BOOK OF THE WEEK; All the stats from Arsenal to Zimbabwe

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Rothmans Football Yearbook

1996-97

Edited by Glenda Rollin (Headline, pounds 30 hardback, pounds 17.99 paperback)

Rothmans' Football Yearbook is often compared to another sporting bible, Wisden Cricketer's Almanack. The comparison is unfair, both may herald the arrival of their respective seasons but their aims are different.

Wisden is a "read" as much as a reference book, something with which to while away the dull passages in play. The season is chronicled in words as well as figures and the weighty Editor's Notes retain a measure of influence.

Rothmans, a mere 27 editions old to Wisden's 133, has never sought such a role. Thus, while Wisden is launched with a black- tie dinner in the East India Club, Rothmans is unveiled at a buffet brunch in an anonymous London hotel.

Given the growth of football writing, one wonders if there is a market for a more Wisden-esque guide but, for now, Rothmans remains the leader in a burgeoning field. From groundhopping anorak to Premiership manager, no football aficionado's library is complete without the latest edition.

The statistics are its strength. Last year's newcomer, Sky Sports' Ultimate Football Guide, had greater detail and a more user-friendly lay-out. But it was fatally weakened by mistakes such the spelling of "Alex Furguson" and the birthdate of Nottingham Forest's Steve Stone - 20.08.91, presumably England's youngest debutant. They made one wonder about other, less obvious errors.

Not that Rothmans has rested on its reputation. This issue has a notably cleaner look. Shading has been introduced into the line-ups page and the picture reproduction has been improved. There has been a partial admission that the A-Z listing of players was a mistake. They still appear after the club details but are now grouped club-by-club.

The usual details, from Arsenal's address to Zimbabwe's shirt colours, are included as is a new feature, a listing of the foreign full internationals playing in England - 102 of them. Another football trend has affected the issue. The previous editor, Jack Rollin, has moved "upstairs" in the manner of Kenny Dalglish. He becomes executive editor with his daughter, Glenda, taking over as editor.

Rothmans used to come out in September. Now it is out before the season starts but it still managed to squeeze Alan Shearer's signing into the stop press (helped by the new typesetters being based in Tyne and Wear).

Shearer is the only Newcastle player honoured in the team of the season, and that was for his Blackburn exploits. The team (chosen by members of the Football Writers' Association) is a return to an early Rothmans' practice. It includes seven of Manchester United's double winners.

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