Football books: there's a strong line up this season

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The Independent Culture

The deserved winner of William Hill's Sports Book of the Year was Duncan Hamilton's Provided You Don't Kiss Me: 20 years with Brian Clough (4th Estate 14.99), a lucid, revealing and at times extremely funny story of the mercurial managing genius, and the writer's relationship with him. A former football reporter for the Nottingham Evening Post, Hamilton enjoyed a ringside seat during Clough's most successful years with Nottingham Forest. "Clough's 18 years at the City Ground," he states, "was a period of madness punctuated by wonderful bursts of sanity." Hamilton draws on an impressive reserve of anecdotes to bring his subject, in all his bizarre but fascinating glory, vividly to life. That he is an excellent writer whose prose is a joy to read is simply an added bonus. This is an excellent piece of work that I can't recommend highly enough.

Running it a very close second for the year's best work is Sir Bobby Charlton's My Manchester United Years (Headline, 20). Despite Charlton's towering stature as one of the all- time greats of the English game, this is the first time he has committed the story of his career to print and it's a truly fascinating tale. It is the first of a projected two-volume survey of his career, and deals with his experiences playing for his club, for the most part under the tutelage of his mentor Sir Matt Busby. (The second, covering his experiences with England, is due to be published next year.) What this account makes clear, in chilling detail, is the centrality to Charlton's life of the Munich air disaster, and this is an affecting read that feels, at times, like an extended work of mourning for the team mates he lost on that icy runway in Germany almost 50 years ago.

On a lighter note, Harry Pearson's Dribble (Little, Brown 9.99) is a collection of his past newspaper and magazine columns. Pearson is one of the funniest football writers at work today and there are more than enough smart one-liners compiled here to keep the reader chuckling. Similarly perfect for flicking through is Hunter Davies's The Bumper Book of Football (Quercus 19.99), nostalgically modelled on the "fun and facts" football books of a bygone era. I was also agreeably surprised by Tim Lovejoy's Lovejoy on Football (Century 16.99) in which he revisits the genuinely surreal escapades he cultivated for Sky TV's Soccer AM show. It is a breezily unpretentious read and he makes a convincing case against those who ruin football by taking it all too seriously.

Neil Warnock's Made in Sheffield: My Story (Hodder & Stoughton 18.99) paints a detailed picture, warts and all, of the punishing grind that is football in the lower leagues. Relating his rise from a journeyman player with stolidly unfashionable clubs, it plots his success as a manager who progressed, gradually and painfully, up the ranks to the Premiership only to undergo the shattering experience of seeing his beloved Sheffield Utd relegated in the last game of the 2006/07 season.

Jonathan Wilson's Sunderland: A club transformed (Orion 16.99) provides a multifaceted depiction of the culture and history of the city, the football club, and the characters who were instrumental its promotion to the Premiership in the 2006/07 season. But the book's true success is Wilson's compulsively readable and revealing portrait of the club's manager, Roy Keane, famously a protg of both Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough, who shows signs of possessing the sort of enigmatic charm that his former manager at Notts Forest radiated effortlessly.

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