By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
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).