Books: Better contrast would help picture of poignant past

Book of the week: Reliving the Dream: The Triumph and Tears of Manchester United's 1968 European Cup Heroes By Derick Allsop (Mainstream, pounds 9.99)
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The Independent Online
THIRTY years ago this week, a man who sells pet food in Stalybridge had the game of his life and Manchester United succeeded in grasping the grail that has otherwise eluded them through four decades of striving.

With every new failure, the events of 1968 acquire extra mythic status - more than enough to sustain a "where are they now?" treatment of the men who took part. Much of it is unavoidably familiar ground. The stories of George Best and Bobby Charlton have been told and retold; the interest lies in the half-forgotten fringe figures.

Shay Brennan, for instance, seems to have been every bit as much of a loveable rogue as Best; a less-publicised one, but a knowing Manchester- Irish wide-boy when Best was still a wide-eyed innocent.

Bill Foulkes has perhaps the most poignant story of all to tell, spanning the eras the way he does. And, if I have a complaint, it is that Pat Crerand - the most fascinatingly eccentric footballer of the lot - gets a meagre seven pages.

In an ideal world, what a book like this needs is a heavy dollop of contrast. If one player has become Prime Minister and another has finished in the gutter, so much the better.

Well, Charlton is a world statesman of sorts and Best has visited a few gutters, but the range from rags to riches is not great here. One who does seem to have been slightly short-changed is Tony Dunne, who, as the finest full-back of his generation, surely deserves to be living in the lap of luxury rather than running a golf driving range in Altrincham.

Which brings us back to Stalybridge and the dog meat. If the European Cup final of 1968 is remembered for one thing, more than Charlton's headed goal or Best's shimmy past the Benfica goalkeeper, it is for the performance of a player who is otherwise entirely forgotten - John Aston.

Old Trafford has had its whipping boys since - Andy Cole briefly inherited the mantle before he started to find the net again - but none has been vilified and disparaged quite like this ghost-pale, sunken-cheeked left- winger.

The trouble is that much of it was justified. Try as I might, I can't recall him having another good match, but at Wembley he was the outstanding player on the pitch.

And he doesn't want to talk about it. He only gets five pages, because it must be hard to extract much more than that from "Go away...''

Aston is too busy selling pet chews to be bothered. "I've got a business to run and no time for dwelling in the past. It's so long ago I can hardly remember it anyway. It seems like a different life and that suits me.''

He finds sportsmen who reflect on old glories "pathetic". There is a book in the embittering experience that brought him to that view. Sometimes those who do not want to relive the dream are more intriguing than those who do.

Dave Hadfield

This week's top 10 sports books

1 Perfect Pitch 2 - Foreign Field edited by Simon Kuper (Headline/Review, paperback, pounds 7.99)

2 Manchester United Ruined my Life, Colin Shindler (Headline, hardback, pounds 12.99)

3 The Complete Book of the World Cup, Chris Freddi (Collins Willow, paperback, pounds 14.99)

4 Corel WTA Tour 1998 Player Guide (Corel WTA Tour, paperback, pounds 14.95)

5 The Agony and The Ecstasy - New Writing for The World Cup, edited by Nicholas Royle (Sceptre, paperback, pounds 6.99)

6 The Beautiful Team - In Search of Pele and the 1970 Brazilians, Garry Jenkins (Simon and Schuster, hardback, pounds 15.99)

7 Daffodil Days - Glamorgan's Glorious Summer, Grahaeme Lloyd (Gomer, hardback, pounds 16.99)

8 A View from the Bridge, John Ingledew and Graham Wray (More than 90 Minutes, paperback, pounds 21.95)

9 The Beautiful Game - A Journey Through Latin American Football, Chris Taylor (Gollancz, hardback, pounds 16.99)

10 To Lord's With a Title, Hugh Morris with Andy Smith (Mainstream, hardback, pounds 14.99)

List compiled by Sportspages, 94-96 Charing Cross Road, London (0171- 240-9604) and St Ann's Square, Manchester (0161-832-8530), and at www.sportspages.co.uk

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