BOOK OF THE WEEK: Truth revealed about sweet Georgia bribes

European Football Yearbook 95-96 Edited by Mike Hammond (Sports Projects Ltd, paperback, pounds 21.95)
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Once, waiting to interview a Premiership manager, I noticed that the only books on his shelf were the latest Rothmans and several years' worth of the Non-League Club Directory. Since the gentleman in question works at international level these days, I only hope he has discovered the European Football Yearbook.

Now in its sixth edition, covering 49 nations in 1,120 pages, it is an indispensable reference work for all who look beyond the confines of the British scene to post-Bosman Europe. Some 62 countries stock it, with the Dutch and Germans the most prolific buyers and the Japanese market booming. Real Madrid's vice-president rings every year to request a copy, while fans in the former Soviet Union send books and badges in exchange.

The publisher, Bernard Gallagher, admits home sales offer room for improvement. George Graham, in his Arsenal pomp, always sent a cheque around publication day, while Manchester United, Celtic and Rangers have standing orders. But in the age of wall-to-wall goals from Europe on satellite TV, and Channel 4's Italian coverage, this is a volume that deserves greater domestic appreciation.

For one thing, it is far better laid out than its aforementioned contemporaries, the designers having decided against cramming. Each country has its own section, opening with a commentary of uniformly high standard (wherein we learn, for example, about corruption in Georgia and hooliganism in Albania).

There follow league tables, cup results, record of the national side and profiles of the Players of the Season. Then it is on to a club-by-club guide, the core of which is an easy-to-follow analysis of results, scorers and appearances.

The middle of the book is given over to colour representations of all Europe's strips and badges. All, that is, except Estonia, where economic circumstances mean some clubs do not have set colours but literally take each game as it comes.

When the imagination is applied, the statistics are no more grey text than football is 22 men chasing a lump of leather. Consider Albania (where Gallagher's fact-compiler asked for a motorbike as payment because cheques and money routinely go astray). Only six points separated the runners-up and the 15th-placed side.

In Armenia, Aoss and Ararat amassed a century of goals in 28 games and still missed the title. Bobruisk, in Belarus, used 54 players in 30 matches - eat your heart out Barry Fry - a total two League of Wales clubs came close to matching.

Among other nuggets is the fact that Georgia's Player of the Year was not Georgi Kinkladze but one Akaki Devadze, who must be some performer. The goals-per-game ratios of Tino Asprilla and Tomas Brolin in Italy make instructive reading.

Whether Newcastle or Leeds actually used the book to appraise themselves of such facts, Gallagher does not know. However, one of Middlesbrough's coaching staff came on to order a copy as we spoke. In European Championship year, every football home should have one.

Phil Shaw

Comments