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50 Years of Shoot!

Carlton Books, 2019

Hardback £18.99


The start of the 1969/70 season, one that saw Everton win the Div 1 title for the seventh time, witnessed the birth of one of the longest running football magazines ever – Shoot!. There can hardly be any football fan who hasn’t, over the succeeding 50 years, read a copy, and many probably either kept back copies or cut out photos for scrapbooks or the wall.  And who didn’t keep the magazine’s “League Ladders” pinned up, religiously moving the team tabs up and down after each set of matches?

For nearly thirty years it was a weekly, bringing a frequent and regular diet of interviews, news, gossip and pieces by star players. Before the internet and when football on the tv was a rarity it was this colourful piece of print that helped satisfy the thirst for anything about the game.  It couldn’t be described as a home of in depth writing nor of long pieces of analysis, but each page was lively and, certainly for younger readers, packed with both trivia and opinions that seemed to engage. It was the place where you could learn that Eric Gates thought that Glenn Hoddle was too erratic to be in the England team and that Osvaldo Ardiles’ favourite food was Roast Beef and Italian (though presumably not on the same plate).

One of Shoot!’s staples was pieces written by star players. Beginning with Bobby Moore, others like George Best, Malcolm Macdonald and Phil Thompson. Kevin Keegan, in one of his columns, was an early advocate of switching from the goal-average to the goal-difference system we now use. Gary Lineker, fresh from his transfer to Barcelona from Everton, tipped his old club to win the 86/7 title. He was right too. Meanwhile Eric Cantona described “everyone connected with French football is a liar and a cheat”. Shoot! Loved the big statements, they were great headlines!

Its frequency made it able to comment on and preview the big games that were on. Whether it was important League fixtures, Cup matches, or internationals then Shoot! had an angle. Franz Beckenbauer is interviewed before the Nations Cup matches with England in 1971 – “we are a better team”, and Mo Johnston and Ian Durrant before a Celtic v Rangers clash.

Some of the coverage can inevitably be seen as a product of the time it was written: “The Black Explosion” when “at least half the clubs in the First Division have a black player on the staff”. “Stars War” looks at potential British targets for foreign clubs: Bryan Robson at £3m, Gordon Strachan, £2m, and Gary Shaw, £1m, are some of the possibilities.  This book, a compilation of the magazine’s output, captures the excitement, controversies and trivia of those former times. It’s an entertaining piece of nostalgia and worth dipping into time and again.

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An A-Z of Football Collectibles

Carl Wilkes

Pitch Publishing 2019

Hardback 304pp £25.00



Let’s start by defining what this book is about. It’s trade cards and stickers. So, it’s not really an a-z look at all forms of football collectibles but once that’s accepted then be prepared for a superb addition to any collector’s library. It’s predominantly an in-depth history, but also a guide to collecting and prices, buying and selling, and there’s even a short guide to storage. With such an encompassing content it provides something to everyone from the died in the wool card collector, to the more general football memorabilia enthusiast, and to someone starting out. An overused cliché perhaps, but “treasure trove” really does accurately describe it.


Trade cards, those that are given away by a product, whether it be cigarettes, sweets, tea, magazines or other items, started using footballers on them from the 1880s. Bearing in mind that the book covers over 1,000 brands then there’s plenty of scope for anyone to create or extend collections in many directions.  There are those who collect by club, or player, or brand or even by end of runs (so the first and last card in a series) so someone reading this book may well be stimulated to follow other lines than they currently do.


Certainly the details and attention to each producer of cards should be able to give enough information to identify, search out or approximately value any card or series. The first up in the book (everything is alphabetical) is A&BC Gum. Not American & British as is often thought but the surnames of the directors, and a company that issued cards from 1954 for 21 years. From its original b&w “All Sport” series, of which 60 were footballers, to its final “Football Hobby Cards” , A&BC produced a myriad of styles of card and sticker, and the wrappers that some of the cards came in are now often worth more than the insert. Of course, another major and famous card producer was John Baines of Bradford, who claimed the title of first football card maker. Between 1890 and 1920 it’s reckoned that 13 million cards were sold by the Baines family firms. Their shield design is well known but other shapes were used. Often made with blank backs for advertisers to use, Baines’ also promoted their other cards there instead. Produced when football clubs were proliferating, they are a history lesson in documenting the beginnings of many current teams as well as the short lives of others.


The book is, however, replete with the outputs of lots of less well-known card producers, both from this country and elsewhere. Lincolnshire Boot Stores issued cards of local clubs as early as 1900, the exotically named Saint Petersburg Cigarettes (disappointingly from Portsmouth) were active around the same time whilst Germany’s Union Zigarettenfabrik produced over 500 coloured football cards in 1938 as “Konig Fussball”. Tea companies are represented by, amongst others, Ty-Phoo, chocolate by Simon Chocolates of Spain or Poppleton of York, Tennent the Glasgow brewer made football beer mats, breakfast was represented by Quaker Oats and, of course, there are many comics and magazines. From Rover to Topical Times to The Wizard and, from Edwardian times, Ideas Magazine, a vast number of cards came via periodical and newspaper publishers.



Presentationally it is also striking. Several illustrations of cards and stickers on each page, clear white space and good graphics make it easy to enjoy visually as well as in content terms. It is a volume that’s impossible to devour at one sitting, but it is a joy to keep returning to. Christmas is coming, and this would be a great gift (for yourself).

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Magical Magyars

David Bailey

Pitch Publishing


Hardback, 302pp, £19.99


The early 1950s were a period when political ideologies split Europe, when a continent devastated by war was trying to recover, part under the influence of the USA, Britain and France and part through the existence of Soviet control on economies, societies, and sport. At a time when propaganda victories were fought for in nearly every aspect of life, then sporting achievements were not only crowed about but helped lessen frustration about shortages and the like amongst the general population. The rise to pre-eminence in football of Hungary led to fascination with and praise for this small nation and its Mighty, Magical Magyars.

Currently placed about 52nd in the FIFA rankings, Hungary no longer trouble the sharp end of tournaments even if they qualify. Yet they were once the best football team in the world. Between 1950 and the World Cup Final of 1954 the team went an unbeaten 31 internationals including, of course the two results against England that stood football on its head in this country.  In November 1953 they outclassed Matthews, Wright, Mortensen and Ramsey so much that Matthews said that the 6-3 score didn’t reflect the visitors’ superiority. The FA were eager for a return fixture and got its way the following May in Budapest.   The “Golden Team” rampaged to a 7-1 win.

It wasn’t only England that felt the power and class of the Hungarians. In 1952 in the Olympics in Helsinki, they walked away with Gold, beating six other nations during their stay and the World Cup two years later looked theirs for the taking.

How had the Magyars reached such standards? David Bailey tells of the influence that an English coach, Jimmy Hogan, had in the 1920s and earlier but it was two Hungarians, Gusztav Sebes and Bela Guttmann, who transformed the football fortunes of their own country. There’s a complex tale of relationships, rivalries and politics that dominated club and national football and Bailey guides the reader through them in a detailed yet very readable manner. The liberation and then occupation of Hungary by the Soviet Union revamped the game, clubs fell out of favour or were enhanced by the regime, and the national team was spared few resources in becoming a major force. Honved (formerly Kispest) was the army team, and many players became “soldiers” gaining access to better training facilities and new kit. The police force took control of Ujpest, MTK became Budapest Textiles, owned by the textile workers union, and Ferencvaros became the team of the caterers’ union.

The ordinary people of Hungary took great pride in the footballing success at a time when economic problems were massive and everyday freedoms hardly existed under the eyes and ears of the security police, the AVO.

 It was also a time of individually brilliant players. Ferenc Puskas, apparently arrogant and always looking to look after his own interests, scored 84 goals in 85 internationals. Sandor Kocsis bettered this with 75 in 68 matches. Melded into a team of all the parts alongside those such as Bozsik, Grosics, and Hidegkuti, this was a formidable unit and clear favourites for the 1954 World Cup. It sent shockwaves throughout the country when it was beaten in the final by West Germany and stimulated more frustration with the political situation. When, in 1956, this reached a peak and overflowed into real revolt against the Soviet masters the consequences were violent and bloody.

On the day that the Soviet Army entered Budapest the Honved team left for Vienna to play a European Cup match. It was when they were away that the real end of the Magical Magyars occurred. The lure of economic prosperity and political freedom was too much for many of the players. Puskas did not return for 25 years. Kocsis, Kubala and Czibor moved to Barcelona and all knew that going back to their homeland could mean imprisonment.

Hungary’s dominance was relatively short lived, but the team will always have a romance attached to the. Coming from behind the Iron Curtain they were a fascination for the rest of the world, a thrilling team that emerged from a society of which little was known. The author captures the excitement and achievements exceedingly well and sets them against a dark background of political interference and intrigue.

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Me And My Big Mouth

Graham Denton

Pitch Publishing 2019

Softback 320pp £12.99


Brian Clough was rarely lacking in self-confidence and seldom ignored an opportunity to share his opinions with others. At a time when a weekly TV listings magazine was to be found in most households then a column in TV Times in 1973 was a high-profile outlet for the highest profile manager in the game. From September of that year until the end of 1974 Clough wrote a weekly set of thoughts, judgements and ideas ranging over football as a whole or particular aspects that were in the news. At times dogmatic and doctrinaire, often constructive and insightful, they became talking points in themselves, fuelling even more debate about the man and his “big mouth”.

Clough was manager of Derby County and making frequent appearances on ITV’s “on The Ball” programme when, in September 1973 his first “Clough Sounds Off” column was published. The next 15 months not only saw the failure of England to qualify for the World Cup finals at the same time as Scotland did so, but Clough as a manager moving to Division 3 Brighton and then to reigning League champions Leeds United. Turbulent times and constantly reflected in his column and tv appearances. Whether it is about the selection of players for the national team, the relationship between television and football, or his views on a

What Graham Denton has ably done in this book is not just reproduce many of Clough’s pieces but to develop a narrative of the context in which they were written. In this way there is a look at some of the most pressing issues and events in football in the early 70s. Clough’s columns set up a review of the background to them or what happened a bit further down the line. Prior to the Scotland v England game in May 1974 he writes about whether the home team are good enough to be the standard bearer for British football in the imminent World Cup. The book then studies those World Cup finals with Scotland’s performance gaining especial scrutiny. When it came to TV coverage of football then Clough didn’t exclude himself from the debate. He was worried that television was trying to make the game looked too perfect and that it should be shaken up with more controversy (hardly unsurprising from the man) yet was unhappy with criticism of referees. The author then widens out the topic into examining the changing relationship between the medium and the game and what were the concerns and opportunities of the time. A long way from the camera saturation that we have today.

Clough was definitely the man the media went to for a story or a quote. A man who was unashamed of his self-described “big mouth” and who backed up his opinions with success as a manager. And in his apparent failures at Brighton and Leeds there was still copy on a weekly basis before he bounced back with Nottingham Forest. As a book that ably illustrates the thought of “Old Big Head” and chronicles football in the 1970s, then this delivers well.


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Scotland: Club, Country & Collectables

David Stuart & Robert Marshall

Pitch Publishing 2019

Hardback 208pp  £19.99


When four of the first six club entries in a book about Scottish football are English, then it’s clear that this is an unconventional look at the game north of the border.  The result is a wide ranging, intelligent and fascinating review of the ups and (many) downs of Scotland the football nation. Matches, tournaments, individuals and all the ephemera and collectables associated with them are encompassed in this well written and illustrated volume.

This isn’t a comprehensive guide to Scottish football, but it is an entertaining, informative and, at times, personal and subjective panorama of the Caledonian game. Don’t expect to see every club written about but the contributions made by players and managers from Airdrie to Tottenham are chronicled, always with nostalgic illustration. Charlie Cooke on the cover of Soccer Star, Willie Carr in the Coventry programme, or Robert Orrock (one cap in 1913 as a Falkirk player) on a Churchman’s cigarette card, indicate the span that there is. Most of the images come from the authors’ own collections, wide-ranging and replete with both historical and more recent material. The narrative too covers the decades: Willie Paul of Partick Thistle scored four times in his third international but was never picked again, apparently not unusual at the time, and Joe Craig, exThistle playing for Celtic, came on for 14 minutes against Sweden in 1977, scored and, again, was never chosen afterwards.

The book’s second half is an “alternative A to Z”. O is Oceanian opponents, B is Beer and Spirit Labels, and Y is You’ll Never Swap Alone. A wonderful collection of memories, memorabilia, and nuggets of information. Edinburgh brewers Robert Deuchar produced a “Hampden Roar” ale label and Rutherglen Scotch Whisky the “Flower of Scotland” miniatures with labels of legends like George Younger. Graeme Souness got his 50th cap in a 0-0 draw against Australia in Melbourne, a country that’s appeared at four consecutive World Cup Finals, 2006-18, with Scotland absent each time. If you’ve ever looked at some items in your collection and wonder “Why ?”, then you’ll identify with the notion that Craig Brown’s tie and a vinyl 45 recorded live at Gartcosh Social Club to celebrate Scotland’s win at Wembley in 1977 may not be that outlandish.

The presence of the authors at the scenes of Scotland’s more recent ventures on the world scene is used to bring to life tournaments like World Cup 98. The travails of travel and tickets from the days of transit vans heading to Wembley through to Easyjet and packages to away matches are well told. In earlier times the challenges didn’t exist as Scotland’s first 143 internationals were against other British Isles teams. The first official “foreign” opposition was in 1929 in Norway, a match won 7-3 in front of 4,000.

A fascinating, intelligent and pleasing book, full of interest for collectors of all sorts, and for football supporters Scottish or not.




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Trailing Clouds Of Glory

Nick Burnell

Y Lolfa  2019  £9.99

Paperback 240pp


The Euros of 2016 are the peak of Welsh international progress. A semi-final place was undoubtedly an achievement that was rightly lauded and one that drew comparison with previous forays towards the sharp ends of tournaments. The widespread impression given by the media was that there was just one: the World Cup of 1958 when Wales lost 1-0 to Brazil in the quarter finals. Consistently overlooked, however, were, as the subtitle of this book notes, “Welsh football’s forgotten heroes of 1976”.  For four consecutive Home Championships, Wales had finished holding the wooden spoon amongst the British nations, yet reached the last eight of the European Championships, rekindling a passion for the round ball  game at a time of Welsh rugby greatness.


Why was this seemingly forgotten by the commentators in 2016? Nick Burnell, in this excellent story of the 1976 squad, suggests that the main reason was that it was only the last four teams that took part in a competition in one location (Yugoslavia).  The tournament until then comprised of group qualifying matches, with the winner of each group going into a knockout quarter final.  Before the fragmentation of the Soviet bloc states there were, of course, less nations but some were able to draw on much greater numbers of players than presently. The competitive edge was definitely there as England found out by finishing second in their group to Czechoslovakia and so eliminated. Scotland were third in their group, and N Ireland second in theirs.


Wales topped their group impressively, winning five and drawing one of matches against Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg. The last eight match with Yugoslavia will be remembered for a contentious second leg at Ninian Park. Two goals down it was always going to be a tough task and not made easier by decisions from East German ref Rudi Glockner. Apparently miffed by not being met at the airport and the absence of his nation’s flag at the match, Glockner  left his mark with controversial decisions that probably contributed not only to the exit of Wales but to crowd trouble that resulted in international sanctions.


The unanswered question before reading this book is “How did Wales turn themselves from perennial no hopers to this status?”. The author skilfully draws together media comment from the time, interviews and quotes from the players, and his own insight. An analysis of the FA of Wales, the regional rivalry in the principality, and the blending together of players from all four Divisions by surprise manager Mike Smith, builds a compelling story that ensures credit is given to this period in the nation’s football.


Smith had never played professional football, was a former PE teacher, and an Englishman who became Director of Coaching for the FAW in 1968. Dave Bowen was part-time manager and he and Smith were favourites for a new full-time position. Bowen was offered the job but turned it down because he wasn’t the unanimous choice.  The appointment of Smith began a quiet revolution in the style of the national team as well as the introduction and development of several new players. It became the era of Terry Yorath, Leighton James, John Mahoney, Arfon Griffiths, Dai Davies, Brian Flynn, and John Toshack.  And with it was a spirit that had previously been associated with the Welsh rugby squad, a competitiveness and team strength that epitomised “hwyl”.


A story that’s well told, well researched and a proper acknowledgement of the success of Wales 1976.


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England’s Greatest Defender

Alfie Potts Harmer

RedDoor  2019

Paperback 291pp  £12.99


Stanley Matthews regarded Neil Franklin as the “greatest centre half” yet Franklin will probably never be mentioned as much as Billy Wright when talking about English defenders of the 1940s and 50s. Yet Franklin was a superstar of his time, set a record for consecutive England appearances, and was transferred for a world record fee for a defender. He was also at the centre of an international move that sent shockwaves through the game.

Born and brought up in the Potteries it was almost inevitable that he signed for Stoke City as a youngster and made his debut for the Reserves as a 16-year-old in 1938. Obviously, the war disrupted his early career but, in the RAF, he played for six professional clubs due to his postings and progressed so well that he was selected for an FA XI in 1944. Lining up with players such as Len Shackleton, Stan Mortensen and George Hardwick was a clear pointer of his undoubted talent at just 22. A call up for England followed, the first of 12 wartime and victory internationals – though none were rewarded with caps.

Franklin had established himself as a classy defender and, unusually for the time, a ball playing one too. Comparisons with Bobby Moore are regarded as yardstick of style although the latter was to emerge with, understandably, much greater recognition in English football history. There were tensions in the Stoke camp however, and transfer requests were denied to Neil. At a time when the maximum wage was £12 and players’ registrations could be held indefinitely by clubs, frustration built and 27 consecutive England appearances between 1946 and 1950 had attracted interest from many sources. The most notable, and the one that Franklin will forever be identified with, was from Colombia. Money was awash at some of their clubs as they tried to compete with other South American countries, and it proved an overwhelming attraction for Neil and other British players.

In 1950 he (and another Stoke player, George Mountford) flew there and signed for Independiente Santa Fe. At the time Colombia was not a member of FIFA and so there were no restrictions on playing for one of its teams. The country was, however, far from stable and, in effect, there was a civil war underway. It turned out to be a move that Franklin and his pregnant wife soon realised was not to their liking. Whilst the press at home raged about the “Bogota Bandits” that had gone to Colombia (Charlie Mitten of Manchester United was another), Neil played jut six matches for his new club before bringing his family back to England.

He expected some punishment and was handed a four-month ban (reduced from an initial sine die). Stoke still held his registration but, immediately his ban ended, Franklin was transferred in January 1951 to Hull City for a record defender fee of £22,500. Although in Division 2, Hull had big ambitions with Raich Carter as player-manager. Franklin’s signing put thousands on the gate but his time there was a frustrating one. Overlooked by England a time when their invincibility was shattered by the Hungarians, he began to get injuries, Carter was sacked, and Hull never got promoted.

He left in 1956, joining Crewe and then Stockport where he began coaching and moved into non-league management and pub ownership. It was almost a caricatured career end for an ex-pro, but Franklin’s career was far from the mundane. Film coverage of his playing days is rare but the esteem in which he was held by other internationals is a reliable indicator of his class and position in football’s greats. Overlooked now but, for many he was certainly “England’s greatest defender”.



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The A-Z of Weird & Wonderful Football Shirts

Richard Johnson

Conker Editions, 2020

Paperback, 206pp, £15


Those of us who primarily collect programmes or other printed memorabilia are often challenged by issues of storage. The boxes and shelves that accumulate in lofts, bedrooms and studies can take over the very space that we seek to live or work in. That’s before the issues of complaints from partners.  Admiration then for those who pursue the collectables that are football shirts. Wardrobes full, suitcases bursting, and with an ever-increasing frequency in the issue of new strips, the logistics must be a struggle. I’ve got a few myself but, as this book wonderfully illustrates the potential for growth both in terms of the number of collectors and what is to be collected, is immense.

We are all used to clubs producing two, maybe three, new shirts each season. It seems only recently that home and away strips were alternate years but that’s gone by the wayside as clubs and manufacturers have their eyes on the financial prize of replica sales. Add in special commemorative shirts ( e.g. anniversaries, cup matches, overseas tours) and there’s been an explosion that has driven the creation of ever more unique designs, some tweaks on existing ones, others with a keen eye on the outlandish or fashionable. Drawn together here is a fascinating gamut of shirts from the 1980s to the present, some classics, others one-offs, and many that could make you open-mouthed with either admiration or despair.

 This is a world-wide collection of examples. It seems that nowhere is without a claim to having produced a notable piece of kit. Neither has any aspect of modern life apparently been overlooked from design. So, we have, naturally, alcohol, gambling and food well represented, not only in terms of sponsors logos but as the main element of the shirt. La Hoya Lorca of the Spanish third tier set a few balls rolling in 2013 with their shirt completely emblazoned with broccoli florets and have been followed by many others. CD Pinzon have been adorned with strawberries whilst Bedale United of the North Riding League (sponsored by Heck Sausages) currently are dressed as hot dogs. Argentinians Ferro de General Pico decided to pay homage to TV with its Homer Simpson shirt in 2018, and Mexican Xolos de Tijuana, in the season just gone, were utterly Star Wars based.

Events and celebrations are great opportunities to produce something special. Unsurprisingly 1860 Munich bring out Oktoberfest shirts, always related to the local tradition including, in 2015, shorts that replicated lederhosen. Australian Newcastle Jets have marked RAAF Day with an all-over print of fighter planes from the nearby base and Gamba Osaka showcased Expo 2017 on theirs. On a more sombre note, Dundee commemorated the Battle of Loos when eight of their players were killed in 1915 by a centenary shirt based on the Black Watch.

The author gives due tribute to “classic” designs too. Denmark’s shirt, by Hummel, from the 1986 World Cup has been imitated by Wrexham and Spall (as away kit in 1989), the German manufacturer Saller and the Spanish Meyba. The famous Dutch national shirt from the 1988 World Cup was apparently a standard Adidas design catalogued “Ipswich”, but the template was widely used by national associations (USSR and USA) and many club sides.

The book is an excellent production, that sheds light on club stories as well as shirts, and one that stimulates ideas for collectors. As with programmes there are many different themes that can be concentrated on and there’s little doubt that shirts will be a growth area in collecting for quite a while. Now, where’s my 89/90 Oldham shirt with Bovis as sponsors?

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Bobby Robson – The Ultimate Patriot

Bob Harris

deCoubertin Books 2020

Hardback 354pp, £20


Books about Robson aren’t uncommon. There have been at least five previous biographies as well as two autobiographies and a “World Cup Diary”. Bob Harris, the author of this one, has been involved in a minimum of three of them. So the challenges for the publication of yet another have to be whether there is much more to say about Bobby, who passed away in 2009, or whether there is a new way of telling the story of one of the most respected men in European football.

There are no great claims that  the writer has new insights or material. That’s not surprising given the publishing history but there’s little doubt that Robson’s story is diligently told, from the archetypal “no money to spare” working class childhood background through an excellent playing career and on to being one of the most successful managers in European football.


Robson ended up as an iconic figure in football. The glorious failure of Italia’90, an outstanding record of success in Spain, Holland, and Portugal, early over achievement at Ipswich and the final chapter of homecoming to Newcastle, each contributed to that. He wasn’t always held in such esteem and the vitriol and abuse that he received, certainly during earlier days as England boss, hurt him. One of the recurring themes of the book is how elements of the press were apparently determined to undermine him. Ironically it is, of course, the relationship with journalist Bob Harris that produced this (and earlier) books. At times it seems as though some old animosities between Harris and former colleagues are in the background but that probably adds some piquancy to the stories.


Robson was, given the uncertainty of careers in football, a loyal man. There are several examples of where he operated without a contract or where a verbal agreement was good enough for him. It may not always have been wise as at Porto where the owner apparently denied he had given Robson the opportunity to leave if an English club came in for him. That denied him the opportunity to manage Arsenal with whom he had had very advanced talks. The London club weren't the only British club to have had contact with Robson over the years and, whilst loyal to any employer, he wasn’t averse to considering offers from Sunderland, Celtic, Everton (on several occasions) and, of course, Newcastle.


The Robson story is one that spreads across some of the great clubs and players of European football. His impact is still felt, whether through the achievements of his protege Jose Mourinho, the sense of pride in the England team of 1990, or the esteem in which he is held in many nations.  For those who have forgotten some of that story or for those who may not have been around at the time, then this is a worthwhile book. It’s entertaining, well documented and obviously written with affection. It may not be wholly objective  due to the strong relationship between author and subject, but still a good addition to the Bobby Robson library.




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The Farther Corner  

Harry Pearson

Simon & Schuster , 2020

Hardback, 330pp, £16.99


The coal mines and other heavy industry of the North East are part of the past yet their impact on landscape, society, and attitudes is still evident throughout the region. So it as well with football. Ignoring the “big three” of Newcastle Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the area is redolent with teams that were either major names in what was once amateur football, or key focal points of communities, and in many cases, both.

Up until 1974 clubs had to be identified as either amateur or professional and the FA Amateur Cup final was often played in front of capacity crowds at Wembley. Prominent in that competition were clubs such as Blyth Spartans, Bishop Auckland, Crook Town, Stockton, South Bank, and North Shields. The so-called first World Cup, the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, was famously won by West Auckland in 1909 and 1911. The Northern League which many of these teams competed in was one of the most prestigious competitions in the country, its southern equivalent being the Isthmian League. What was once probably regarded as just outside the Football League in terms of quality is now on the ninth tier of the pyramid and the four figure crowds that were common are a thing of the past. Local football is , however, still vibrant and this book is a wonderful journey through the supporters, players, grounds and stories of many of the famous and not-so-famous clubs of the North East.

Subtitled “a sentimental return”, the book reeks of affection and is a wry journal of 23 matches in the 2018-19 season.

The characters on and off the pitch will resonate with ground-hoppers and followers of lower league football everywhere even if you tend to read the quotes in a Geordie/Teesside/Wearside accent. There’s the spectator (sitting alone) at the Ryton & Crawbrook Albion v Washington game who gave a running commentary to himself, or the old chap at Dunston v Irlam with forecast at every opposition free kick “if this goes in it’s curtains” even though they were 0-3 down. Match officials are the butt of a stream of antique jokes and insults , “if you’re not sure ref ask your guide dog” and players’ masculinity is either revered or questioned . There’s no doubt that the hard labour of work in former years  meant that physicality was appreciated on the pitch and that is still the case. South Bank FC were founded in 1868, originating in a part of Middlesbrough so tough that former Boro and N Ireland winger Terry Cochrane thought that if a man had two ears he was called a cissy.

Every chapter of Harry Pearson’s book has a story that will bring a smile of recognition to those who have watched this level of the game. Even more so if you can look with nostalgia at the histories of teams and towns that have fallen on harder times but which still generate a pride and passion in those who know them It’s a great read, funny, informative and so relevant when the billionaire clubs are mooting Super Leagues and the like. It’s an excellent reality check.



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1312: Among The Ultras

James Montague

Ebury Press  2020  

Hardback 378pp £20


Who or what are ultras? Supporters, political activists, welfare workers, criminals, businessmen, and philanthropists are all terms that could be applied to various manifestations of these groups aligned with football across the globe. The misconception that ultras are merely flamboyant and extreme bands of terrace hooligans, mainly operating in a handful of countries is laid bare in this encompassing and riveting journey through their culture and participants.

The choreography and spectacle on the terraces or in the stands are, it is true, something that most ultra groups pride themselves on. And there are other significant similarities and histories that ultras from Argentina to Indonesia share.  Some emanate from mimicry but others from a cross-fertilization from visits to each other. There is not only a common origin but a unifying anti-authority set of beliefs that go some way to explain the “1312” title of the book.  The numbers correspond to letters of the alphabet, ACAB which in turn stand for “All Coppers Are xxxxxxxs”. It would be wrong to think that ultras were utterly negative and James Montgomery illustrates that many of the groups could be seen as leading, or at least participating in, movements that want more fan control of clubs, democracy in political systems, and a recognition that football clubs are not the preserve of wealth, often transient, owners.

The ultra movement is well removed from British hooliganism of earlier years or from most of the fan culture that is in this country presently. Our supporters’ groups do not wield the same influence within local communities, are usually disregarded by politicians, and extravagant displays inside or outside stadia are nowhere near as common as overseas. It was in the 1920s in Argentina that “barras bravas” , the first ultras, passionate and organised groups, emerged, creating a South American atmosphere that eventually spread to other Latin countries and across Europe and Asia. The 1950 World Cup in Brazil created a global spotlight and eventually TV and then the internet gave an even bigger boost to the idea and practice.

The author has produced something that is not an external observational study. Embedded amongst ultra groups, and with some unnerving encounters as he seeks to meet leading individuals, he demonstrates a real understanding of specific scenarios and environments as well as a keen eye for detail. The distinctive emblems, rituals, chants and songs are part of the narrative, the traditions of clubs seemingly accurately noted, and particular matches described precisely.

This book can be challenging to absorb. The alliances and rivalries, the allegiances and oppositions to political factions or credos, can be complex to take in. An excellent example is the former Yugoslavia.Its breakup has left confusion, considerable bitterness, and a complex set of relationships. Put that on top of pre-existing football antagonisms between clubs, then describing the supporter scene takes all the talent and analysis of the author. Little wonder that Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia , and the influence that ultras have on politics as well as sport, take up many pages of riveting description. So Hajduk Split, and their “Torcida” ultras, shifted their main rivalry from Red Star Belgrade (now in Serbia) to Croatian Dinamo Zagreb and their “Bad Blue Boys”.  There are certainly sections of the book where close attention is needed!

A fascinating and authoritative book, told with insight and from a perspective that marries a real understanding of football, its fans, and the wider context in which they exist.

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Daniel Gray & Alan McCredie

Nutmeg 2020

Softback 200pp £14.99


The Scottish periodical Nutmeg is highly regarded for its coverage of the game north of the border. Encompassing every facet, whether in parks football or the goings on at Ibrox and Parkhead, it brings opinion, investigation, and celebration of what’s happening, has happened, or should happen. Little wonder that this book reflects all this, and is replete with, as it claims, “scenes and stories from the heartlands of Scottish football”.


If there is one word that does reflect its essence it is “heartlands”. Not in a geographical sense but in the manner in which football is regarded in communities across the nation. It matters not whether it’s the programme seller, kit washer, supporter, raffle organiser, or player, each holds the game close to them, a key part of their lives. Written as Covid was taking its toll with cancellation and suspension, there is a telling phrase near the end : “missing football is an important, valid emotion”.  The hold that it has on most of us is amply described, both directly and also in the narrative of events, locations, and themes. With super photographs the book could stand alone on these. However, they are  surrounded by excellent and insightful prose. It’s difficult to say which is dominant, they complement each other so well.


Each chapter has a unique focus. The book starts, as does the season , with the first day , its preparation, the anticipation , the hope. Opening up the turnstiles at Cowdenbeath, Alloa, Hearts, and Dunfermline , beginning the process where “the week will have an anchor”. across the season the words and pictures take the reader to both Lowland and Highland Leagues, grounds that are no longer used, the special nights of floodlit games, park football, away matches, the joy of visiting a new ground, and the special atmosphere of social clubs.  There is a paean to the demise of the Meadowbank stadium, where a pitch used to have the impressions made by shot putters when it hosted athletics and was the home to Edinburgh City, as well as the eponymous Meadowbank Thistle. Ultimately the season did, of course, come to an end. Covid brought the “Silent Saturday”. Whilst matches have restarted , the game, with its culture, eccentricity, and community passion is still on pause.


I am sorry to say that I have seen only one match in Scotland (Queen of the South v St Johnstone, 1978). This book makes me want to rectify that, whether at Arthurlie Juniors or Easter Road. It is a powerful, enjoyable, and fascinating mix of words and pictures. The latter could make it into what’s called a coffee-table book. The former transform it into a coffee-table book with soul.



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When The Seagulls Follow The Trawler: Football in the 90s

Tom Whitworth

Pitch Publishing 2021

Softback  256pp £12.99



The quote that’s used as the title, pseudo intellectualism at its best, is, of course, from Eric Cantona. One of the core elements of the 1990s Manchester United and someone who will always be used as an exemplar of the changing face of much of football in that decade. More cosmopolitan outlooks and personnel, exponential growth of media coverage and influence, each amended the character and operation of the game.


Football at the beginning of the 90s was, like much of British society, still in a slough of despond. Crumbling grounds, fan trouble, lessening influence on the world stage, and dated employment practices and prospects. What was it that stimulated that movement from football not being talked about in polite company to “footie” being a must have part of political and showbiz lives and England being on the way to having one of the most attractive leagues in the world?


The sound of Nessun Dorma accompanied a rekindling of affection for the national team. (My apologies to the three other home nations: this book disregards anything that didn’t involve English football.)  Italia ’90 was a glorious “nearly” moment. Gazza, Gary L, and Bobby Robson put pride back in the shirt and, six years later, the three lions on its front so nearly surpassed that tournament in Euro ’96. At the top, then, there was revitalisation of interest whilst, in tandem, Sky TV showed itself to be a colossal force and money and exposure came in at club level.  


Both made what became the Premier League attractive to players, coaches, and investors from around the globe. Cantona, Bergkamp, Kanchelskis and Klinsmann may have been the stars but club after club trawled overseas to bolster the native talent pool. The Bosman ruling in 1995 intensified this trend and wages climbed so that the lifestyles of footballers were on a par with music and film stars when it came to glamour and gossip. Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal, Venglos at Aston Villa and Gullitt at Chelsea as new ideas came in continuing the change of style.  


Off the pitch the Thatcher years were over and New Labour was born. Even before Tony Blair’s landslide 1997 victory there was a demand for a different society, more youth oriented and photogenic young athletes like Beckham became pin-ups and pundits on style, fashion, and music.  


Within all this there were stand-alone stories and it’s these that the author chooses to focus on.  The dominance of Manchester United, the soap opera of Newcastle, Merseyside slipping from ascendancy, and the building of new, seated stadia are all major components. In that, there’s nothing really new in the book, but it’s well told, using some informed local supporter insights and is a useful reminder that 30 years ago football changed. For the better? Well, that’s unanswered and would need a parallel work on the game lower down the leagues an outside England.

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