Telegraph Sports Book of the Year awards

The Telegraph Sports Book of the Year awards announced their shortlists today.

In the Football Book of the Year section, selected by us at the Football Writers’ Association and sponsored by CLOC Printing, there are six outstanding books:

  • David Tossell’s Natural, a revealing and comprehensive biography of one of England’s most loved footballers, Jimmy Greaves.
  • Tobias Jones delves into a facet of Italian football’s subculture, examining the sinister side of fandom in Ultra.
  • Daniel Fieldsend’s Locãl looks at the uniquely intertwined relationship between Liverpudlians and their city and football club.
  • Jonathan Wilson’s excellently researched assessment of how Hungarian football in the 1950s shaped the modern game, The Names Heard Long Ago.
  • Leo Moynihan’s The Three Kings, tracks the life and careers of three of the greatest ever managers, Stein, Shankly & Busby, undoubtedly all architects of the modern game.
  • Steven Scragg pays homage to the European Cup Winners’ Cup with A Tournament Frozen In Time, charting its distinct history through the unique, eccentric stories it created.

The Telegraph Sports Autobiography of the Year shortlist features a diverse group of sports people, including world heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, World Cup- winning cricket hero Ben Stokes and England’s leading all time wicket taker James Anderson, England women’s footballing-legend Eniola Aluko, the extrovert racing driver Jason Plato, as well as former Liverpool and England footballers Michael Owen and Emile Heskey.

The Children’s Sports Book of the Year shortlist includes former England women’s football captain Casey Stoney’s, Changing the Game, as well as Matt Oldfield’s Unbelievable Football, and Alex Bellos & Ben Lyttle’s popular series, Football School Season 4.

The Pinsent Masons International Autobiography category includes Manchester United and Spanish international Juan Mata’s story in Suddenly A Footballer – My Story, and German defender Per Mertesacker’s Big Friendly German.

This year’s General Outstanding Sports Writing award shortlist includes Andy Woodward sharing his harrowing story in Position of Trust, a trust shattered at the hands of convicted sex offender Barry Bennell.

The Biography shortlist includes football too, with Lofty by Matt Clough assessing the career and influence of England footballing legend Nat Lofthouse. David Tossell reveals the trials and tribulations of another England football star in Natural, his biography of Jimmy Greaves.

The Illustrated Sports Book of the Year shortlist features An A to Z of Football Collectibles by Carl Wilkes, A life Behind the Lens by Richard Pelham, and Destination Tottenham collated by Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

The Telegraph Sports Book Awards 2020 winners will be digitally announced on July 15th. The online announcement will replace the traditional celebration at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

The Telegraph Sports Book Awards 2020 are grateful to our sponsors and partners, including The Telegraph, Sky Sports, BBC Sport, CLOC Printing, The Football Writers’ Association, Pinsent Masons, VAARU Cycles, The Rugby Writers and Sir Tim Rice’s The Heartaches.

The Sports Book Awards official charity partner is now the excellent National Literacy Trust, who are also collaborating with the awards to help launch the inaugural Children’s Sports Book of the Year award.

For more information about The Telegraph Sports Book Awards 2020, visit


Football Book of the Year longlist announced

The 12 titles chosen by the FWA for the longlist of the Football Book of the Year award have been revealed. The FWA books committee has chosen the 12 titles below and congratulate the authors.  They will be further reduced to a shortlist for the final award, which is due to be held at Lord’s Cricket Ground in September, along with other Sports Books of the Year.

Sponsored by CLOC Printing, the Football Book of the Year is one of 10 Telegraph Sports Book Awards categories. The directors of the Telegraph Sports Book Awards have made the regrettable decision to postpone this year’s shortlist and winners events, but are pleased to announce they will take place later in the year, with a September date soon to be confirmed for the annual winners’ ceremony at Lords Cricket Ground.

Carrie Dunn’s superb deep-dive into the changing face of Women’s Football, The Pride of the Lionesses, looks beyond the headlines, reflecting on growth at grass roots level, as well as that of the professional game. Tobias Jones delves into a facet of Italian footballs subculture, examining the sinister side of footballing fandom in Ultra. Daniel Fieldsend’s Local looks at Liverpudlians uniquely intertwined relationship with both the City of Liverpool and their beloved football club.

Jonathan Wilson’s excellently researched assessment of how Hungarian football in the 1950’s shaped the modern game, The Names Heard Long Ago, is up against Michael Cox’s Zonal Marking, an insightful overview of tactical development in European football over the last three decades. Leo Moynihan’s The Three Kings tracks the life and careers of three of the greatest ever managers, Stein, Shankly & Busby, undoubtedly the central architects of the modern game. The tactical theme continues with Pep’s City, Spanish journalists Pol Ballus & Lu Martins’ behind the scenes profiling of Pep Guardiola’s success at Manchester City. David Tossell’s Natural, makes the longlist with a revealing and comprehensive biography of a past superstar, one England’s most loved footballers, Jimmy Greaves.

Steven Scragg pays homage to the European Cup Winners Cup with Frozen In Time, charting its distinct history through the unique, eccentric stories it created. Amy Raphael’s, A Game of Two Halves, pairs football’s superstars with their celebrity superfans, resulting in plenty of funny conversations and revealing some uplifting commonalities. Completing the shortlist are Stephen O’Donnell’s brutally honest account of the rise and fall of Rangers FC, Tangled Up In Blue, and John Nicolson’s Can We Have Our Football Back?, a polemic against the premier league, including a passionate pitch for an alternative future.

David Willis, Chairman of the Telegraph Sports Book Awards said: ‘We are delighted to be announcing the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Long List and working in partnership with CLOC Printing for the first time, and honoured to continue an excellent relationship with the highly esteemed Football Writers’ Association.’

Philippe Auclair, Chair of the Football Writers Association Books Committee, commented: “One of the most striking features of this longlist is the sheer variety of the selected titles, which shows how football writing continues broadening its horizons from year to year. In this regard, this season’s crop is probably the most diverse and the richest in the award’s history, with twelve outstanding books dealing with a huge range of interests – from biography to sociology, tactical analysis to history, polemic and politics to women’s football, to name a few. “

The winners of the 2020 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a gala awards dinner to take place at Lord’s Cricket Ground in September, with the exact date to be confirmed shortly.

Alongside CLOC Printing, The Telegraph Sports Book of the Year Awards partners include VAARU Cycles, Pinsent Masons, Sky Sports, Tim Rice’s The Heartaches & The National Literacy Trust. The final short lists for the 2020 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a reception in Pinsent Masons London Headquarters. As with the main ceremony, we have regrettably decided to postpone the original May date, and will confirm the rescheduling as soon as possible.

The Telegraph Sports Book Awards Categories 2020:

Autobiography of the Year

International Autobiography of the Year

Biography of the Year

Children’s Sports Book of the Year

Cricket Book of the Year

Football Book of the Year

Cycling Book of the Year

Illustrated Book of the Year

General Outstanding Sports Writing Award

Rugby Book of the Year

For more information about The Telegraph Sports Book Awards 2020, visit






Football Book of the Year shortlist announced

The shortlist for the Football Book of the Year has been announced with former winner James Montague among the six contenders for this year’s top prize in the 16th Sports Book Awards.

His probe into football’s super rich owners — The Billionaires Club — contrasts sharply with Tom van Hulsen’s book — Game Changers — on Dutchmen Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, who were the outstanding stars of Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town team three decades ago.

The shortlist, decided by the books commitee of the Football Writers Association, includes three studies of managers past and present, with biographies of Sir Matt Busby by FWA chairman Patrick Barclay, Bob Paisley by Ian Herbert and current Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino by Guillem Balague.

Staying with the ‘managerial’ theme, but on a totally different playing field,  is Owen Amos’s book “From Delhi to The Den”, recounting the fascinating story of lesser known globetrotting coach Stephen Constantine.

FWA Books Committee chairman Mike Collett, at the shortlist announcement at Coutts Bank in The Strand, said; ‘We had a bumper crop of fantastic books this year, and so many others could have made the short list. In the end though, the committee were unanimous in their choice of winner and runner-up, but it was a very close run thing.”

The winner of the football book, and books in other categories which include cycling, cricket, rugby, autobiography, biography, international autobiography,  and illustrated book of the year, will be announced  at a gala dinner at Lord’s Cricket Ground on the evening of June 7.

After the individual awards are announced, an online public vote determines the overall winner of the Sports Book of the Year.

Coutts Football Book of the Year Shortlist  

The Billionaires Club James Montague (Bloomsbury)

Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager Ian Herbert (Bloomsbury)

From Delhi to the Den: The Story of Football’s Most Travelled Manager Stephen Constantine with Owen Amos (deCoubertin Books)

Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs Guillem Balague (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Game Changers – The Remarkable Story of Dutch Masters Arnold Mühren and Frans Thijssen Tom van Hulsen, translated by Jolanda van Boeijen (Portman Road Producties)

Sir Matt Busby: The Definitive Biography Paddy Barclay (Ebury)

Football Book of the Year

Biographies of some of the most successful football managers, past and present, dominate the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Award Longlist for 2018.

Now sponsored by Coutts, it is one of 10 categories within the Sports Book Awards Ceremony which takes place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on June 7th.

A total of 12 books made the shortlist, selected by members of the FWA’s books committee, and eight of the authors were present at Coutts’ offices on the Strand for a the announcement on Monday March 19th.

Sir Matt Busby by FWA Chairman Patrick Barclay and Quiet Genius (Life of Bob Paisley) by Ian Herbert will compete in the football book category with David Bolchover’s The Greatest Comeback, the story of Bela Guttmann. Each are European Cup-winning managers, a feat that remains elusive to Mauricio Pochettino, the exciting young coach at Spurs and subject of Brave New World by Sky Sports La Liga pundit Guillem Balague, another FWA member.

Stephen Constantine is a lesser-known veteran coach of six different national teams in four continents. His story, written with Owen AmosFrom Delhi to the Den: The Story of Football’s Most Travelled Manager continues the strong managerial theme running through the list.

Last year’s Autobiography of the Year award winner at the Sports Book Awards, Michael Calvin who co-authored Joey Barton’s life story, is longlisted again with No Hunger in Paradise, the third part in his much celebrated trilogy of football writing. James Montague is another previous winner and his book, The Billionaires Club, takes a delve into the unstoppable rise of football’s super rich owners while Martin Lipton’s White Hart Lane provides football fans with a complete history of Tottenham Hotspur’s home  before it re-opens after redevelopment next season.

Tom van Hulsen’s Game Changers – The Remarkable Story of Dutch Masters Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, celebrates  two great Ipswich Town midfield maestros while Doctor Socrates by Andrew Downie chronicles the maverick, iconic captain of the greatest Brazil side never to win the World Cup. David Tossell’s Alan Ball: The Man in White Boots completes the midfield quartet for the 2018 longlist.

James Corbett’s Faith Of Our Families: Everton FC –An Oral History 1878-2018 is a book told by the people who made the great Merseyside club and completes the long list.

David Willis, Chairman of the Sports Book Awards said: ‘We are delighted to be announcing the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Longlist and working in partnership with Coutts for the first time and the highly esteemed Football Writers’ Association.’

Simon Hopes, Director Coutts, in response said: ‘The business of football is very important to Coutts and we are very appreciative of the opportunity to partner with The Sports Book Awards and the Football Writers’ Association for the first time in FIFA World Cup year.’

Mike Collett, Chair of the Football Writers’ Association Books Committee, commented: “We’re incredibly impressed by the quality of this year’s football writing. So much so that we’ve decided to announce this longlist for the first time. We’re thrilled with the continued association with the Sports Book Awards team and by the new sponsorship from Coutts.

“Selecting the winner of this award gets harder every year” added Mike, “It reminds me of the Goal of the Season award — what is better a 30-yard screamer or a goal scored after a mazy run through the defence. ?  The same with these awards, the subjects are so diverse, how do you pick a winner ? The interesting part is that there are certain criteria we set, and the winner invariably meets all of them.
“The standard was so high this year that for the first time, with the backing of the Sports Book Awards organisation we have held a public Long List  launch with eight of the 12 nominated authors able to discuss their work on a panel chaired by FWA Book Committee member Philippe Auclair. It was a fantastic night at Coutts Bank, and many thanks to them and their staff for making the evening such a memorable one.”

The winners of the 2018 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a gala awards dinner to take place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on the evening of June 7th.

The Sports Book of the Year Awards partners include Sky Sports, The Times, Thomson Reuters, AT Cross and Coutts. The final short lists for the 2018 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a further reception at Coutts Strand branch on May 10th 2018.

The Day Two Teams Died

As we remember the Manchester United players and officials who perished in Munich 60 years ago, it is worth recalling the eight journalists who died in the air crash that day.

Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott have written a remarkable book detailing the lives of those men, called “The Day Two Teams Died”, which is available from Amazon.  We caught up with Roy to discuss what was, for a lifelong Manchester United fan, a labour of love:

“I am 70 now so I was ten years old at the time of the crash and had already been supporting United since 1954. I’ve written 20 or so books on football and cricket, but I wish I had been a sports journalist. I often speak at after-dinner events and had the pleasure of meeting the late Frank Taylor, who was the only journalist to survive the crash. He had written “The Day a Team Died” and when we spoke it seemed to be a glaring omission that the eight journalists who died that day had not been commemorated.

“I come from a generation when journalists were treated like gods, in the days before blanket coverage of sport on television and radio. You got all your information about your favourite teams and players from newspapers, and the written word was gospel. So some of these journalists were as famous as – if not more famous than – the players. Henry Rose was the most flamboyant of them and he would drive to games in his Jaguar. Only one of the United players had a car at the time, and that was a Morris Minor!

“Manchester had two papers, the Evening News and the Chronicle. Tom Jackson wrote for the former, Alf Clarke for the latter. I grew up in Salford and we would read the Daily Herald, which was the working man’s paper. George Follows was their correspondent.

“Henry Rose was such a big character that over 4000 people went to his funeral, and taxi-drivers in Manchester refused to take payment for anyone going to or from it.

“Frank Swift, the former England goalkeeper, did not really need to be on the flight because he wrote for a Sunday paper, the News of the World, but he was great mates with Matt Busby, who had done him a special favour by getting him along. The players looked up to big Frank and adored him.

“Eric Thompson of the Mail was another fine journalist, but my favourite was Donny Davies of the Guardian, who had played amateur football for England and cricket for Lancashire. He was a beautiful wordsmith, someone I loved to read.”

Frank Taylor was the only one to survive, and so Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott felt it appropriate to echo his book’s title in theirs.

“We drew together as much as we could find, from their earliest writing up to the last reports they filed, and what followed; the respect and tributes that were paid to them after the crash. In our minds this was always going to be a lovely tribute, and we believe it is.”

David Walker, the Mirror sports editor, FWA member and chairman of the Sports Journalists’ Association, has written the foreword, and half of the profits will go to the Journalists Charity.

This fine book can be ordered on Amazon:

FWA Interview: Graham Hunter

BARCELONA PLAYERS SEE SPEAKING TO THE PRESS AS PART OF THEIR DUTY says award-winning football writer Graham Hunter


IT WAS the proudest moment of Graham Hunter’s career as Glenn Moore, chairman of the Football Writers’ Association’s books committee, announced that his ‘Barca: The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World’ had been chosen as the football book of the year at the British Sports Book Awards 2013.

“I am shocked and delighted,” said Hunter whose book pipped Gullem Balague’s biography of Pep Guardiola for the prestigious prize. It is a sign of the times when two books about a Spanish club dominate the voting and Hunter said: “When Terry Venables went to Barcelona [in 1984] and led them to the European Cup final, losing to Steaua Bucharest on penalties, Spanish football was alien to British television.”

Sky Sports changed that perception with La Liga games shown each weekend along with the excellent Revista De La Liga magazine show where Hunter and Balague are regulars.

The awards night at Lord’s was somewhat different to Hunter’s introduction to the world of football writing in 1995 when the Daily Mail opened in Scotland. Hunter had applied for a job, but had heard nothing so decided to pay them a visit to ask why, which did not go down too well.

Hunter said: “I told them my cv was sent three weeks ago and couldn’t believe no one had answered my letter. I wanted to know what was going on.”

What was soon to be going on was the sports editor helping the young upstart to vacate the building.

“They were literally, and I mean literally, holding me by the back of the collar – well, it was sports editor Bryan Cooney – throwing me out of the door when someone came running in and shouted ‘There’s a press conference at Parkhead. It’s a new signing, we don’t know who it is.’”

It was a sliding doors moment because as luck would have it, the Mail were thin on available reporters. One had been sent to Pittodrie to doorstep Willie Miller who had been sacked by Aberdeen, others were elsewhere. In the pre-mobile phone era it was impossible to contact anyone so they stopped throwing Hunter out and instead told him to get along to Celtic.

“It was Pierre van Hooijdonk,” he said. “When I arrived at Parkhead there were two camps in the press room. A growling set of Scottish reporters who were asking ‘who’s this new kid?’ and some Dutch journalists.”

No prizes for guessing who Hunter decided to sit with. “I explained it was my first day and asked where van Hooijdonk was as he was late. They told me this was because he was playing cards with his NAC Breda team-mates until 3am to say goodbye. He had missed his flight and Celtic were pretending there was fog at Schipol Airport, which was why he had been delayed.”

Hunter thanked the Dutch contingent for the background which was not known to the growlers. One Dutch journalist asked him if he was Scottish and when Hunter confirmed yes, he was, he was asked if he could take them to a kilt shop – they wanted van Hooijdonk to wear a kilt for a photo. In return the Dutch pack gave the Scottish rookie chapter and verse on the late van Hooijdonk and to Hunter’s delight at the press conference no Scottish reporter asked why the striker was three hours late. Result.

Returning to the Mail offices with a scoop, Hunter was given a warmer reception than his initial arrival. The editor decided it was the back page lead and those who had tried to throw Hunter out were delighted with his exclusive.

So delighted that he was offered a job – as a rugby reporter. “I did this for about nine months before going over to football,” said Hunter who eventually moved down to London when Cooney became sports editor. Cooney’s approach to the job was effective if not popular with everyone and Hunter’s appointment as football correspondent raised eyebrows to new levels.

Hunter has never shirked a challenge and immersed himself into his new post. “I loved reporting on England, Manchester United, Arsenal and the top clubs…the press pack, in the majority, became people who inspired me.”

He was particularly grateful for the help of Brian Woolnough, who died last year, Steven Howard, and Nigel Clarke “who either saw someone who was young and lost or someone they liked….they took me under their wing.” Football writers never forget those who have helped them and when Hunter was injured on a trip to Luxembourg he remembers how Oliver Holt, Lee Clayton and Paul McCarthy “were brilliant.”

He said: “Our industry is full of remarkable, interesting people and I found working in London a deeply enriching part of my life. I miss the English press scene and adored what I was doing.”

In 2002 Hunter decided to realise an ambition that had started 20 years previously at the 1982 World Cup. “I promised myself I’d go back to Spain,” he said. “The moment I crossed the border from France to Spain I knew it was for me. I’d grown up adoring Spanish football even though finding out information or seeing clips in those days was difficult.

“The idea of going to the city of the club where Steve Archibald [who played for Aberdeen where Hunter was born] played and where Terry Venables had managed made me choose Barcelona.”

The bad news was that Hunter had no job to go to and couldn’t speak a word of Spanish while Louis van Gaal, not the most media friendly of coaches, had just been reappointed. In 2002/03 Barca ended the season sixth, their lowest finish in La Liga in 15 years. For the benefit of anoraks, the starting XI was: Bonano – Gabri, de Boer, Puyol, Sorin – Mendieta, Xavi, Cocu, Riquelme – Saviola, Kluivert.

Hunter said: “In the summer of 2003 Barcelona were close to not even being able to pay anyone’s wages. They were in the midst of a six-year run without a trophy.”

The appointments of Frank Rijkaard and a new president, Joan Laporta, saw a gradual change in Barca’s fortunes. The Dutch coach phased out the old guard and led the Catalan club to the title in 2005 and 2006. By then the team was: Valdes – Oleguer, Puyol, Marquez, van Bronckhorst – Edmilson, van Bommel, Deco – Larsson, Eto’o, Ronaldinho.

In 2008 Pep Guardiola succeeded Rijkaard, the remarkable Messi-inspired Barca side winning 14 trophies in four years, making him the most successful coach in the club’s history.

BY THEN Graham Hunter was fluent in Spanish while the rise and rise of what many observers call the best club team they have ever seen ensured plenty of work for the reporter whose career had started by almost being thrown out of the door.

Sir Winston Churchill said that if you have a job you love you will never do a day’s work in your life and Hunter is one of many football writers who fit that category, the bonus living in a city where the climate is superb while following a club where the working conditions for the media and the attitude towards the press are a million miles from those experienced in Britain.

Clubs here keep the media at arm’s length, dishing out bans for headlines that are not to their liking. Hunter believes the press should have been collectively stronger, standing up to such over-zealous authority that at times has bordered on bullying.

“It should make us embarrassed,” said Hunter. “For some reason, and it’s the fault of our profession, we aren’t unionised enough, we don’t complain enough. In Spain players are generally more eager to speak to the press, more accepting of their duties and see it as an integral part of their job.

“Occasionally they will be p****d off with us, occasionally they will say ‘no’, but generally they view us as people to be judged as we act, not as journalists who therefore must automatically be shunned. They don’t bring a Mastercard machine and say ‘that will be 20,000 euro.’ In my 11 years in Spain no one has ever asked me for money for an interview.

“They see it as part of their duties, it’s part of their culture because they have been educated that way. The clubs tell players they are selling their season tickets…they are promoting their sponsors…and because they have grown up speaking to the press the vast majority of players enjoy it. They respect us, even asking us our point of view.”

Up until the Eighties English-based football writers enjoyed a similar rapport with leading players and managers, but dealings with the press are far more sanitised now.

Two players gain an honourable mention from Hunter – Iker Casillas and Xavi. “Both are high achievers with an enormous amount to say. They are decent people, intelligent, interesting and funny.”

The appreciation of Hunter by his adopted home was shown by an invitation to join the players in the dressing-room after Spain won the 2010 World Cup and again following their Euro 2012 triumph – a scenario unthinkable from an English perspective.

“Their attitude was ‘you’ve put in the miles, you’ve slogged up and down the roads – come in.’ It is exactly the same as I did with England and it says everything about Spain, not me.”

THE IDEA for the book came from the publishers, BackPage Press who “twisted my arm almost to breaking point,” said Hunter. “The co-operation I was given was astonishing. Nobody said ‘no’ and nobody asked for copy approval.

“It was a pleasure to deal with the players and I thoroughly enjoyed telling the story.”

*Barca: The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World by Graham Hunter (BackPage Press, £12.99).


Each year the Football Writers’ Association selects the winner of the football category in the British Sports Book Awards. This year’s award – for 2012 – will be revealed at a dinner at Lord’s on Tuesday, May 21. Glenn Moore, chairman of the FWA’s books sub-committee, runs through the short-list (in alphabetical order).

Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World by Graham Hunter (Back Page Press, £9.99)
An illuminating, comprehensive, behind-the-scenes account of the creation of the all-conquering team. The management, the players, and key matches along the way are each studied and placed into context.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Simon Jordan (Random House, £18.99)
This could be sub-titled ‘how to make a fortune in business and lose it in football’ and sent to every prospective club owner. Jordan, as ever, pulls no punches as he describes how he built up his mobile telephone company, then plunged  into the more complicated world of football as Crystal Palace owner-chairman.

Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? The Story of English Football’s Forgotten Tribe by Anthony Clavane (Quercus, £17.99)
Jewish children were once discouraged from becoming involved in football, more by their own community as by attitudes within the game. Plenty took no notice however and British Jewry has made a significant contribution to football in England, as Clavane uncovers.

Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning by Guillem Balague (Orion, £20)
Richly detailed access-all-areas breakdown of how Guardiola came to take over Barcelona, develop the best team in the world, then walk away from it. The man and his methods are fully explored.

Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up by David Conn (Quercus, £16.99)
Part coming-of-age memoir, part dissection of the economics realities of the modern game, all told through the prism of Manchester City’s transformation from badly-run but much-loved laughing stock to the world’s richest club.

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper by Jonathan Wilson (Orion, £20)
Thoroughly researched account of the singular man between the sticks, from the time when he could run with the ball to the halfway line, to sweeper-keepers and the modern giants. Told via analysis of keepers such as Lev Yashin and Peter Shilton, Fatty Foulke and Rene Higueta.

Book Reviews


The Football Writers’ Association Books Panel are in the processing of finalising their short list of football books of the year for 2011. While reading some outstanding books published last year is hugely enjoyable, it is fair to assume there will be heated debate when it comes to selecting the top six. The standard, as always, is high.

There are books you would probably overlook in normal circumstances but which can prove to be hidden gems. From 2010 there was Scouting For Moyes by Les Padfield, a hilarious account of his days as a scout. Any book with the line: “One of the advantages of being female is that there is less chance of dropping your mobile phone down the lavatory” can’t be all bad.

Padfield was once sent to rule the rule over an Egyptian player called Mohamed only to discover seven players of that name were playing. Having written up his reports on Team Mohamed he was told sorry, it wasn’t Mohamed it was Ahmed. Thankfully there were only five Ahmeds in the squad.

Books by Barclays Premier League superstars will inevitably sell well though reading a book about a player whose name rings only the faintest of bells can prove to be more entertaining than a big hitter’s. A case in point is The Smell Of Football by Mick Rathbone, a self-confessed no-nonsense defender with Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End and Halifax Town between 1975 and 1995.

Football writers are aware that the one thing that is guaranteed to bring retribution from a player is the match ratings. Rathbone became paranoid, and that’s putting it mildly, at the ratings in the Sunday People. “There was a table,” he writes. “It described what each mark meant. Ten was ‘out of this world,’ and five, the lowest mark, meant ‘poor performance.’

“During that time [with Birmingham] I must have held the record for consecutive fives. What I wouldn’t have given for a six. There was no escaping the stigma of a five. It meant even people who never went to the game knew you were ****.

“I used to lie awake the night following a match waiting for the newspaper to arrive – the footsteps on the gravel, the bark of the dog and the thump of the letterbox. Please be a six. Just this once. I did two good passes.

“I would nervously pick up the newspaper and flick through the sports pages until I found our report and sure enough, week-in, week-out it was, as expected ‘Rathbone: 5’. At least once I had got my five I could go to bed and try to get a few hours’ sleep.

“Once I got up at about 3am and drove to New Street Station to meet the early morning train up from London. I purchased the paper from the railway platform and flicked through the pages in the murky pre-dawn light and there it was – 5.

“For a short period I stopped buying the paper. Simple enough? Afraid not. Some ******* would always still go out of his way to let me know I got a five.”

Probably the most different book I’ve read recently is Got, Not Got by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke. It is an exhaustively researched collection of football programmes, stickers, badges and memorabilia, a coffee table book you can dip in and out of at any time. Some of the advertisements from old programmes are classics – “Bovril – hot favourite for the cup!” Or culinary advice to players: “Full English – eat up your fried bread now, it’s full of energy.” Eat your heart out Arsene Wenger.

32 Programmes by Dave Roberts is a book all football fans can relate to. He had collected 1,134 match-day programmes in 44 years but when he and his wife decided to move to the United States she said – well, ordered – that only 32 could be taken. How Roberts went about selecting the 32 that would fit into a Tupperware container is fascinating and heart-warming.

Two of Fleet Street’s finest, Joe Lovejoy and Ian Ridley, have written comprehensive bookson the first 20 years of the Premier League. Lovejoy’s contains some in-depth interviews with Rick Parry, Teddy Sheringham and Ryan Giggs while Ridley goes behind the scenes of clubs like Blackpool and Portsmouth. His chapter Pompey Chimes is topical and explains the reasons begin the famous club’s present problems.

Paul Merson’s autobiography, How Not To Be A Professional Footballer, is a brutally honest account of his life and career. Of his addictions cocaine and gambling were the worst and most expensive and while there are moments of hilarity Merson does not seek to glamorise his excesses. It is amazing that he managed to play through his habits before finally seeing Arsenal managing director Ken Friar.

“I’m struggling here,” Merson told him. “I need help. I owe thousands and thousands of pounds in gambling debts. I’m in serious trouble.” There was more: “I’m also addicted to drugs. Cocaine.”

Now a regular member of Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday team, Merson has put his devils behind him though reading his confessions it was a close call whether he would survive.

Paul Lake’s I’m Not Really Here tells of how he recovered from severe depression caused by enforced retirement, the death of his father and the breakdown of his marriage. Now an Ambassador for Manchester City in the Community, Lake’s story is beautifully written and takes us behind the good, bad and ugly of what professional football occasionally has to offer.

Ronald Reng’s biography of Robert Enke, A Life Too Short, is powerful and painful reading. Enke, the Germany goalkeeper, took his life two years ago and Reng details his friend’s downfall and his ultimately losing battle against the demons of depression.

The Smell Of Football by Mick Rathbone (Vision Sports Publishing); Got, Not Got by Derek Hammon and Gary Silke (Pitch Publishing); 32 Programmes by Dave Roberts (Bantam
Books); Glory, Goals & Gr££d by Joe Lovejoy (Mainstream Publishing); There’s A Golden Sky – Ian Ridley (Bloomsbury); How Not To Be A Professional Footballer by Paul Merson
(HarperSport); I’m Not Really Here by Paul Lake (Century); A Life Too Short by Robert Reng (Yellow Jersey Press); Scouting For Moyes by Les Padfield (SportsBooks Ltd).

Calvin changes family as he transfers to Millwall

A jumbo hot-dog between Robbo’s eyes…Morison apologising to a defender…and a tweet that brought a tear to his eye


IT IS a widely held belief that you can change most things in your life but not the club you support. You can change your name, house, job, wife/husband, religion and nationality but your club is is forever.

Michael Calvin, a Watford fan since childhood, crossed the ultimate divide when he was writing Family – Life, Death and Football, his new book. He spent a year on the frontline with Millwall and achieved the dream of football writers and supporters by going into the heart of a club. He was at training, in the dressing room, at board meetings – in fact anywhere and everywhere.

Millwall, a club with a stigma brought about from incidents in the past, won Calvin over. He admits he lost his professional detachment during a game at Colchester. He calls it “a real us against them day”. The home club had done as much as they could to make conditions for the visitors – let’s say challenging.

Calvin said: “In was in the Aidy Boothroyd days, on Easter Monday. The dressing-room had been cut in half, the walls had been painted black and all electrical sockets had been removed.”

It takes more than that to intimidate Millwall. Calvin said: “The players pooled their batteries, put them into an iPOD charger and Dizzee Rascal was soon blaring out.

“Millwall took the lead and Colchester made it 1-1 after a goalkeeping mistake. The momentum of Paul Robinson took him into the back of the net as he tried to stop the ball going in.

“Paul found himself facing the away end and a Millwall fan behind the goal had a jumbo hot dog, about 12 inches long. He threw it like a javelin in disgust and it went through the net, hitting Paul right between the eyes, with onions and tomato ketchup and God knows what else all over his face.”

It’s funny but it isn’t.

“With 10 minutes to go Millwall scored what proved to be the winner. I was sitting next to Gary Alexander, a sub, on the bench and with a striker’s instinct he shouted ‘it’s in’ a second before the ball crossed the line. We both jumped up, and made eye contact. We knew what we were about to do was wrong, but we started hugging each other and jumping up and down like little kids.

“That was the moment Millwall got me.”

TO UNDERSTAND Millwall Football Club you first have to understand the area of south-east London where most of their fans live and where I grew up. Driving through Lewisham, Deptford or New Cross, down the Old Kent Road or Walworth Road you can find yourself stuck in a tenement time-warp, the surrounding boroughs sadly neglected in comparison to others where modernisation is concerned. Near the Den there are arches where, if you threw a couple of street urchins down, you could turn your clock back 150 years.

It was a learning curve for Calvin who said: “The club are in an area where there is a crossover between refurbished flats and deprivation.

“Millwall are an old fashioned football club with a real emotional intensity between the fans and the club. A couple of generations ago, if there was a death in the family the natural outlet for grief was the parish priest or vicar. For Millwall supporters the club has a more central part in their lives. “

A hardened journalist who has worked in more than 80 countries covering every major sporting event, Calvin is not embarrassed to admit a message from a Millwall fan brought a tear to his eye last week.

Returning on the team coach from Bristol City where Millwall had played well only to lose to a stoppage time goal, defender Alan Dunne was reading through his tweets. There was a message from a fan called Tim Dill which said: “Dunney, my dad died on New Year’s Day. Millwall all his life. I reckon he’d get a kick from an RT. ‘Safe trip, Red’ Thanks.” Of course, Dunne duly obliged.

While Calvin believes Millwall are “burdened by their outdated image” it is something the club have to live with. The book is excellent and the fly-on-the-wall insider accounts will appeal to fans of all clubs. It will, Calvin hopes, change the way outsiders look at Millwall. “If you have preconceptions about Millwall, read the book and come back to me,” he said. “It is a proper football club with the right values. Sadly people are judged by a small minority.”

Millwall’s reputation travelled ahead of them when they played West Ham United in the Carling Cup in August 2009. The policing of the game left much to be desired as did the home club’s overall control. Calvin witnessed first-hand the commotion outside Upton Park before retreating to the safety of the press box.

He said: “I sat behind a reporter who was under pressure from his news desk who had been watching some trouble on Sky News. He had to produce a piece and simply typed the words ‘Millwall’ ‘West Ham’ and ‘trouble’ into Google. The old stories came out from Cyberspace and formed the basis for his report about what was going on around him.”

Each club faced charges of failure to ensure their supporters refrained from violent, threatening, obscene and provocative behaviour; failure to ensure their supporters refrained from racist behaviour and failure to ensure their supporters did not throw missiles, harmful or dangerous objects onto the pitch. While West Ham were found guilty, Millwall, who were not involved in any of the security talks, were cleared by the Football Association of any wrongdoing. It cost Millwall £100,000 to defend the charges.

IT TOOK Millwall manager Kenny Jackett “about 10 seconds” to agree to the book, granting Calvin an access all areas pass to the club.

He said: When I turned up on the first day Kenny told the players what was happening. Neil Harris, who was the spiritual leader of the group, came over for a chat. I felt very privileged but most of all accepted. The chairman [John Berylson] and the manager had said it was OK so the players were fine.”

Calvin became what he calls a chameleon in the dressing room, staying in the background but taking notes in a small pad. The club had no editorial control over what was written but Calvin gave the manuscript to Jackett and the players out of courtesy. Jackett’s mother told him off because he had sworn so much.

“The dialogue had to be real, it had to be honest,” said Calvin who saw the good, bad and ugly that go with the roller-coaster of emotions experienced by a football club.

He said: “You see the rage where players are at each other’s throats. You see the frustrations, the fear, the insecurity and even the awe after a really good performance.

“You also see real tenderness. I shall never forget the touching moment involving Danny Senda after he tore an Achilles tendon. He was laying face down on the physio table, the players gathered around him and Harris kissed him gently on the back of the head. It was saying ‘we’re all with you.’”

It is obvious in the book that Harris, the club’s all-time record goalscorer and a true Millwall legend, was the player who made the biggest impression on Calvin. Harris, now with Southend, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2001 and Calvin confirmed: “Yes, by a distance. He is one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. He’s street-wise, a brilliant politician in a football sense and there is a humility in the guy that goes back to coming into the pro game so late.

“What I found hugely impressive was the way he used his cancer as a source of mental strength which he shared with others, especially by undertaking counselling work with other sufferers. Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay Packers coach, said that the strength of a group is in its leaders. Harris comes into that category.”

Then there is Steve Morison who joined Millwall from Stevenage Borough in 2009. “At 16 he was one of a group of players told by Tottenham they did not think he would made the grade, nothing personal, sorry, don’t come back. He played for Northampton, Bishop’s Stortford and then Stevenage. Kenny signed him, for £130,000. It wasn’t an instant success story.

“I remember speaking to him after his first game at Southampton. He said ‘wow, everything happens so fast, I almost couldn’t catch my breath. I was thinking so fast I thought my head was going to explode.’

“Gradually he became more accustomed to the pace but he went through the fires of hell. He missed a goal in an FA Cup tie at Staines which beggared belief.

“On the Monday morning I was in Kenny’s office. He went through the miss on the DVD and said ‘I’ve seen some things in my time but how did that happen?’

“Kenny told Steve he was built like a brick you-know-what…he was a Millwall-type player but he wasn’t acting like one. He actually said ‘sorry’ to a defender he’d accidentally bumped into. Kenny went mad. You don’t apologise to defenders, he told Steve. You have to put yourself about not say sorry.

“Once, Steve was substituted at half-time. It was all going on around him in the dressing-room, he got undressed slowly and as the other players were going out for the second-half he just stood there in a world of his own, obviously wondering if he was good enough.

“Fair play to the guy. He came through, scored a lot of goals for Millwall who sold him for £2.8 million to Norwich where he’s been a revelation, also making his mark for Wales. He proves there is talent in the lower leagues. Kenny worked really hard with Steve on the training pitch and it paid dividends.”

HAS THE experience of living the dream made Calvin a better journalist?

“That is for others to judge. It has given me an insight that I never had into the realities of a game that we tend to judge on superficialities. I have also noticed a respect that is routinely denied to football writers these days from managers and players who have read the book.

“At the 1982 World Cup I remember travelling from the airport in the England team bus and chatting to Ray Wilkins. I was the youngest member of the Press corps and he was one of the youngest players in the squad. We spoke about our respective positions. That sort of intimacy of contact has gone now, it’s too much us versus them now.”

There can be no follow-up to Family but Calvin is writing a prequel, interviewing the 30 most popular Millwall legends including, of course, Harris plus among others Terry Hurlock, Tim Cahill, Barry Kitchener and Keith Stevens.

Watch Michael Calvin talk about Family – Life, Death and Football here…

British Sports Books Awards: Results

Patrick Barclay and Brian Scovell, both members of the FWA Committee of long standing, both had books nominated in the 2011 British Sports Books Awards at the Savoy on May 9. Patrick’s was “Football – Bloody Hell” a biography of Sir ALex Ferguson and Brian’s was “Bill Nicholson: Football’s Perfectionist.”

Brian’s book which has just come out in paperback, was also entered in the Biogaphy Section. Five of our Committe members chose Anthony Clavane’s “Promised Lane The Reinvention of Leeds United” in the Football Section and they were Mike Collett (chairman), Martin Lipton, Glenn Moore, John Ley and Gerry Cox.

Catrine Clay’s “Trautmann’s Journey – From Hitler Youth to FA Legend” won the Biography Award.