developed, as did the Fulfordgate ground, outside the city centre, where there was a record attendance of over 12000. Season tickets at £2 (£1.75 for ladies) were introduced and innovations such as a half time scoreboard inaugurated. And it was this ground that saw York’s first match as a League club in 1929 against Wrexham.

A move to Bootham Crescent, then a cricket ground and nearer the housing of thousands of chocolate and railway workers, took place in 1932 and for the best part of 90 years it has been the home of the Minstermen (or Citizens). Paul Bowser has pulled together its saga magnificently, the development of every part of the ground is recorded with plans, photographs and background information. The on-field fortunes, and York were renowned Cup fighters, are set against a background of how tickets were distributed, battles with flooding, the massive involvement of supporters in ground improvements, admission prices, and much more that help make this a fascinating volume. There’s an additional bonus for programme collectors too; an appendix on the history of York programmes with an illustration of the front cover of a programme from every season from 1923/4 to 1959/60.

Sadly, now a non-league club, York City is still worth a visit at its present Bootham Crescent home. Be quick, there are only a few months left.

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The Amazing Journey

Matthew Watson-Broughton

TechTo Sports, 2019

Hardback 274pp £19.99

 

Fifty years ago, two amazing events happened. There was, of course, the first manned Moon landing. An intrepid, courageous and thrilling journey that travelled somewhere that no human had been before.  Just a month earlier, however, there was the culmination of a very similar trip into the unknown, and one that took people (from Tyneside at least) to previously unreached locations.  Newcastle United won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in their first European competition. It remains the last major trophy they have won.

Briefly, for our younger readers, this was the predecessor to the UEFA Cup which itself transmuted into the Europa League. At the time, and this was its eleventh year, it was behind the European Cup and Cup-Winners Cup in terms of status but still had the glamour of international competition and had only been won once previously by a British club, Leeds United the year before. Newcastle had finished 10th in the First Division and it was only due to the expansion of the competition from 48 to 64 clubs that it got in as England’s fourth representative.

It’s true to say that any emphasis on success by the club was a slow burn. Compared with the detailed planning and preparation that teams that nowadays carry out, it was almost a “turn up on the day and play” approach in the early rounds. Away to Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of the 2nd Round, there’s been no scouting of the opponents. At the airport on the way out Coach Dave Smith picked up a magazine that had a two-page feature on Sporting and reading that on the flight over was the extent of knowledge as to what to expect. Manager Joe Harvey was a great man-manager but not a tactician and would generally, when asked about the opponents by his players, tell them not to worry and play to their own strengths. It obviously worked as Newcastle disposed of Feyenoord, Sporting Lisbon, Real Zaragoza, Vitoria Setubal, Glasgow Rangers, and, in the two-legged final, Ujpesti Dosza to bring home the club’s first, and only, piece of European silverware.

The book is written in a distinctive manner. The words are those of players, fans, journalists, and other were present for some or all of this “amazing journey”. The Newcastle side is set in a fictional recreation of the club’s celebration banquet whilst there are also similar get-togethers of players and others associated from other clubs in the competition. The style is of conversations amongst the participants and nearly all the words can apparently be attributed to those quoted, although they may have been said in written articles, other interviews and so on. There are wonderful anecdotes and recollections although, for me, the supposed conversations do come across at times as a little awkward. Notwithstanding that, this is a very good record of, and tribute to, the club’s triumph and an insightful look at a different and distinct period of European football.

 

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Bloody Southerners

Spencer Vignes

Biteback Publishing 2018

Softback 303pp £12.99

 

The legend of “Old Big Head” and his once seemingly inseparable right-hand man, Peter Taylor, is a rich one, a story that can polarise opinion. In 1973 one of the most amazing facets of it took place. Brian Clough, who had led Derby County to become English champions and European Cup semi-finalists, spoken of as England manager, joined Brighton & Hove Albion, skirting around relegation from the third tier.

The period was certainly one of the most turbulent in Clough’s career. Sacked by Derby after being charged by the FA (for calling Leeds “one of the dirtiest teams in Britain”) and giving too much time to his media work, he was a hot potato. Someone who got results, but who was increasingly carrying a lot of baggage.  An early Mourinho maybe, attracting a range of opinion and owning an abrasive persona. Down on the South Coast, Albion had never significantly troubled the honours board in their 72 years. They had, however, recently got a new chairman, Mike Bamber, a nightclub owner, property developer and with a fondness for celebrity. The lure of publicity and a genuine desire to create a successful club ensured that he pushed out the boat for Clough and Taylor, even knowing that a guilty verdict from the FA could lead to the former getting a long ban.

So it was that the two signed five-year contracts on 31 October 1973. Was Halloween an omen? Nobody concerned thought it to to be with Bamber hoping for a bump in attendances and the managerial duo significantly increasing their salaries and being promised money for signings. Initially, results were decent (for a team sixth from the bottom of the division) but a horror story began. Dumped out of the FA Cup 4-0 by non-league Walton & Hersham, there then followed an infamous tv-covered game against Bristol Rovers at the Goldstone Ground. Simply outplayed they were beaten 8-2. The Clough “bounce” was truly over, probably not helped by with public and private withering assessment of his players.  His style was not appreciated by many, neither was his absence from the club. Rarely at training, never travelling on the team bus, and zooming up to his home in Derby straight after matches. At the end of the season this distancing translated into not telling players they were being released, leaving them to find out via newspapers. And it was newspaper headlines when Clough himself left the South.

Less than a year after his appointment, Clough was named manager of Leeds, the team he had branded dirty. The shock and ramifications, ending up with a mere 44 days in charge are well told elsewhere He didn’t take Peter Taylor with him, and this book suggests that money, always one of Clough’s interests, was a factor. But Taylor, always more hands on, took over as manager with the backing of Mike Bamber (whom Clough described as “the finest chairman” he’d ever had) and remained there until 1976, narrowly missing out on promotion. He died in 1990, he and Clough not having spoken for seven years.

Clough, of course, led Nottingham Forest to European glory and his success and persona will mean that he will continue to be talked about for years. The author is not uncritical of him and he will always be regarded honestly as a genius with flaws. The book is open about this but it’s also a fine chronicle of those years in the 70s when Brighton dreamed big. If Mike Bamber was alive to witness more recent success, he may well have thought that it was all worth it.

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When Footballers Were Skint

Jon Henderson

Biteback Publishing 2019

Softback, 308pp, £9.99

 

Was it a halcyon era when footballers weren’t allowed to earn above a certain amount, travelled on buses, and had virtually no say in where their next place of work was going to be? In a hen, for many players, it’s the norm to live in gated estates, drive several cars, and choose which club they will sign for, then it can certainly seem like it. Much of football now would be unrecognisable to those who played (or watched) it 40, 50 years or more ago.  Has the change altered the very nature of the game and the relationships between the various groups within it? Is it that by returning to the past we are on, as the author suggests, “a journey in search of the soul of football”?

The book is dedicated to Jimmy Hill, who as Chairman of the Professional Footballer’s’ Association, led the overthrow of the maximum wage (then £20 per week) in 1961. In force since 1901 (originally £4) it was a cushion for directors who could rest easy in the knowledge that players were unlikely to want to move clubs for financial gain. Of course, not every player achieved this maximum, and most were on reduced wages out of season, having to take temporary jobs whether it was labouring, decorating or whatever else was available. There is little bitterness about such a situation amongst the 23 former players the author interviewed. There seems to be an acceptance that expectations were lower and therefore less resentment is shown. Many footballers came from hard backgrounds, growing up in the 1930s and 40s, with job opportunities that were hard manual work. Pre-war many footballers were miners and the chance to play professional football, above ground even if for lower pay, was not to be turned down. Even later, in the 50s, Tommy Banks, Bolton and England full back, knew that he’d have earned more down the pit in Wigan.

The stories that are told by the players range from signing on to finishing their careers.  Long before club academies and agents, lads came to the attention of clubs in circuitous ways. Don Ratcliffe (Crewe, Middlesbrough, Darlington, Stoke) was spotted playing in the street by a shopkeeper and recommended. Tony McNamara (Everton) was spotted in the Catholic Young Men’s Society League and Bill Leivers, later of Manchester City, got a trial with Chesterfield partly because the club’s groundsman went to the same church. Many continued with another job as well as playing football. Tom Finney was famous as a plumber, Cliff Jones (Swansea and Spurs) finished a five-year apprenticeship as a sheet-metal worker, whilst Dave Whelan (Blackburn) took up as a market stall trader when he was injured.

A financial and work environment such as this, allied to the experiences many underwent in the war, ensured that footballers were generally grounded in the communities in which they lived and played. They shopped, travelled, and drank locally, and tended to marry local girls. Football was the main entertainment for thousands of those whom lived nearby, accessible both in terms of location and cost. People didn’t have cars, there wasn’t a vast array of real or virtual leisure opportunities, and hence players of the town club were intrinsically part of the focus of the community.

The links are no longer there for many, football and footballers have a different relationship with many of us. Even away from the gilded palaces of the Premier League many players are only associated with a club for short contracts or loans. The soul may not have completely gone but this excellent piece of sporting and social history writing certainly tells of its radical change.

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Forgotten Nations

Chris Deeley

Pitch Publishing  2019

Softback  224pp £12.99

 

The match between Padania and Szekely Land had not, I admit, registered on my football radar. I’ll happily look at match stats from any non-league competition you want to put in front of me, but these teams I could tell you nothing about. Mea culpa probably as this game determined 3/4th places in CONIFA World Football Cup in 2018.

Explanations are needed straight away. Last year the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, made up of “international” teams unable to join FIFA, held their third world tournament in the Greater London area. There are ten criteria for joining CONIFA, although a potential member only has to meet one to join. Hence there is a large disparity in the origins and composition of the teams in it. Padania as a region is based in Italy’s Po Valley and is the creation of the Lega Nord, the right-wing Italian political party. The Szekely Land team is based on ethnic Hungarians located in Romania. It, of course, is not to be confused with the Hungarian minority teams from Slovakia, Serbia, or Ukraine. Currently there are 58 members of CONIFA, geographically spread across the globe.

The 16 who made it to the 2018 World Football Cup each had interesting journeys to get there, in some cases literally in others in terms of creation and organisation. The very nature of the CONIFA criteria make it possible for teams that can be said to have an agreed geographic location to play teams of exiles, or from somewhat hypothetical boundaries. No matter who there’s always an element of political controversy attached. The very fact that they aren’t teams from countries recognised by FIFA, nor by the UN as a self-governing territory, begs the question “Why are they in that situation?”.  The Chagos Islands, in the Pacific, is a territory from which all Chagossians were removed by the UK in order for it to be leased to the USA as a military base. Northern Cyprus is just that, the area in the north of the island that’s only recognised by Turkey as a nation state. Cascadia stretches from British Columbia in Canada to all or bits of nine US states. It’s a concept that is increasingly being adopted by white survivalist groups. So, it’s all a political minefield but one that seems to operate relatively harmoniously on the football field.

The author describes the backgrounds to the origin of several of the teams, who comprise their players, their supporters at the tournament, and does so in a clear, if individual, manner. Sometimes it feels as if he’s writing for a non-football reader, however there’s a wealth of information that will hold the attention of football supporters.   Bubbling along underneath the mainstream of FIFA, UEFA et al, CONIFA is an interesting and brave concept. Maybe its criteria are too wide and the potential for political causes to hijack it is there, but currently the positives of Padania meeting up with Szekilians outweigh that. By the way, the former won 5-4 on penalties.

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