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Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune, by David Fuller 0

Posted on April 27, 2012 by samh

It’s not often that children’s football books are reviewed here, but Alfie Jones and a Change of Fortune is a worthy exception. This book, aimed at young children aged about 7-10, is the first in a planned series focusing on football-mad Alfie and his friends.

The story, by FA-qualified football coach David Fuller, who coaches a youth team in Brighton, manages to tap into not only the enduring popularity of football but also of Harry Potter-style fantasy, which is still very much in vogue.

Read more…

Spitting in the Wind: An Alternative View of Newcastle United 0

Posted on January 16, 2012 by samh

Spitting in the Wind: An Alternative View of Newcastle United, by Billy FuriousSpitting in the Wind, the latest book by ranter extraordinaire Billy Furious, aka Kriss Knights, represents two decades of “crackpot ramblings” on Newcastle United.

As a collection of fanzine articles (some previously unpublished and others with updated comments added with the benefit of hindsight), it is a haphazard and outspoken volume. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s just another one of those badly produced, badly written amateur books in dire need of a proofreader and editor. While some of this may be true, certainly with reference to the production (which Furious’s website admits is “irreverent, sweary, often drunk and lacking in a basic understanding of any punctuation that [isn’t] a exclamation mark”), don’t let that put you off – this Billy bloke has a way with words that had me hooked from the start, and I’m not even a Magpies fan. Read more…

Football: A Short History, by Matthew Taylor 0

Posted on December 04, 2011 by samh

This is a slim volume, but then it is called ‘a short history’. At just 64 pages, it might not seem possible to cover in great detail the history of the game, but the conciseness of this book (published in October 2011) is what makes it attractive, as well as the many illustrations in what is an attractive layout.

Taylor starts with the origins of association football, which lie “in the chaotic and unregulated forms of folk football popular throughout Britain from the Middle Ages”, before discussing the split between the amateur and professional games. Read more…

The Official Biography of Rangers, by Ronnie Esplin and Graham Walker 0

Posted on October 30, 2011 by samh

Hot on the heels of We Are Celtic Supporters comes this ‘official’ story of bitter Glasgow rivals Rangers. Whereas the former was a rather abstract look at the club’s culture and history through a series of interviews with diverse followers, this is a more traditional chronological history – though it still boasts a number of exclusive interviews with the likes of Sandy Jardine and Ally McCoist. Read more…

We Are Celtic Supporters, by Richard Purden 0

Posted on September 21, 2011 by samh

We Are Celtic Supporters, by Richard Purden, with a foreword by Rod Stewart (2011)

This book, published in September 2011, examines what created the culture, ideas and beliefs around Celtic football club. Author Richard Purden travels the world to find fans far and wide, from the ordinary to the celebrity. And there are indeed a wealth of the latter – as well as rocker Rod Stewart, who writes the foreword, there are exclusive interviews with famous fans such as Billy Connolly, Jim Kerr and Noel Gallagher. Read more…

Kissing the Badge: How Much Do You Know About 20 Years of the Premier League? 0

Posted on September 12, 2011 by samh

Kissing the Badge: How Much Do You Know About 20 Years of the Premier League? by Phil Ascough (2011)

This is a quiz book that offers just that little bit more than mere trivia. It’s perfect for long car or train journeys on away days (especially, of course, if you follow a Premier League team), but it’s also one of those books that’s interesting to dip in and out of whether you feel like testing your fellow footy mates or just yourself. Read more…

A Game of Two Halves: A Collection of the World’s Greatest Football Writing 0

Posted on September 01, 2011 by samh

A Game of Two Halves: A Collection of the World’s Greatest Football Writing, edited by Stephen F Kelly (1992)

Apart from the clichéd title, this book includes some first-class writing and is thoughtfully compiled in sections dedicated to all aspects of football.

Editor Kelly shows a keen eye for good writing, choosing some writers not widely known for writing about football. George Orwell’s famous attack on international sport, The Sporting Spirit, is included, as are short works by Albert Camus, Ted Hughes, Alan Sillitoe, H. E. Bates, Harold Pinter and J. B. Priestley. There’s even a football-related extract from Hancock’s Half Hour. Read more…

Sweet FA, by Graham Kelly 0

Posted on August 29, 2011 by samh

Sweet FA, by Graham Kelly with Bob Harris (1999)

“A fascinating insight into football’s corridors of power” is promised on the front cover of this book.

This all depends, really, on how interested you are in the insider wranglings and alleged dodgy dealings of the Football Association, the Football League and the Premiership. Graham Kelly was at the heart of most of it, and so he has as good a right as anybody to lift the lid on it all; and the first question most people will have is: is he as boring on paper as he is in real life? Read more…

Power, Corruption and Pies: A Decade of the Best Football Writing from When Saturday Comes 0

Posted on August 29, 2011 by samh

Power, Corruption and Pies: A Decade of the Best Football Writing from When Saturday Comes, edited by Doug Cheeseman, Andy Lyons and Mike Ticher (1997)

If anything was directly responsible for promoting the intelligent side of football literature, it was WSC.

It finally found the high street in 1988, having begun in 1986 as a fanzine only available from specialist outlets. This collection follows on from The First Eleven, which brings together the first 11 issues of WSC. Read more…

When Pele Broke Our Hearts: Wales and the 1958 World Cup 0

Posted on August 29, 2011 by samh

When Pele Broke Our Hearts: Wales and the 1958 World Cup, by Mario Risoli (1998)

This is the story of Wales’ only appearance in the World Cup Finals; it was later reprinted with a new preface by Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers, who loved the book.

Wales managed to get to Sweden in 1958 through the back door, after hostilities in the Middle East meant that Arab teams refused to play Israel. Wales were picked to play them instead, beat them 4-0 over two legs and were on their way to their first and only World Cup – and what is surprising is that this remarkable story had not been fully told before.

Cardiff journalist Risoli’s book reads like an extended newspaper article, which is not a bad thing: the many interviews with the surviving members of the Welsh team make the book more than just a dry history. Their comments and humorous anecdotes make the book come alive, as do appropriate quotes from newspaper reports of the time.

Risoli also includes a lot about the background surrounding the 1958 World Cup, not least the air disaster in Munich shortly before the finals began, which tragically wiped out most of Busby’s Babes. This had a direct effect on the Welsh team, as their manager Jimmy Murphy was also Matt Busby’s assistant at Manchester United; he had to act as United manager too, and instead of celebrating Wales’ achievement he was mourning United’s loss: “He was doing the job of four men…As a result he was not as well prepared for the World Cup as he could have been”.

The backgrounds of each of the players is also interesting; the point is made that they were worlds apart from the stars of the Brazilian team. They still are: in their retirement, many of them still live in Wales, a good number of them in Swansea. All of this crystallises the strong sense of identity in the Welsh team, due to their close-knit roots and the fact nobody gave them a prayer in the tournament.

But they ground out good results again Sweden, Mexico and Hungary in a punishing schedule, and reached the quarter-finals, where they were to play Brazil. The rest is history, as they say, and the title of the book gives you some clue as to the outcome. But Wales were resilient, and were only just edged out by a team of legends. This meticulously researched book makes this story seem not all that long ago, even when some of the players are long gone and the black and white photographs have faded.

Review by Sam Hawcroft

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