Books for Christmas: Football - Shindler's treatise for addicted and afflicted

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The Independent Online
WHAT TRAUMA can turn a nice Jewish boy, grammar school and Cambridge- educated, writer and producer of award-winning screenplays, loving husband and doting father, into a "furniture-kicking, door-slamming, growling bear" on Saturday nights? The answer, in Colin Shindler's case, is painfully simple: supporting Manchester City.

When Tony Adams called his book Addicted he hit on a word that links the numerous books which, in the wake of Fever Pitch, attempt to convey the almost drug-like dependency of otherwise rational human beings on the fortunes of a particular team. Afflicted might have been more apposite for Shindler's memoir, if not nearly as eye-catching as Manchester United Ruined My Life (Headline, pounds 14.99).

If any club has ruined his life, it is City; to paraphrase David Niven on Errol Flynn, you can always rely on them to let you down. Yet while there are obvious similarities with the classic of the genre - there was something very Nick Hornby about Shindler's refusal to buy Gillette products after seeing Tommy Docherty advertise them on television - this is not just another football obsessive's book.

It is more autobiographical and deals sensitively with the subject of loss, notably the sudden death of his mother and the part City (and Lancashire Cricket Club) play in his emotional recovery. But it has the power to make you laugh aloud, too, as demonstrated by the story of the author being woken during the night in the summer of 1968 to be told that Bobby Kennedy had been shot.

His reaction, like any true blue of the day, was to sit bolt upright and wonder aloud why anyone would want to shoot Bobby Kennedy, City's Scottish full-back, when they had just won the League?

Much as Ian Wright claimed that Fever Pitch helped him to understand supporters, so Rick Gekoski's Staying Up: A Fan Behind the Scenes in the Premiership (Little, Brown, pounds 16.99) may give paying customers a clearer, if not always flattering perspective on the objects of their devotion.

An American antiquarian bookseller and Coventry City follower, Gekoski was surprised when the Sky Blues' chairman sanctioned his request to hang out with the squad for a season. Not as surprised, it transpires, as Gordon Strachan."If I'd known you were going to write this sort of book, I'd never have allowed you access," the manager writes on the dust jacket. "It gets too close. I enjoyed it... I just wish it was about some other club."

The book turns into a struggle between the writer's hunger for knowledge and the insiders' desire to keep their working practices private. Gekoski gleans enough to make it worthwhile, though one can be sure some of the Coventry players felt betrayed by the more revealing material.

Colin Ward also uncovers a closed world in his fan's- eye view of the World Cup, Well Frogged Out (Mainstream, pounds 9.99). It is not, however, the hooligans or the players whose internal workings he exposes, but those of the press.

As an England supporter who was also accredited as a writer, Ward was well placed to observe their practices. He finds Glenn Hoddle's betes noires suspicious, insecure, paranoid and openly aggressive towards him - the result of a feeling among football journalists that they were "stitched up" by Pete Davies in his Italia 90 odyssey, All Played Out.

The tensions between Ward and the reporters make for gripping but uncomfortable reading. His travelogue also takes us to a lesbian bar in Toulouse (the only place still serving alcohol) and into the thick of fighting between English drunks and North Africans in Marseilles.

No such unpleasantness tarnishes the wonderfully titled Just the Three Weeks in Provence by Tom Shields and Ken Gallacher (Mainstream, pounds 9.99). While Gallacher chronicles Scotland's customary gallant failure at France 98, Shields' diary captures the bevvy- fuelled sense of fun and sheer ingenuity of their fans.

Among the images he records is one of kilted Caledonians doing a Marilyn Monroe over an air vent in Paris. Then there is the tragic tale of the bagpipes which survived the Boer War and two World Wars but were broken before the finals were a week old. Plus irrefutable evidence of the existence of the Tartan Navy, first mooted in 1978 when a submarine full of Scots was rumoured to be Buenos Aires-bound.

Talking of which, Mike Wilson's Don't Cry For Me, Argentina (Mainstream, pounds 9.99) is a rivetting account, based on interviews with participants and punters, of the tragi-comedy that was Ally MacLeod's mission to "bring that World Cup home from over tha" (as Rod Stewart so eloquently put it).

For Scots of a certain age the memories rival the assasination of Kennedy (not the Man City one) as what Wilson calls an "I-remember-where-I-was- when-I-heard" experience. One hack recalls the colleague whose column warned against premature euphoria and suggested there were other countries in with a chance. He received a box in the post containing "a giant turd" and a note accusing him of being a traitor.

Finally to You're Not Singing Anymore (Ebury Press, pounds 8.99), in which Adrian Thrills has collected hundreds of the chants and songs which gave the British game its unique atmosphere, examining their origins and impact as well as the links between football, pop music and youth culture. In an age when all-seater stadiums are killing wit and decibel levels - Old Trafford is often so quiet with 55,000 inside that you can hear Alex Ferguson's chewing- gum - Thrills' researches are as timely as they are entertaining.