Reviews

We know the pains that authors go through to get media coverage for their hard efforts these days, so when we come across a good book or a decent product we take the time to give it a little review.  So read away and support our friends.

My Book of Absurd Letters to British Football Clubs by Fraser Syme
51RyP+lTZnL._Writing under his psuedonym of Struan J Marjoibanks, this is Syme’s first book, and hopefully not his last. The book is a collection of correspondence between his alter-ego and various major football clubs over the course of the last few years.  Some are down-right barking mad and surprisingly aren’t replied to but others develop into long-term friendships.  The series of letters with Peterborough United are very amusing, where a potential stand sponsorship is abandoned after the financial downturn.  Whilst it does expose some clubs approach to customer experience as being stuck in the Seventies, others come out very well indeed.  Arsenal’s gesture of some club merchandise or Brighton’s of some free tickets go to show that some clubs still care, even if it does seem obvious that they are being wound up.

Certainly worth a read – not one you can plough through in a night but certainly ideal for picking up during half-time in a game and reading rather than having to listen to Chiles/Townesend/Lawrenson.

Paine Proffitt World Cup Range
England_Tee_navy-paine-proffitt-three-lions-brochureCome 11pm tonight and hundreds of thousands of England fans will be heading to the pub wearing their bland looking, overpriced, England shirts.  As we bravely fall at the first hurdle beer will be thrown and that pristine white shirt will become a sort-of orange/brown colour.  So why not shake it up a bit with one of these brilliant new T-shirts from the guys over at Genesis Sports.  The Paine Proffitt range, including Spanish, Brazilian, Italian and of course England flavours gives you that slice of style in cotton.

With a nod back to more innocent times on the front, this is one essential summer accessory that will still look as classy long after the tournament has ended for England…

Danish Dynamite – Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen, Mike Gibbons
“They were a team of rock stars in a polyester kit”

Danish DynamiteIt seemed very apt that I finished this excellent book just a few hours before witnessing the biggest thrashing in World Cup history.  Back in Mexico 1986 the Danes arrived with no expectations, no hope and a garish kit that made us all adjust our TV sets.  They were in a “group of death” with a Francescoli-inspired Uruguay and the West German machine….oh and Scotland.  Few people knew anything about skipper Morten Olsen, a very young and slim Jan Molby, a whipper-snapper called Michael Laudrup and maverick striker Preben Elkjaer.  This fantastic book charts their development as a team during the early 1980′s, how they humiliated England at Wembley and qualified against the odds for their first World Cup in 1986.

At the tournament they stunned the world, beating Scotland (well, ok that was a given) before crushing Uruguay 6-1 to confirm their progress to the next round.  A final 2-0 win over West Germany saw them finish the first round with the best record in the tournament.  Critics started suggesting they could go all the way.  Paired with a Jekyll and Hyde Spain team in the 2nd round they took a first half lead and it all seemed to be Carlsberg and sausage.  But an inspired second half performance from Emilio Butragueno saw them demolished 5-1….Comparisons between the Spain v Holland second half are clear to see.  Last night Spain took the lead with a penalty (as did Denmark) before they were pegged back by an equaliser just before half-time before the second period onslaught.

This book isn’t just about Mexico – it is about Danish culture and the rise of a team to world prominence, who were skin-tight nylon shorts.  If you want to get an understanding of one of the most powerful footballing nations compared to their size then this is the book for you.

Asics Zaraca – Exclusive to JD Sports
“Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
Cause I speak of the pompitous of love”

jd_019317_spin_01No, I’m not really a gangster, nor am I The Joker.  Heck, I’m not even a long-distance runner but I can tell you when I slipped these beauties on, I felt like all three.  They are certainly colourful, which is exactly what you need when you are pounding the streets of south London.  You want people to see you and the admire the effort you are putting in.

The trainers are as light as a feather and seem to fit the foot like a glove.  It using the GEL cushioning system to make sure that your joints aren’t punished in your efforts to stay fit.  The outer cover is a mesh, meaning the foot breathes better (no more smelly, sweaty feet).  Good all round I would say.

The trainers are available exclusively from JD Sports both in store and online.

Punk Football – The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football – Jim Keoghan
downloadOK, so I am a bit biased on this subject but I believe that fan ownership is the only route to save the beautiful game in England.  Our national sport has become bloated with foreign ownership, all chasing the dream of Champions League football, spending more and more money on overpaid, over rated players who have no more interest in playing for the badge than a lost puppy.  Keoghan’s excellent book gives us a background into the rise of Fan Ownership, the role that Supporters Direct have played and some of the more successful examples of clubs who have got it right such as AFC Wimbledon, Swansea City and FC United of Manchester.  He also delves into Europe to see how the model differs there.

My one disappointment is that he doesn’t go lower down the footballing pyramid to see how it works at the real grass roots level.  Nevertheless, this is a great book and should be read by every fan who is starting to doubt the motives of their club’s owners.  There is inspiration in every chapter that the future can be bright and can be driven from the bottom up.

Falling For Football – Adam Bushby & Rob McDonald
Put two football fans in a room who have never met each other and soon enough they will be swapping stories about how they love their clubs.  Sometimes it is a family thing, the allegiance passed down from generation to generation, whilst others it is an act of rebellion.  Some even admit the fact that they support X simply because they were successful.  We could all take the easy route in supporting the team at the top of the table, or those who are always on TV but where is the fun in that.

397502_10152258011760853_1378592530_nSooner or later everyone realises that football is a succession of ups and downs.  Granted, for some clubs like Man Utd that “up” has been for nearly 20 years and now a new generation of fans are realising that teams like Swansea or Sunderland are allowed to come to Old Trafford and win.  But what about those of us who don’t support City, United, Arsenal or Chelsea?  What about the Weymouth fans who go through Chairman it seems once a month, or Tooting and Mitcham?  Well this is the story of 44 fans and their love for their team.

What makes this book great is that it is essentially 44 different styles of writing ranging from seasoned writers to those making their debut in print and reasons behind why they love their club.  This is a perfect book to pick up and delve into without losing any of a plot or story-line.  As far as I am aware it is also a first in terms of its subject matter.

Of course I am slightly biased as my journey from an Arsenal fan, via West Ham to the Dripping Pan is documented here but what makes this a great read for me is getting a rare view into the minds of other football fans – and trust me…that is worrying.  FIFA Five Stars from me.

Sportonomics – Gavin Newsham
I’m a big fan of the undercover Economist style of book that have become very popular in recent years. To hear the likes of Steven Levitt explain theories about Why Drug Dealers live with their Mums and should never buy life insurance is not a usual subject you would discuss but the books are written in a way that is engaging and educational. A few years ago Soccernomics, written by was published and set a new level in sports writing.

51MHt3PpYOL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_This new book from Gavin Newsham, the man behind the pen for the excellent story of the New York Cosmos, Once in a Lifetime takes the economist thinking to more wider sport in general. Whilst not as indepth as Soccernomics, it covers a much broader series of subjects and is packed with stats and insight that you don’t see in your redtops.

Each of the 35 bite-size chapters leaves the reader with an opportunity to form their own opinion, yet is well researched and opinionated. Chapters include a look at why Darts players tend to be on the large side, Do footballers really earn too much money, Sporting Cliches deconstructed (don’t look now David Pleat) and a great story about New Zealand’s highest paid sportsman, who isn’t really a sportsman at all.

This is a perfect book for the train into work where you can then launch on a “did you know” daily quiz to annoy your work colleagues. Well worth a read.

The Game of Three Halves – Robert Lodge – Carlton Publishing
Three halvesFootball isn’t known as the Beautiful Game for nothing and this new book from Robert Lodge gives 288 pages of some of the more bizarre incidents that keeps us in love with the game.  There is every conceivable story in the book that could have happened in the game. Yes, it is sometimes cruel to laugh at misfortune but Harry Hill has made a whole career out of it.  Many of the stories in the book will be familiar, and some deserve a few more paragraphs but this is the perfect stocking filler for those younger members of the family who have been brought up on the sanitised Sky Sports version of the game.  Still the funniest football story to me is the Dave Beasant Salad Cream story…I wont spoil it for those who don’t know it.

Gary Lineker’s Football It’s Unbelievable – Carlton Books

61yvgJ8lokL._SL500_AA300_In a similar vein to the book by Robert Lodge, Gary Lineker’s hefty A4 Hardback is a perfect Christmas present for those who want to remember the lighter side of the game.  Many of the amusing moments from the past couple of decades of football both here and abroad are illustrated with photos, including El Hadj Diouf’s cow print Onesie, some truly awful kits and a feature on the craze from the 1990′s of inflatables that we used to take to games. Whilst Gary Lineker has mad a fine career out of the game, I think the book has plenty of content to keep anyone interested without his patronage.  Ironically, it fails to mention his awful penalty against Brazil in his final game for England at Wembley.

World Football Records – Keir Radnedge – Carlton Books51lZEdbUrAL._SL500_AA300_

Now this is a book and a half.  Any Statto, quizmaster, historian or simply someone who wants to pull out a trivia fact of the day at work needs to own a copy of this book, pulled together by one of the modern day experts on the world game, Keir Radnedge.  The book is divided into clear sections that enables you to dip in and out over the Christmas dining table to amaze your Auntie on your knowledge of football in Oceania or the Ballon d’Or.  Now in its fourth edition, the book is well laid out, bang up to date and looks good on any football lover’s book shelf.  Who would have known that Cha Bum-Kun was the leading South Korean goal scorer? Nope, neither did I?

Love not Money – David Bauckham – Centre Circle Publishing
It is fair to say that I love taking a picture or two at the grass roots level of the game and I can trace that passion back to one person – David Bauckham.  For years David has been wandering up and down the country taking some of the best, off-beat pictures of clubs, the people and the architecture of Non League football.

My love for football has been re-energised by finding a non-league club, getting involved and finally becoming an owner and a director.  I get absolutely nothing apart from a bowl of onion rings for my work.  I do it for Love not Money.  And this is exactly what David’s latest book is all about – a celebration of those individuals who add so much value to our grass roots game, but get very little apart from a warm satisfying glow inside for their time, effort and in many cases money.  This book celebrates the big hearts in the small clubs.  Each page offers a new hero, complete with one of David’s outstanding pictures.  Some of these characters I have had the pleasure of meeting on my travels, others I will certainly seek out and shake their hand.  Even our very own James Boyes makes an appearance, although he fails to mention that he is really a Seagulls fans.

Anyone who has doubts about their Premier League/Championship club, or fed up with paying through the nose to be told where to sit, eat, drink, cheer and then go should read this book.  It will change your life.

The first quote in the book sums it up so well:-

“Volunteers are not paid because they are valueless.  It is because they are priceless”

The book is available now from Centre Circle Publishing priced £12 – email them at info@ccpub.co.uk for more information.

IBWM – The First 2 Years – Ockley Books
When judgement day arrives for football journalism, there will be those who can put their hand up and say they were part of the revolution, and those who can’t.  For years football writers concentrated on dull match reports and interviews with footballers about whether they prefer a Chinese or an Indian.  But them came In Bed With Maradona.  A home for the stories from around the world that the “popular media” never wanted to publish.  In the past two years, most of the best independent writers in the game have written for the website, as well as some of the best photographs of all aspects of the game.  To celebrate their second anniversary, Ockley Books have produced the “best of” book, crammed full of some of the best writing, art and pictures from the website’s infant years.  Remember when Cruyff nearly signed for Leicester City?  Or that Argentinian football originated in Glasgow?  How about the popularity of table football in Italy or simply a comment on the moral bankruptcy of our so-called stars of the Premier League.  The book is perfectly presented with articles interspersed with some brilliant pictures and artwork.  Whilst I may be biased, having some of my own work featured in the book, it is the sheer quality in the presentation, depth of subjects and the passion of the writing that puts the IBWM annual up there with the best writing on our Beautiful Game.  Available, in limited editions, from Ockley Books now.

I am the Secret Footballer – Guardian Books
I’ve been a regular reader of the Guardian’s column written by the Secret Footballer. At first I assumed it was a made up regular article, written by a member of the newspaper’s staff to attempt to put their spin on the rhyme or reason behind some of the far-fetched stories that apparently go on on a regular basis.

But this new book, expanding on the columns, leaves us in no doubt that the Secret Footballer is real. This book lifts the lid on almost every aspect of the game today, from the role of agents, to the justification of the money footballers earn today.

Quite who the identity of the Secret Footballer is has been a close guarded secret for a number of years but there are plenty of clues in this new book that if fed into a computer, would reveal one or two very likely candidates (I myself have a pretty good idea who it is based on the contents of the book). There is even a website set up specifically to the identity of the player.

Starting from his first steps in football, the SF lifts the lid on such important aspects of the game as why fines are levied on players, dealings with the media, what exactly goes on at Christmas Parties and why players deserve every penny they get. It is almost a reference book for every question you have ever asked yourselves about the day to day goings on at a football club.

This isn’t a book to justify the whys and wherefores of professional footballers. The SF is not after any foregiveness for taking an extra £10k a week or spending ridiculous amounts of money on a night out, but is trying to give readers a warts ‘n’ all insight into the life of a professional footballer.

The SF is not shy in telling us who he respects in the game, and who he has little time for. Ashley Cole, John Terry and especially Robbie Savage are not covered in glory in the book, making him even more likeable in the average fans eyes, whilst his admiration and respect for Paul Scholes comes over on a trip to Old Trafford.

He also explores the role that tactics actually play in the modern game. Whilst many of us may think that tactics are simply a myth, his explanation of what happens in certain situations is a revelation. What makes it even better is that he uses recent examples from the end of last season’s Premier League as well as Euro2012.

After reading numerous footballers “stories”, this book lifts the lid on all of the details we want to really know. Quite what the backlash will be if (or more likely, once) his identity is revealed I do not know, but for now grab a copy and enjoy/despair/laugh/cry at the detail.

The book is available to buy from Guardian Books here.
You can follow the Secret Footballer on Twitter here.

El Clasico – Richard Fitzpatrick
Ten years ago the game between Barcelona and Real Madrid held little interest outside of Spain. But thanks to the arrival in Spain of David Beckham (and of course Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate), the coverage of La Liga on our TV’s and of course the rise to worldwide dominance of Barcelona, it has today become the biggest club match in the world.

Ironically, over this period, the animosity between the players seems to have been replaced by hype in the media. This has been quoted as one of the reasons for the success of the Spanish national side in the past five years which has seen them win 2 x European Championships and a World Cup. For many years the reason for their capitulation in major tournaments was said to be the divisions in the squad between the Castillians and the Catalans.

However, today the Spanish are undoubtably one of the greatest international teams to have ever graced a football pitch, and those divisions have disappeared (10 of the 11 starters in the 2010 World Cup final played for the two teams). But that hasn’t stopped the game capturing the eyes of the world.

Over recent years the teams seem to have played each other more and more, and with characters like Jose and Pep in charge, not forgetting some of the world’s greatest players such as Ronaldo and Messi, it is more than just a game. Fortunately, this excellent book, written by Richard Fitzpatrick has come along just in time for the first high-octane meeting of the two Spanish Giants in the Super Cup.

For anyone interested in the history of the rivalry, both in terms of the political and geographical context then this is a must read. It contains some fascinating interviews as well as a page turning history. If you have read Morbo, the history of Spanish football by Phil Ball, then you will certainly enjoy this. The book also packs some serious facts and stats at the end which would put John Motson to shame.

Fitzpatrick’s advantage of living in Spain, covering football for a living allows him to get under the skin of the performers and audience of the greatest show on earth. He examines some of the classic games played between the two, and the impact the results had. The 1974 5-0 win by the Cruyff-inspired Barca team in 1974, for instance is put into context, along with the more recent encounters under Jose and Pep.

Whilst it is hard not to see that Fitzpatrick takes the Barca side in some of his debate, it is still a great read and one that should be slipped into every piece of hand luggage for those travelling, or downloaded onto the Kindle for those delayed train journeys. You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon here.

Thinking Inside The Box – Louis Saha
I rarely read modern day footballer’s books because they are dull and predictable.  Somewhere out there is a bog standard template they all just complete and a ghost writer goes off and produces 300 pages of tedium for the reader.  And then there are books like Saha’s.  For a start he has managed to get the likes of Zidane, Henry and Sir Alex Ferguson to add meaningful insights and comments throughout the 272 pages.  It is also brutally candid and honest.  Saha’s career has been blighted by injury but he never reflects on this in a “oh woe is me” way.  He has also missed two of the biggest games in the world – the 2006 World Cup Final through suspension and the 2008 Champions League final through injury.  He comes across as incredibly intelligent, yet humble from his background.  “It’s a shame that some young people today think they know more than their elders because of Twitter, Facebook and Google.  The web is a wonderful tool but no emotions are transmitted through a keyboard” is a very deep statement and one not you would associate with a footballer.  He talks about how he sacrificed a “normal” relationship with his siblings to pursue his dream of being a footballer, again showing his spiritual side.

This is a refreshing read and one I would recommend to anyone. Thanks to Vision Sports Publishing we have a signed copy to give away.  Simply email the answer to the following question to theballisround@gmx.com with the subject line Saha.  We will pick a random correct answer on Monday 10th July.

Who was Saha playing for in the summer of 1999 when he scored the winning goal against West Ham United at Upton Park?

50 Teams That Mattered – David Hartrick
We take the game of football for granted these days.  We just expected it to be there when we turn on the TV on a Sunday afternoon.  We pick up the newspaper and we read all about the goal that was never given, the players that was sent off and the manager being a twat.  But do we ever take a step back and wonder where it all began?  Well that is exactly what Dave Hartrick did.  In his maiden voyage into the world of writing he has picked what he believes to have been the 50 football teams that have shaped the beautiful game today.  Ranging from the likes of Blackburn Olympic and Queens Park in the formative years of the game, right up to the modern day, Hartrick focuses on why these teams made a difference.  All of the famous names are in here, but to me the fascination is reading about how the game has developed thanks to pioneers such as Queens Park, Enfield Town and The Wanderers just as much as Barcelona, Manchester United and Brazil.  This is a hefty beast and represents a couple of years of Hartrick’s life and you can feel his heart and soul on each page.  Buy it and I guarantee you will be still reciting facts to your friends and family in six months time.  A fantastic way to break your publishing cherry.

The smell of football – Mick Rathbone

Stories of footballer almost making it are two-a-penny but reading one that tells the story of the game from the other side of the physio’s couch are as rare as a Wigan Athletic away win.  The Smell of Football is a fantastic read, taking in Rathbone’s career as a teenage player at Birmingham City right up until his role as Head of Medicine for Everton FC.  It is a great read, lifting the lid as much as possible onto what goes on with players and clubs alike, dismissing the magic sponge myth and basically telling the story of someone who loves the game.  

The Worse Football Kits of All Time – David Moor
You can never win with a book like this because it is so subjective.  Every fan will have an opinion on what their worse kit has been, or even what any team’s kit is.  BUt this is a great book just to simply flick through (dare I say ideal for toilet reading?).  Every one of the 92 is included as well as a few extras that should never be forgotten (or perhaps they should). Some of my personal favourites included are Hull City’s tiger print shirt, where every one was apparently different, the  Arsenal bruised banana and the West Ham candy stripe.  I was disappointed by the omission of Scunthorpe United’s classic technicolour vomit kit (not just shirt but matching shorts), sponsored of course by Pleasure Island!

There’s a Golden Sky – Ian Ridley
Keeping with the Premier League theme, this long awaited account of the state of football during those two decades by Ian Ridley is probably the most comprehensive review of the beautiful game in print today.  Ridley has been away from the bookshelves too long and it great to have him back.  This book mixes his visits to the grassiest roots of grass roots in Hackney Marshes to the prawn sandwiches of Old Trafford.  He looks at the state of the women’s game, youth team football and generally asks the question “Would we be better without the Premier League?”.  With the death bells sounding in recent weeks for football below the top division(s) thanks to the announcement of the EPPP changes now is a time to read this, take stock and decide whether you want to see 125 years of footballing history disappear.  A truly wonderful read.

Kissing the Badge – Phil Ascough
Who doesn’t like a bit of decent football trivia, and with the Premier League celebrating it’s 20th birthday this season what perfect way to combine the two, which is what Phil Ascough has done perfectly in this book.  It is divided into sections (defenders, goals, managers – you get the picture) with twenty trivia facts in each section and then twenty questions.  It is a perfect book for those long away days when you can fire questions at your travelling companions such as:-

“Ray Lewis’s (referee) place of residence generally raised a smile when it was listed in match coverage.  Where is it?”

“Robert Warzycha scored the first goal in the Premier League by an overseas player for Everton versus Manchester United”

Top stuff for the same price of a programme at Wembley Stadium and thus worthy of our 4 star mark

The Story of TalkSport by Gershon Portini
Do you remember that episode in I’m Alan Partridge when he is faced with the dilemma of pulping his book.  He is invited onto a radio show where his book is reviewed and he takes offence that someone points out he says “I had the last laugh” on eighteen occasions.  Well, this book is the closest I have read to Partridge’s tome.  It is essentially 324 pages of how they have got one over on the BBC.  Some of the “hilarious” stories would hardly raise an eyebrow in most companies, and reading it you don’t get the sense that this is a revolutionary company, but one that takes itself far too seriously.  Some parts are interesting – the transcript of the conversation that ultimately led to the dismissal of Jon Gaunt makes fascinating reading but tales of Mike “Porky” Parry trying to be one of the lads are painful.  Not one to recommend unless you are someone who hangs on every word of Stan Collymore.

Summer is almost upon us so it is time to start thinking of some essential reading material for when you get stuck in the worlds lost traffic jam.  We read quite a few sporting books at TBIR but only the best ever get our coverted five star rating and thus a recommendation to our global audience to go out and buy them.  Having written a book or two ourselves we know the difference one more sale makes, so I am sure these guys would be very grateful for your patronage – just follow the link on the title of each one to purchase a copy.

32 Programmes – Dave Roberts
I fail to believe that anyone who reads Dave Robert’s new book 32 Programmes cannot relate to his thinking as a football fan.  It traces his life as a football fan through 32 chapters in his life, going into the bitter-sweet details of growing up in the 1970s and ’80s via 32 football matches.

Roberts had always been a programme collecter, every since his father took him to see his first match, Fulham versus Manchester United in the 1960s.  From that day until 2002 he built up a collection of over 1,100 programmes.  However, life has a habit of throwing spanners in the works and so he is forced to chose just 31 to take with him in his new life in the US.  This chronicles his choices.

Building on and around his first book, The Bromley Boys (soon to be released as a film, no less), Dave introduces us to his career, his attempts to find a soul mate and finally in a twist his life changing circumstances that will have you reaching for a tissue.

The book includes a visit to Denis Law’s house as a teenager, bunking off work and ultimately getting the sack to watch West Ham (proof that he really is mad), the awkward moment of taking a girlfriend (or three) to their first football match, and the intimidating atmosphere of games in the 1980s.

Some of the matches still live in our memories today.  The “Three Degrees” demolition by West Bromwich Albion of Manchester United in the late 1970s, the England victory over Hungary at Wembley to take us to the World Cup Finals in 1982 and bizarre FA Cup game in 1971 between Bromley and Civil Service.

His final chapter, number 32 in his list details his return to England for a visit in 2008 to see his family after many years away as well as a trip back to Hayes Lane to see his beloved Bromley play in the FA Cup.

If you read one new book on your holidays this summer, chose this one. And then you try and detail 10, let alone 32, games that mark the milestones in your life.

32 Programmes is published by Bantom Press and available from early August 2011 from Amazon amongst other places.

92Pies – Tom Dickinson
There are over 1,250 members of the 92 club.  I know that because for a while I was helping them with their database.  I am a member (number 1,006 to be precise) but technically I am not any longer as I missed the season time limit to get to see a game at Stevenage and Oxford United since they have been in the Football League (despite visiting them last season in the Conference).  But how many members have been to EVERY ground on ONE season, and having a pie at each one?  I would suggest one man – Tom Dickinson.  This is the story of his epic journey starting on a wet August day at Charlton Athletic and ending nine months later on a sunny day at his beloved Bolton Wanderers.  This is not just the story of 92 different pies.   This is the story of an epic journey.  You can read our interview with Tom here, and an excerpt from his book here.

From Wick to Wembley – Andy Ollerenshaw
Every year when the preliminary rounds of the FA Cup in August start we all say “Wouldn’t it be great to go to a game in every round, following the winner through all the way to the final.  And every year we give up before the end of the qualifying rounds because we would need to be heading to Blyth Spartans or Workington on a Tuesday night.  Our good friends over at the The Real FA Cup do their bit before giving up when the corporate suits start to outnumber real fans.  But Andy Ollerenshaw has made us all jealous.  He followed his local team, Chertsey Town from their extra preliminary round until they were knocked out to Sittingbourne, then Dartford, Bromley, Eastbourne Borough, Weymouth, Cambridge United, Wolves and finally Cardiff City who reached the final at Wembley.  A great journey covering 2,300 odd miles and a good few hours of reading time.

To win a signed copy of Andy’s book then simply tell us which current Conference (Blue Square Bet) South side played Liverpool in the FA Cup back in 2008.  Type in your answer in the form below and we will draw one person at random out on the 30th June 2010.

Changing Ends – Mike Bayly
Last summer I came up with the best idea ever.  I was going to write a book for the forthcoming season on my travels around Non League football.  I drew up a list of the most obscure places to go in the four corners of the English grass roots game.  And then I saw an advert for Changing Ends by Mike Bayly.  He had the idea 12 months before me and had completed his journey.  I thought at first surely I could write a better one, and then I read it.  And gave up my plan.  It is an excellent read, really getting under the skin of teams such as Colwyn Bay, Ebbsfleet United, Rainworth Miners Welfare and of course his own side Wingate & Finchley.  He meets the owners, the volunteers , the managers and the fans.  I dare you to read this and not want to visit some of these far flung outposts of Non League football next season.

On the road – Daniel Harris
I have to say that I wouldn’t normally pick up a book about Manchester United, let alone a diary of the season but something about the synopsis captured my attention and I ended up reading his book in a long weekend. A lot of the details of the games will be familiar to us all – after all they are the most reported on club in this country, but Daniel’s spin on things is quite unique and I would recommend this to anyone who wants a view of the Premier League from a fans point of view.

Behind the Iron Curtain – Jonathan Wilson
This isn’t a new book.  In fact Jonathan has written a number of books since.  But this first pricked my interest in football in areas off the tourist map and I used this as my inspiration for trips to Moscow, Minsk and Zagreb.  It is part travelogue, part historical record and the mix works really well.   Wilson’s passion comes through on every page and some of the stories such as his silent mugging on the Moscow Metro should act as a lesson to us all.  I do not think there is one book out there that covers football in Eastern Europe better.

The Bromley Boys – Dave Roberts
In the late 1960s, in the warm glow of England winning the World Cup, Dave Roberts, like most teenage boys his age, was football mad. There was just one difference: rather than supporting the likes of Arsenal or Manchester United, Dave’s team of choice was the ever so slightly less glamorous Bromley Football Club – one of the last genuinely amateur football teams left, fighting for survival in the lowest non-league division. This book is the story of Bromley’s worst ever season. It is a funny and heart-warming tale of football at the very bottom: Dave turns up to each match with his football boots in his bag, just in case the team are a player short; the crowd is always announced as 400 as no-one can be bothered to count; the team ship so many goals that in one match, the taunting opposition fans actually lose count of the score. It’s easy being a football fan when your team are always winning, but “The Bromley Boys” is the touching true story about supporting a club through thin and even thinner: proof that the more your team may lose on the pitch, the more there is to gain on the terraces. This is a brilliantly written part football memoir, part coming of age story – the non-league a??Fever Pitcha??? Author and publisher are blogging the book’s progress from start to end.

I absolutely loved this book.  Perhaps it was the fact that living in Bromley I know most of the places that Dave talks about, but also loving non league football I know the teams and clubs he writes about.  How he could put the whole book together after a near 40 year gap is beyond me but it reads like an Adrian Mole meets John Motson diary.  It draws you back into the innocent days when children were allowed to run wild.  His story of hitchhiking back from his school in Sevenoaks in the middle of the night would be met with horror in todays world.

Our first FIFA 5 star book. Buy it now and from here -The Bromley Boys: The True Story of Supporting the Worst Football Team in Britain

39 Days of Gazza – Steve Pitts
Paul Gascoigne was the English football icon of the 1990s. The outstanding player of his generation, his magnificent midfield play provided some of England’s most memorable moments, and he enjoyed a headline-grabbing career with Newcastle United, Tottenham, Lazio, Glasgow Rangers, Middlesbrough and Everton. Then it all went terribly wrong. He still made the headlines but for all the wrong reasons – alcoholism, drugs, wife-beating, personality disorder, run-ins with the law, nervous breakdown, revival from cardiac arrest. Like his great hero, George Best, Gazza seemed to have passed a personal point of no return.

Then, in the autumn of 2005, he was given a chance to rebuild his career with his first job as a football manager. As part of a consortium which bought Kettering Town, Gazza reinvented himself. Appearing to have his personal problems under control, he took charge full of big ideas about steering the club into the Football League and towards the big time. The people of Kettering were star-struck by the celebrity among them, and yet in just a few short weeks it would all fall apart spectacularly. 39 days after Gascoigne was appointed manager he was sacked amidst an increasingly bizarre series of allegations, leaving a once hopeful club on its knees. 39 Days of Gazza tells the story of Paul Gascoigne’s tragicomic reign as manager of Kettering Town, and how its disintegration impacted on so many people’s lives – not least his own.

Steve Pitts was group sports editor of Northamptonshire Newspapers during Gascoigne’s time at Kettering Town. He was uniquely placed to record the rapid turnaround of events, and builds the story with revealing contributions from many contacts involved in the club.

I simply couldn’t warm to this book.  The first few chapters contained too many factual errors for my liking (“Here was an England legend who had played for some of Europe’s top clubs” – Middlesborough? Everton? Spurs?  Lazio? or Rangers?? “Mark and I were big football fans with vivid memories of the excitement Gascoigne had whipped up at World Cups” – he only played in one! and “he wanted to be asked about his goal in Italia 90″ – he didn’t score one there!) and it seemed like a Gazza love in.  The story repeats itself in so many ways, and the focus on the team rather than Gascoigne AFTER he leaves defeats the object of the story.  It would have been a much better read as a syncronous diary of events rather than skipping from one event to another.  It is a shame that neither Ladak (The Kettering Chairman who brought Gascoigne in) or Paul himself were able to contribute to the book, giving it a feeling in some places of hearsay.

Sorry Steve, a 2.5 out of 5 from us on this one. The book can be purchased from 39 Days of Gazza

A Different Corner – Richard Brentnall
Fed up by life in a country losing its soul, sorely disenchanted by its football, and uncluttered by any ties other than his beloved club whose season ticket he still retains, Richard Brentnall took a plunge in March 2007, leaving England for southern Spain. Embracing a new culture within this fresh, expansive lease of life, he held a particular hope: to be enabled to feel something different deep inside that would resuscitate his lifelong love of the game.

Brentnall hoped this different corner would provide match day experiences to warm the cockles of his heart again and provide a scene whereby ambition could still genuinely be chased. His exploration took him the length and breadth of Spain – from Almeria to the Basque Country, to Galicia to find out how Compostela’s fans dealt with their team’s spectacular plummet from the top flight to the regional leagues, from Seville to the Bernabeu, to Huelva to see where it all began.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a travelogue type of book.  Brentnall goes into social and historical detail about the places he visits which may not be to somes liking.  However, he has certainly done his research on some places that rarely make it onto the map, such as Huelva and its growth through the prosperity of the Rio Tinto company.  It is a bit short in length, at 180 odd pages, but is comprehensive in its nature of the places he visits.  It would have been nice to see a few more little places such as Numancia or Valladolid but that may be for a follow up.  The one let down is the quality of the pictures used in the book that are low resolution and give an amateur feel to it.  Faced with a similar problem in my latest book, A Passport to Football, I decided to omit them altogether.

A 3.5 out of 5 from the review team here though.  The book can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk by clicking A Different Corner: Exploring Spanish Football

The following piece was written for the outstanding In Bed With Maradona last year

Football books are hit and miss.  Go back ten years and you would see one a week being published, with an autobiography being saved for Christmas release by someone who actually has a story to tell.  Nowadays players normally wait a week after they have made their Premier League debut before putting pen to paper and publishing their account of their “tough upbringing” and “how lucky they were to be a footballer otherwise it would have been a life of crime”, conveniently forgetting to retell the events of their arrest for assault, drugs or shagging underage girls.

For every interesting story such as Steve Claridge’s “Tales from the boot camp” there is a “Walking Tall” by Peter Crouch, or an “Off the record” by Michael Owen.  The real writers of these books should actually get a medal for a)agreeing to write the book and b) making it so uninteresting.  However, there have been some absolutely fantastic football books published over the past decade, and many simply do not get the credit they deserve as they do not have the headline subject.  So if you do want a decent insight into some of the more interesting areas of the game pick up one of the following five books.

The Bromley Boys – Dave Roberts (Read our interview with Dave here)
Supporters diaries of a season are two a penny these days.  However, this one covers a season following non-league Bromley who endured their worst ever season and seen through the eyes of a teenager.  Still not convinced?  Well what about the fact it was written over 40 years ago.  A fascinating look at what life was like growing up in the 1970′s as well as supporting a less than fashionable team. The paragraph about taking his boots to his first ever game “just in case a few players were involved in a car crash” rings so true for those of us who remember our first football match.

Stamping Grounds – Charlie Connelly (Read our interview with Charlie here)
Books about Liechtenstein are pretty thin on the ground.  Books about football in Liechtenstein are as rare as a West Ham win at the moment.  In fact you could say that this fantastic book by Connelly is the best ever written about the subject, simply because it is the only one.  Bored with work the author decides to follow Liechtenstein as they try to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.  He begins with a first visit to the landlocked Alpine country and through the book meets not only all the people behind the game in Liechtenstein but also all of the movers and shakers in the country, including a drunken introduction to the Crown Prince and a comprehensive guide to the Postage Stamp museum.  Part story of despairing hope, part travelogue to a place few actually know where it is, this is a great book to put our modern Premier League game in perspective. We all know there would be no happy ending for the team but its a great journey.

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinnis
Take an American writer with little knowledge of “soccer” and stick him in a small village (population 5,500) in the middle of  Abruzzo in Italy and ask him to write about the local team.  That is the basic summary of this excellent book, published in 1999 as McGinnis follows the team and the village in their first ever season in Serie B in Italy.  Castel di Sangro had somehow defied all of the odds to make it to Serie C in the first place, but then to win the playoffs and to make it into the second tier of Italian football was, as the book title suggest, a miracle.  McGinnis is given full access to the team, the management and the fans as he tells the tale of the historic season which saw them play clubs such as Palermo, Genoa, Torino and Bari.  He also recounts the difficult times as two of the team are killed in a car crash and another is imprisoned on drugs charges.  And just when you all believe in miracles he reveals at the end some evidence that it all could have been fixed.  Now there’s a surprise.

Broken Dreams – Tom Bowers
Vanity, greed and corruption at the heart of our beautiful game?  Surely not.  We all know its true, we all know that dodgy deals go on but few seem prepared to break the taboo and name names and provide some hard facts.  Bowers book, first published in 2003 certainly opens your eyes on some of the household names today and what their pasts reveal.  Ken Bates, Harry Redknapp and Terry Venables will be glad this book has faded from public view now after it exposed a few things they didn’t want people to know.  The chapter on Bates, and essentially how he made his money from construction projects in the West Indies is fascinating, especially in a day when the FA’s “Fit and proper persons test” is apparently so rigorously enforced for club owners.    All of the issues that Bower highlights in his book are still with us today, which gives you the impression that if we knew all of this seven years ago why hasn’t someone done anything about it?  Spurs fans – buy a copy and just read the chapter on Redknapp and then pour yourself a large brandy because you know what is coming down the line.

Scum Airways – John Sugden
It’s a bit unfair to just pick this book as it goes hand in hand with Badfellas, written by Sugden and Alan Tomlinson about the corruption in the game at the highest level – FIFA.  This book goes undercover to research the ticket touting market and how it has become an important market force for the owners of the game and the clubs and how it will never be eradicated.  Focusing on the 1998 World Cup, Sugden manages to meet some of the people on the inside of Football Associations as well as “running” with some of the most profitable touting firms in world football. You are left with a feeling that whilst everyone in football publically deploys the touts and their business practices, actually they provide a valuable service to football as a whole.  Wrong, simply wrong.

Choosing five books is incredibly hard as there is some wheat amongst the chaff.  Notable other mentions have to go to Tim Parks “A season with Verona“, David Conn’s “A Beautiful Game” Andrew Jennings “Foul” and David Peace’s “Damned United . Oh, and of course there is a great book by a little known author called Stuart Fuller called “Passport to Football” that should be on everyone’s Christmas list this year!

3 thoughts on “Reviews

  1. I love the “Read It” section for your blog — a beautiful idea! And, btw, your site is nicely “designed” and the crisp photos add such a strong presence to your posts!!

  2. THE BALL IS ROUND: A GLOBAL HISTORY OF FOOTBALL by David goldblatt

    One of the best books i have read about the game, i can’t believe you did not review it!
    (so good i typed it in capital letters, seriously though check out the book)

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