Book of the week: The Family Game By Michael James

(Parrs Wood Press, £8.95)
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The Independent Culture

Sometimes the anticipation of an event can be far more dramatic than the event itself.

Sometimes the anticipation of an event can be far more dramatic than the event itself.

For some months now, the rugby league grapevine has been buzzing with rumours of a book that was going to give the game's reputation for being safe and family-friendly a good kicking. Now that it is here, however - with a full title of "The Untold Story of Rugby League Hooliganism" - the effect is less like someone sticking the boot in than that of a stuck-out tongue from the opposite side of the street.

There is nothing here of which anyone who has ever been near a rugby league ground will be unaware. In the 1970s and early 1980s St Helens had a gang of yobs who attached themselves to the club and aped what had become familiar at football grounds. Clubs such as Warrington and Wigan had something similar and they would occasionally meet up for a bit of a scuffle. And, oh yes, Featherstone supporters could get a little touchy during the miners' strike.

To suggest, as the preface to the book does, that it is going to cause "uproar" in the game is greatly to overstate its power. Yes, 20-odd years ago there was a fashion for young men getting drunk and fighting at all manner of gatherings. It would have been more startling if rugby league had not occasionally witnessed some bother.

Like most of the altercations he describes, the author has great difficulty going the distance. Hence the addition of an otherwise unrelated chapter about Canterbury Bulldogs fans in Australia and one about racist abuse at an amateur game in Yorkshire.

There is a valid point to be made about brushing problems, even relatively small ones, under the nearest carpet. As the author admits, however, the era of rugby league hooliganism, such as it was, is long past, with only the Hull fans' pitch invasion at Huddersfield in 2000 worth noting in recent years.

In the great tradition of hooligan books, the author is now settled into respectability. One of the unwritten rules of low-level match-day violence is that "you don't kick a man when he's down", but I bet that his career - unlike that of some of his football equivalents - does not involve a lot of writing.

Top 5 sports books

1 The Sporting News 2005 Baseball Guide (Sporting News, paperback, £14.99)

2 Marco Pantini: The Legend of A Tragic Champion Wilcoxson and Watson (Velo, paperback, £12.95)

3 Juiced Jose Canseco (Regan Books, hardback, £19.99)

4 Racehorses of 2004 (Portway Press, hardback, £70)

5 Top Boys Cass Pennant (John Blake, hardback, £17.99)

Compiled by Sportspages Bookshops, 94-96 Charing Cross Road, London, 020-7240 9604; & St Ann's Square, Manchester, 0161-832 8530; www.sportspages.co.uk

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