Christmas Books: Weighty account of Super League's first decade

Dave Hadfield selects the best of the year's rugby league books
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The Independent Culture

The first decade of Super League is a suitable landmark at which to loiter and reflect and Super League - The First Ten Years by Phil Caplan and Jonathan Doidge (Tempus, £14.99) is the perfect medium through which to do so.

There is an abundance of thought-provoking stuff here, including the most in-depth account yet published of the vital television negotiations that made the whole thing happen.

On a lighter level, the chapter-ending lists of Super League's best and worst are a delight in themselves, worth fast-tracking through the weightier stuff on their own account.

For a broader historical focus, there is no doubt that Tony Collins's Rugby League in 20th Century Britain (Routledge, £23.99) is the major publishing event of the year. To the general reader, it might look a little dense - not to mention expensive - but treasures lurk on every page to make it worth every penny.

The same publishers have also brought out an expanded version of Collins's equally authoritative Rugby's Great Split, at the same price. Put the two together, tag the last few years of Super League on the end and you have pretty much the full story of how we got to where we are. For the club-specific, Odsal Odysseys by Phil Hodgson (Vertical, £19.99) tells the chequered story of the game in Bradford in a handsome, coffee-table format and is very good for its type.

Player biographies and autobiographies come from all angles these days. Maurice Bamford has been busy again with his Vince Karalius: A Rugby League Legend (Vertical, £10.99).

It says something about Karalius's enduring status more than 30 years after his retirement that someone who has achieved as much in the game as Bamford should write about him with such reverence.

For a more intimate portrait of a lesser St Helens legend, I'd recommend From Great Broughton to Great Britain by Peter Cropper (London League Publications, £9.95), the story of the Cumbrian forward, Peter Gorley. It is a good example of the way that a fan's enthusiasm for a particular player can produce a highly readable book.

No one who knows the recent history of Mike Gregory will expect his autobiography, Biting Back (Vertical, £17.99), to be an easy read. It chronicles his struggles against neurological disease in often harrowing detail and buying it has the additional benefit of swelling the trust fund that has been set up for him.

The best equivalent to come out of Australia, this year or for several previous years, is Warhorse: Life, Football and Other Battles by Shane Webcke (Pan Macmillan Australia, Aus$32.95 (£13)). The Test front-rower has long been one of the game's most interesting and thoughtful characters and he writes of his struggles on and off the pitch with a disarming honesty and a passion for the game that shines through.

We'll Support You Evermore by David Kuzio (London League Publications, £11.95) is an often illuminating series of observations from fans. Many of them will be interested in Rugby League Journal's 2007 Annual (£12.95), which is an unashamed wallow in nostalgia that has a special appeal for those with fond memories of the Sixties and Seventies.

Few back then would have predicted the London Broncos moving in with Harlequins this season and adopting their name and colours. A Pastel Revolution by Paul Fletcher and Phil Gordos (London League Publications, £12.95) tells the story of the great experiment so far.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rugby League Back o't' Wall by Graham Chalkley (London League Publications, £12.95) tells the story of one of the code's most illustrious and productive amateur clubs, Sharlston Rovers. The three Fox brothers - Neil, Peter and Don - head their list of alumni, so it can truly be said that the game would not have been the same without them.