Football: Books for Christmas - Ferguson's revealing insights put him on top of another tree

The Big Names

Dressing-rooms used to be a hive of activity. Managers throwing cups and punching centre-forwards, hard-man centre-halves nutting the wall to psyche themselves up, team joker adding itching powder to the goalkeeper's jock-strap. Not any more, it would appear. Judging by the amount of "diary of a season" books and autobiographies coming out everybody is sitting quietly tapping away on a laptop or making notes in long-hand.

It won't be long before a typical entry reads: "Spoke to Chopper and Nasher. They're each doing 500 words a day and I think I'm falling behind. We divvied up the tales, I'll do Bazzer's night in the cells, Chopper's writing about Vinnie's prank with the chairman's wig and Nasher's explaining all the nicknames."

Among those on the market this Christmas are diaries by Alex Ferguson, Brian McClair, Neville Southall and Garry Nelson. All, thankfully, are better than Alan Shearer's Mogadon effort a couple of years ago with each author (and his ghost) prepared to voice an opinion. McClair's, though well-written and often funny, is largely of interest to Celtic and Manchester United fans while Southall's is primarily for Evertonians. Ferguson's and Nelson's deserve a wider audience. The Manchester United manager is provocative, thoughtful and revealing. This is a man at the centre of the game, who takes an interest in every nook and cranny of Britain's biggest club and is happy to reveal as much as the club's lawyers will allow.

Nelson's is written from the opposite end of the game. It details a season as player-coach at Torquay. Though the writing is sometimes twee the content is as absorbing as Ferguson's. In one passage he spends ages looking for a lost ball in the bushes as Torquay cannot afford to replace it - Ferguson, he reflects, is unlikely to have the same problem.

Chelsea fans have a choice of Christmas reading. Last season is recorded in minute detail in another diary, written by Harry Harris but misleadingly designed to suggest authorship by Ruud Gullit, and there are contrasting autobiographies by Alan Hudson and Pat Nevin. Hudson's is an entertaining if breathtakingly conceited recollection of his playing and partying. Nevin's is self-deprecating, thoughtful and original being written in conjunction with a psychiatrist.

Another fresh treatment is accorded Ferenc Puskas, whose glittering career was split into two parts by the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The football academic Rogan Taylor and a Hungarian partner have produced a fascinating account of his life and times.

There ought to be enough material in Dave Bassett's career for an exceptional book but Harry's Game, a ghosted autobiography, is not it. Of most interest to Sheffield United fans (seven years at Bramall Lane get 123 pages, 13 years at Wimbledon get 33) it could have done with more tales and less match details. The best chapter concerns Watford as it shows Bassett the family man. His wife's reaction when Elton John came to call to offer him the Watford job is well told, as is the unpleasant way it went wrong.

This year's big autobiography is, of course, Kevin Keegan's but his version of recent Magpie history is but part of a small cottage industry. Newcastle journalist Alan Oliver has written a sympathetic eyewitness account of his management years and Keegan is also one of three football "characters" profiled in a series of stocking-fillers from Goal magazine. Charlie Nicholas, like Keegan, is given a readable rehash of the cuttings file but Mickey Thomas gets a more personal, affectionate remembrance.

Glenn Hoddle and Matthew Harding are the subject of well-researched quickie biographies, but Chris Waddle, for the second time, suffers a bland portrayal by his lawyer. Kirk Blows shows how an authorised biography should be written with an honest, detailed and revealing tome on Julian Dicks.

Two revered players of yesterday also received deserved exposure, Danny Blanchflower and Billy Meredith. One final biography is of a team, England. Niall Edworthy's coffee-table review may be "official" but it is not bland.

A Will to Win by Alex Ferguson & David Meek (Andre Deutsch) pounds 14.99; Odd Man Out by Brian McClair & Joyce Wooldridge (Andre Deutsch) pounds 14.99; Left Foot in the Grave? by Garry Nelson & Anthony Fowles (HarperCollins) pounds 14.99; Everton Blues by Neville Southall & Ric George (B&W) pounds 6.99; Ruud Gullit: The Chelsea Diary by Harry Harris (Orion) pounds 16.99. The Working Man's Ballet by Alan Hudson (Robson) pounds 17.99; Puskas on Puskas edited by Rogan Taylor & Klara Jamrich (Robson) pounds 17.99; Harry's Game by Dave Bassett & Bernard Bale (Breedon) pounds 15.99; Kevin Keegan: My Autobiography by Kevin Keegan and Bob Harris (Little Brown) pounds 16.99; Geordie Messiah: The Keegan Years by Alan Oliver (Mainstream) pounds 14.99; Kevin Keegan: Reluctant Messiah by Michael Hodges (Boxtree) pounds 5.99; Mickey Thomas: Wild at Heart by Andy Strickland (Boxtree) pounds 5.99; Charlie Nicholas: The Adventures of Champagne Charlie by David Stubbs (Boxtree) pounds 5.99; Danny Blanchflower by Dave Bowler (Victor Gollanz) pounds 16.99; Matthew Harding by Alyson Rudd (Mainstream) pounds 15.99; Football Wizard: The Billy Meredith Story by John Harding (Robson) pounds 17.95; Terminator: The Julian Dicks Story by Kirk Blows (Polar) pounds 9.99; Glenn Hoddle by Brian Woolnough (Virgin) pounds 14.99; Chris Waddle: The Authorised Biography by Mel Stein (Simon & Shuster) pounds 15.99; England: The Official FA History by Niall Edworthy (Virgin) pounds 16.99.

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