Some of the burgeoning number of books devoted to the game's back pages glorify the humdrum; others do scant justice to greatness. The Beautiful Team (Simon & Schuster, pounds 15.99), wherein Garry Jenkins goes in search of the 1970 Brazilians, avoids both categories. Put simply, it is a richly evocative homage to the finest team of all time.
The format adopted by Jenkins has a good track record, from Roger Kahn's classic about baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers, The Boys of Summer, to Martin Tyler's Boys of 66.
Travelling around Brazil, Jenkins interviews all the World Cup-winning class of '70 (except Jairzinho, who proves as elusive as he did to Terry Cooper in Guadalajara, and Everaldo, who is dead) about the tournament, the 4-1 final rout of Italy and how it affected their lives.
We meet Pele, one of the most famous individuals on the planet yet keenly aware of the collective nature of the triumph. Then there is Carlos Alberto, captain and scorer of the last, definitive goal in the final, who now runs a soccer camp; Gerson, the tactician supreme, these days fighting sport's corner within his home-town council; and Felix, the eccentric keeper, who could smoke for Brazil and who now owns a garage.
Most intriguing of all is Tostao, who nutmegged Bobby Moore in the build- up to Jairzinho's winner against England. Now a portly, grey-haired, semi- reclusive doctor of medicine and broadsheet football columnist, he is surprisingly self-critical, which merely adds to the fascination.
One can only echo the sentiments of the midfield enforcer, Clodoaldo, who tearfully tells Jenkins: "I want to thank you for doing this. I think it is history." The author should now be commissioned to track down Brazil's 1998 finalists. They did, after all, go missing against France.
The perfect 10 in that near-perfect side, Pele, once described the penalty as "a cowardly way to score". According to Clark Miller's history of the spot-kick, He Always Puts It To the Right (Victor Gollancz, pounds 12.99), Francis Lee was unmoved by that argument.
One of many splendid stories in a delightfully off-beat book brimming with anecdotes, analysis and trivia finds Lee playing for Manchester City in Sweden soon after converting 15 penalties in 1971-72. Waiting to take another, he was approached by the keeper, who explained his ambition to be the first to deny Lee from the 12-yard mark.
"OK," said Franny, "I'll put it to your right and I won't hit it too hard." The Swede swooped to his right. Lee crashed the ball into the opposite corner. "That," he told the disconsolate custodian, "is how you score 15 penalties without missing."
West Ham needed no set-piece psychology to lift the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup-Winners' Cup a year later; nor, indeed, did they require any Scots, Irish or Welsh assistance.
The latter fact is the starting point for Brian Belton's The First and Last Englishmen (Breedon Books, pounds 16.99), which claims the Hammers as the last entirely English-born and -bred side to win either trophy (although by my reckoning, Manchester City did so in 1969 and '70).
The lazy way would have been to focus on the feats of Messrs Moore, Hurst and Peters. Instead the author uses the life - and recent death - of Alan Sealey, two-goal hero of the victory over Munich 1860, to plot a tale which wallows in nostalgia but avoids the Little Englander trap.
Bill Shankly is commemorated in two widely differing volumes. In Shanks For the Memory (Robson Books, pounds 14.95), John Keith collates the wisdom and wit of Liverpool's legendary manager, including a fascinating transcript of his 1975 local radio chat-show interview with the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. The conversation ranges from Huddersfield Town and Harold Macmillan to socialism and saunas.
The Shankly Years, by Steve Hale and Phil Thompson (Ebury Press, pounds 14.99), is less folksy, relying mainly on Hale's unrivalled portfolio of pictures to chart what the sub-title terms "a revolution in football".
Simultaneously, one of Shankly's compatriots was presiding over a similar process in Scotland. His extraordinary era, which brought the European Cup that eluded Liverpool until Bob Paisley's reign, is examined in Jock Stein: The Celtic Years by Tom Campbell and David Potter (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 14.99). A rounded picture includes Stein's flaws, with testimony from several of his players.
Many of the hooped heroes of '67 are profiled in A Scottish Football Hall of Fame (Mainstream, pounds 14.99), John Cairney's affectionate assessment (interspersed with a wry line in social history) of 100 great Scots from Lord Kinnaird (Old Etonians) to Ally McCoist (Old Bluenose).
Jeff Kent's The Potteries Derbies (Witan Books, pounds 14.10 including p&p from 8 Nelson Crescent, Cotes Heath, via Staffford ST21 6ST) is a triumph of research, chronicling the 116-year history of hostilities between Port Vale and Stoke City in the least populous English city to support two senior clubs.
Nearby Macclesfield Town marked their inaugural League campaign with promotion on a pittance. The key moments are celebrated and off-guard backroom scenes captured in the high-quality photojournalism of Paul Atherton in Against All Odds (More Than Ninety Minutes Publishing, Brighton, pounds 19.99).
Breedon Books, having established their reputation with the Complete Record series, have moved successfully into oral and pictorial history at pounds 16.99 a throw. For Wednesday Every Day of the Week, Keith Farnsworth taps memories spanning six decades of the Sheffield club's stars, staff and supporters.
Steve Gordos performs a similar task in Talking With Wolves, which sheds new light on Molineux's pioneering nights in Europe, while David Lemmon's Arsenal in the Blood relives half a century of drama on and off the pitch at Highbury through the recollections of Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Dennis Bergkamp and others.
However, one heavyweight hardback stands out among the club-based histories. The Official Manchester United Illustrated Encyclopedia (published by the club in association with Andre Deutsch, pounds 25), is bulging with statistical detail and pithy writing by United experts.
But what makes it exceptional is the superb design and use of graphics. It's hard to credit, but here at last is some Old Trafford merchandise that gives value for money.Reuse content