Book of the Week

Perfect Pitch 4: Dirt Edited by Marcela Mora Y Araujo and Simon Kuper Headline Publishing pounds 7.99 paperback
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NICK HORNBY'S Fever Pitch made it fashionable to intellectualise about football, to open the game up as new territory for Proper Writing. As is the way with these things, it has recently come fashionable to decry the phenomenon as the witterings of a bunch of pseudo-intellectual bandwagon- jumpers, and it was in this spirit that I picked up this book, the fourth in a series of arty anthologies. A hatchet job was on the cards, but I was won over by the quality of most of the writing.

Call me a Philistine, but the pieces that work least well are the more high-flown offerings, such as a sliver of a short story by the great Jorge Luis Borges centred on the conceit that football matches - in fact most things that happen in the world - are put-up jobs by the TV companies in league with the governments.

Similarly, an intensely poetic piece by Jorge Valdano (the man who put Argentina 2-0 up in the 1986 World Cup final), and an interview in which Marguerite Duras goads Michel Platini into uninformative abstraction, almost seem like parodies of pseudish drivel. As I said, call me a Philistine.

By far the finest piece in the book - indeed, the best writing I have read for some time - was the only unsolicited manuscript in any of the four volumes. Patrick Raggett gave up the law to take up journalism - and a good thing too on the evidence of his atmospheric memoir. "bells, smells and georgie best" (the contents page was clearly designed by e.e. cummings), is an account of his boyhood attachment to Manchester United in the 1960s and his slightly dodgy relationship with Father McCulloch, a Celtic-supporting bruiser of a Jesuit who thought nothing of laying out a skinhead or two outside Old Trafford.

Among the book's other principal pleasures are a smart and bitchy dissection of Ruud Gullit, a farcical tale of the adoption by the Colombian side, Independiente, of a lion cub as their mascot, and a gentle, evocative account by Simon Inglis of how his friendship with his neighbour Russell the gardener flowered during the World Cup last year.

More of this kind of piece, then, is what Perfect Pitch 5 will need. And a lot less of the hollow grandiloquence.

TOP TEN BOOKS

1 How They Stole the Game, David Yallop, (Poetic Publishing, hardback, pounds 16.99)

2 Manchester United Ruined My Life, Colin Shindler (Headline, paperback, pounds 5.99)

3 Natwest Playfair Cricket World Cup, edited by Bill Frindall (Headline, paperback, pounds 5.99)

4 A Captain's Diary, Alec Stewart with Brian Murgatroyd (Collins Willow, hardback, pounds 16.99)

5 Hell for Leather, Robert Winder (Indigo,paperback, pounds 7.99)

6 Perfect Pitch 4 - Dirt, edited by Simon Kuper and Marcela Mora y Araujo (Headline, paperback pounds 7.99)

7 How Long's The Course? Roger Balck (Andre Deutsch, paperback, pounds 7.99)

8 World of Tennis 1999, edited by John Barrett (Collins Willow, paperbck, pounds 12.99)

9 The Sporting News Baseball Guide 1999 (The Sporting News, paperback, pounds 13.95)

10 The Giro d'Italia, Coppi vs Bartali 1949, Dino Buzzati (Velo Press, paperback, pounds 14.95)

List compiled by Sportspages Bookshops

94-96 Charing Cross Road, London, 0171 240 9604 & St Ann's Square, Manchester, 01612 832 8530 and www. sportspages.co.uk

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