Books: Just a load of balls?

Chloe Walker takes a look at the latest football titles aiming to cash in on World Cup fever
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The Independent Culture
SUPERMARKETS are doing it, sports shops are doing it, so why shouldn't authors jump on the World Cup bandwagon? There are a vast number of football books around at the moment and among the best is The Agony and the Ecstasy, ed Nicholas Royle (Sceptre pounds 6.99), a superb compilation of new football writing (fact and fiction) where the agony focuses on England's numerous penalty shoot-out disasters and the ecstasy is invariably their victory of 1966. There are reminiscences of Italia `90, Chile in `62 and some authors are so caught up in the World Cup whirlwind that they teeter on the edge of fantasy. This is most notable in Christopher Kenworthy's "Let your Feelings Slip": the 1998 finals have already taken place and while he stops short of proclaiming England the winners, there's enough to suggest they make the final. (Here's hoping!)

One for the hardcore anoraks is Fifa and the Contest for World Football by John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson (Polity Press pounds 45/pounds 13.95), a fact-filled study of the history, ambitions and motives of the organisation behind the world's most popular sport. Highlights include chapters on Fifa's role in the choice of the host nation and their influence over television coverage and commentators.

Brian Glanville's highly informative and readable The Story of the World Cup (Faber pounds 9.99) is a comprehensive history of the World Cup since its inception in 1930. There is a chapter dedicated to each of the 15 World Cups, with reminders that when England won in 1966 it was also the first time they had progressed beyond the quarter- finals, and that when the World Cup kicked off in 1930, only 13 teams travelled to Uruguay (France will play host to 32). A long-standing sports journalist, Glanville writes from a pitch-side perspective and gives in- depth accounts of individual matches. He also draws from his extensive knowledge to provide intricate details of players, managers, supporters and stadiums. A must for all fans.

The most accessible of the bunch is The Official Team England World Cup Squad Book, ed Frank Nicklin (Ebury Press pounds 7.99), full of pictures, group tables, maps and player profiles. The upbeat message from the editor praising coach Glenn Hoddle is tempered by captain Alan Shearer's stark reminder that England's is the only first-round group to feature three of the world's top 10 teams. A chapter profiling these opponents leaves me wondering if they will even reach the second stage. Suitable for children and adults alike.

If you plan on making a bob or two out of the World Cup by betting, then World Cup Preview and Sports Betting Guide (Tomorrow's Guides pounds 7.99) is essential reading. It also includes past statistics on each team and gives the low-down on the 32 squads. In England: the Alf Ramsey Years and Scotland in the World Cup Finals by Graham McColl (Chameleon, pounds 14.99 each), the emphasis is on presentation as much as content. Inside the back sleeves of both are collections of memorabilia, including replica posters and programmes from various World Cup games. While the Ramsey book homes in on the golden years of English football, the Scottish one delves into the struggle they have faced on the world stage - this has not been helped by repeatedly meeting Brazil in the first round, France `98 will be the fourth time. There are also forewords by Alf Ramsey and Joe Jordan.

Definitely the least palatable of the books on offer is England Away by John King (Cape pounds 9.99). In his third novel, King subjects us to his usual tirade of sex, violence and foul language and no doubt he will be hoping this formula repeats the huge success of The Football Factory. The comparison between perpetrators of football violence and war veterans is sure to cause offence.