Football / Books for Christmas: For football fans, Saturday night's alright for writing: Henry Winter notes the literary rise of fanzine authors and reviews the pick of their offerings

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FANS with typewriters have never been more pursued by publishers. The cash cows of Pete Davies (All Played Out) and Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch) alongside the continued underworld eminence of fanzines from Loadsamoney (who else but Blackburn Rovers) to Revenge Of The Killer Penguin (Bath City) has made football writing more fashionable than Ryan Giggs' wardrobe.

The link between these two disparate libraries is When Saturday Comes, the 'half-decent football magazine' which combines fanzine-style affection and abuse with topical investigations. In association with WSC, Hornby, a regular contributor, has produced the absorbing My Favourite Year (Witherby, pounds 9.99), a 13-man squad of punters describing a season in the sun. The desire to read about ageing spectators reliving personal and footballing landmarks will shortly pall, but this is the best written of the anthology school which the public and publishers will soon tire of.

Jack Charlton may not know this but the Republic's Italia 90 odyssey was extended by the Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle. The author of The Commitments and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was in Dublin's Bayside Inn when England met Charlton's finest. Time was running out for the Irish after Gary Lineker had scored; desperate measures were needed. Not by Charlton. By Doyle and his mates. 'When one of us went to the toilet a goal was scored; not always but it was frightening how often it happened,' he relates in My Favourite Year. Doyle volunteers to disappear into the 'jacks' and, as sure as Guinness is smooth, his 'vigil' was soon over. Kevin Sheedy equalised.

Naples' urchins, the scugnizzi, rear their ugly heads in The Passion and the Fashion (Avebury, pounds 12.95), a study of fans' behaviour at major European clubs. Parts of this intriguing paperback, edited by Steve Redhead, the director of Manchester Institute for Popular Culture, atrophy in academic verbiage but Christian Bromberger's disection of Napoli is riveting. Italy's north- south, Testarossa-tractor divide is clearly evident in Napoli's travels upcountry, where they are met by slogans like 'No To Vivisection - Use The Neapolitans'.

The run-in to Napoli's first Serie A title in 1987 was greeted with an orgy of celebration, including a parody of the Lord's Prayer as tribute to a man considered a messiah: 'Our Maradona, who descends on to the field, we have sanctified your name, Naples is your crown. Do not lead us into temptation but lead us to the championship. Amen.' If only Devious Diego had not been led into temptation.

In pre-match rituals, Maradona would invariably make the sign of the cross. Alain Giresse confesses to another quirk. When the former French midfielder played for Marseille, he had 50 to 60 boots laid out, wine-like, in his cellar. Before leaving for a match, Giresse recalls in another Bromberger chapter 'Allez l'OM', he would walk among his treasured, studded footwear like a sporting Imelda Marcos. 'I've said to myself, I'll take these boots because they've already done a 0-0, and really it's worked.'

The changes wrought by the Taylor Report - most notably, the new all-seater edifices rising from great terraces - have fostered a wave of nostalgia, as supporters brought up to stand at matches pay tribute to those famous banks. The most prominent publications involve stands at Arsenal and Liverpool.

The Highbury launch of Tom Watt's colossal The End (Mainstream, pounds 12.99) was in the North Bank's bond-holders' restaurant - an ironic choice given the old North Bank denizens' bitter opposition to the debenture scheme.

Watt talked to hundreds of people connected to the club on what the North Bank meant to them. Dennis Evans, a full-back in the Fifties, hailed Manchester United's visit in 1958 as 'the greatest game ever at Highbury. No one left until five minutes after the game. They just stood cheering.'

The End is, the publishers say, selling well, although (like the team) one wonders about its attraction to non-Arsenal addicts. A solitary quibble, over picture captions: the last game before the North Bank was not '1922' (unless the new stand took 71 years to build).

Stephen F Kelly's The Kop (Mandarin, pounds 4.99) is less weighty than Watt's opus but follows a similar format of conversations with regulars of the most famous stand in football as well as the likes of Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson and Alan Bleasdale.

Only Yellow Bird Publishing could produce a book about Norwich City, whose 1992-93 season is glorified in Kevin Baldwin's appallingly titled, but consistently amusing Norfolk 'N' Good ( pounds 8.99). Baldwin is no Hornby, but even Alan Hansen would enjoy this.

Finally, the perfect stocking- filler: Merv Grist's comical Life At The Tip ( pounds 4.99, Virgin), the no- holds-barred chronicle of a season in the Multivite Vegeburger/ Singleton's Valve Replacement League. It's a non-League nightmare where the manager, Les Bence, loses players to all sorts of bizarre injuries: like Royston Marley, his 'ace striker and chicken factory worker' sidelined by pecked knees. Bence first appeared in a fanzine, then WSC (for a 'seven-figure transfer') and now the literati world. A familiar path.