Football: Books for Christmas - How Claridge thrived despite Aldershot' s bouncing cheques and rotten turkeys

The Unsung Heroes

From Weymouth to Wembley, Steve Claridge's journey was more chequered than a Croatian shirt. If your mental picture of the journeyman striker is of him wheeling away to celebrate a goal then you have not read his entertaining memoir. Tales From the Boot Camps (Vista, pounds 5.99) finds Claridge stuck in a ditch, beneath a tractor after an incident with a melon.

Only two books, Eamon Dunphy and Peter Ball's Only A Game? and Fred Eyre's Kicked Into Touch, have got inside the humour of the game as successfully as Claridge and his collaborator, Ian Ridley, The Independent on Sunday's Football Correspondent. Confirm- ing that failure makes for better football literature than success, his time at Aldershot forms the most compelling chapter.

Cheques bounced, overnight stays were out (even to Carlisle) and the Christmas turkeys from the club were rotten. When Claridge bought a video of a match in which he had scored a hat-trick, he recognised the commentator as the team's bus driver, who was struggling to be heard above a moaning fan.

It is Aldershot, rather than Leicester, where he finally cracked it, that Claridge calls "the happiest time of my career". But there's much more: from clashes at Cambridge (one more than verbal) with the lord of long-ball brutalism, John Beck, to the circus that was Birmingham under Karren Brady (as it were) and Barry Fry. Highly recommended.

Claridge plays with his socks rolled down. So did Robin Friday, though whereas Claridge has made the most of a modest talent, Friday literally pissed his exceptional ability against a wall. The sadness of The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw, by Paolo Hewitt and Oasis bassist Paul McGuigan (Mainstream, pounds 9.99), is that the former Reading striker is not around to enjoy the belated acclaim. He was found dead seven years ago.

Friday was a pigeon-toed ex-asphalter with a penchant for spectacular goals and a passion for excess. He spent one New Year's Eve drunkenly dancing on pub tables. In the morning he scored twice despite being marked by Bobby Moore.

Drink, aka The Bevvy, plays no small part in Ian Black's Tales of the Tartan Army (Mainstream, pounds 8.99). In Italy, after capitulation to Costa Rica, Scotland supporters sought solace in vino collapso. Their adaptation of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" burned into Black's memory:

What do you get when you drink the wine?

A pounds 10 fine and a year's probation

Knee in the balls at the polis station

I'll never drink the wine again

We also encounter the sinister Kilt Police, armed only with boot polish, and learn the bittersweet saga of Bodyswerve and the bairn that never was. For all their overseas tours of duty-frees, Wembley brings the best out of the footsoldiers. In '75, as the English goals rained in, they sang: "We'll support you up to four." When it ended 5-1 they gloated: "They couldnae make it six."

The Tartan Army are more likely to be found at East Fife or Forfar than Ibrox or Parkhead. David Bennie's A Season in Hell (Mainstream, pounds 14.99) is an idiosyncratic, sad and sometimes hilarious travelogue around all 37 Scottish League venues. A sort of Bill Bryson-meets-Nick Hornby, it must be the first book to compare Cumbernauld and Cowdenbeath with Chicago and Albania respectively.

Bennie's title would have been equally apposite for Stephen North and Paul Hodson's account of the fight to save Brighton & Hove Albion. Instead they came up with Build a Bonfire (Mainstream, pounds 14.99) - as in the song - which is one of the few courses of action campaigners did not follow. The bulk of the book comprises the views of "ordinary" supporters. There is also a guide to how to depose your chairman (right down to picketing his house in a quiet village) and suitably vitriolic verse by Attila the Stockbroker.

The Herefordshire hostelry where 40-odd inebriated Brightonians celebrated League survival with a mass, Wayne's World-style singalong to "Bohemian Rhapsody" must have been a sight to behold. Essential reading in Doncaster.

From the Midlands come two unusual perspectives. Steve Stride is the Aston Villa-crazy kid who progressed from office boy to secretary and director, in which time he has seen five chairmen, nine managers and hundreds of players come and go. Stride Inside the Villa, with Rob Bishop (Sports Projects, pounds 8.95), is full of behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

Jo Venglos took defeat like no manager Stride has seen. Once, after his team were booed off, Dr Jo's wife Eva (whose English was not great) muttered: "Poor my husband." One of the players' wives said politely: "You mean my poor husband." Eva nodded: "Yes him too."

David Instone, of Wolverhampton's Express & Star, has produced an insightful reporter's diary of another year of Molineux under-achievement in Wolves: Exclusive! (Thomas Publications, pounds 6.99). The day after Dave Bassett quit Crystal Palace for Nottingham Forest, Instone overheard Mark McGhee being complimented on his sharp suit and tie.

"Got to be smart today," replied the Wolves manager, sending himself up. "I've got an interview at Palace."

When Saturday Comes has played an influential role in the increased assertiveness of supporters. Power, Corruption and Pies (Two Heads, pounds 9.99) collates the best of 10 years' journalism in WSC, which was way ahead of the "new football writing" in more ways than one.

The wit of Harry Pearson, the polemicism of Ed Horton and the strident clarity of the magazine's founder, Mike Ticher, stand out. Ticher's piece about Matthew Harding goes against the received wisdom without coming on remotely like Ken Bates, while Nick Hornby mounts a stout defence of Fever Pitch.

Alan Edge's Faith of Our Fathers: Football as a Religion (Two Heads, pounds 9.99) sounds and looks like an academic treatise to accompany a Channel 4 documentary. It is actually a personal, often amusing account of growing up on football-mad Merseyside, mixed with observations on the modern game.

This reader particularly identified with the author when he recalls the reaction of his Christian Brother teachers to the innocent carving of players' names on his desk. And who can put his hand on his heart and say he has never leapt out of his car, like Edge, to berate a small boy for wearing a Manchester United replica kit?

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport