Football: Ferguson's growl adds class to growing United industry

Books For Christmas Football

AS THE red machine rolls on, winning competitions from Barcelona to Tokyo, it is almost a surprise that the Booker Prize eluded Manchester United this year. But even this was not for want of trying. Before heading for the Amazon next month, and another trophy tilt, United have done their bit to deforest it by churning out, or inspiring, books by the barrow- load.

United's dominance of the growing football-book market is so great they have even spawned a sub-genre of books by and for people who hate them. Taken together, a brief survey round a trio of bookshops last week uncovered 52 separate United-related titles, a significant number produced by the club itself.

These included the life stories of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole but, interestingly, not the year's heavyweight, Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography, Managing my Life. While the hand of his ghostwriter, Hugh McIlvanney, can be clearly seen in some passages, the tome carries Ferguson's authentic voice. While some "autobiographers" merely provide their ghosts with a few hours bland, taped testimony Ferguson, now one of Britain's most prolific authors, produced 250,000 words in longhand which McIlvanney had to distil considerably before he could add his own flavouring.

The chapters on United (almost half the book) provide a lot of background detail on his building of the club and some interesting observations on the game, but the section dealing with his earlier life, as a youngster and player in Glasgow, are more compelling, particularly in relation to his time as a bar-owner.

Loyalty and betrayal are the leading themes with Brian Kidd, Gordon Strachan and Paul Ince among those singled out for score-settling while tribute is paid to his family and key individuals, such as Dick Donald, his chairman at Aberdeen.

Yorke and Cole's books are as different as the men they portray. Cole's is a straightforward ghosted football autobiography detailing his progress from schoolboy rebel to treble-winner. Strong on his time at Newcastle and Manchester it caused the obligatory stir on serialisation with his comments on Alan Shearer's apparent unalienable right to an England place.

Yorke's is different, partly for being that increasingly rare football book, the authorised biography. Hunter Davies, author of the football classic The Glory Game, has traced Yorke's career in detail, from the earliest days in Tobago to the Barcelona triumph. Davies' narrative is interspersed by regular contributions from Yorke and conversations with the major influences on his life and career.

It is literate, well-researched and interesting but, for all Davies's promptings, Yorke never quite reveals enough of himself for it to hold the attention of a non-football orientated reader which appears to be one aim.

Peter Schmeichel's contribution to the Old Trafford library devotes one chapter to Ian Wright and much of another to a dispute with a Danish newspaper but is otherwise a typical "autobiography". Paul Ince - "self-centred and arrogant" - comes in for criticism and Ferguson for praise. Among the revelations are the day Ferguson was going to sack him, that his father is Polish and his belief that MUTV adds to the pressure on United players.

On the shelves Liverpool lag behind but, as on the pitch, they are showing signs of promise. The title of John Keith's Bob Paisley - Manager of the Millennium may be somewhat opportunist and ambitious but this look at the former Liverpool manager's achievements underlines how far United still have to go to match their Lancashire rivals.

Paisley's wisdom permeates differing contributions from two of his former players, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness. Hansen, as might be expected, is strong on his analysis of teams and players. Less expectedly, he is also revealing on himself. Souness's book is mainly about his management years and contains several interesting tales.

John Barnes never played under Paisley, but he remains heavily influenced by the Liverpool way as he begins life in management. While there is a chippiness about his book - highlighted by the lingering discontent, by this bemedalled former England international, at not being made player of the year when playing for Sudbury Court in the Middlesex League nearly 20 years ago - it also reveals him as a man of strong will and thoughtful ideas. After reading it you are inclined to believe that, given time, he could succeed at Celtic Park.

The confessions of reformed alcoholics have become a sub-section of their own in football publishing, but there is room for one more and it is not just Aston Villa fans who will find interest in Paul Merson's diary of last season. By contrast Kevin Phillips' autobiography is aimed squarely at Sunderland fans which is both a shame and curious because he has had an unusually interesting life for a footballer and his ghost is a long- time friend.

One of Phillips' predecessors in the England attack, Steve Bloomer, has finally had his life committed to print more than a century after he first played for his country. Exhaustively researched and often fascinating, Peter Seddon's book sheds light on a bygone era.

So, too, does David Downing's evocative and thorough Passovotchka, the story of Moscow Dynamo's 1945 visit to this country. Though dry in parts it tells well an extraordinary and little-known tale.

The early part of Dave Bowler's detailed England biography, Three Lions on the Shirt, also combines footballing and social history to good effect while autobiographies by Brian Moore and Brian Glanville put a personal slant on the game's changing nature and its media coverage.

Glanville's withering description of Graham Kelly and Bert Millichip as "Kelly the Jelly and Bert the Inert" showed that one line can carry as much power as a whole book. That is underlined in a book of one-liners, the the latest edition of the Book of Football Quotations, by The Independent's Phil Shaw. This perennial and entertaining stocking-filler contains 1,500 new soundbite observations on the great and the good, and the sacked and the dropped.

But none of these books, whether by or about superstars, whether speedily ghosted or painstakingly compiled, succeed in combining the familiar and the unknown as well as Chris Hulme's Manslaughter United. In all respects but one Kingston HMP is a football team like any other with the same struggle to subjugate petty jealousies and insecurities to the greater good of the team.

The difference is that it is a prison team consisting of nine lifers and two warders. Hulme spent a season with them and the result is both unsettling and uplifting. It captures a football world which is both very similar, but utterly different from the one inhabited by Manchester United's talented millionaires.

Glenn Moore

THE READING LIST

Managing my Life by Alex Ferguson with Hugh McIlvanney (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 18.99)

Dwight Yorke by Hunter Davies (Manchester United Books, pounds 14.99)

Andy Cole: The Autobiography by Andy Cole with Peter Fitton (Manchester United Books, pounds 14.99)

Schmeichel: The Autobiography by Peter Schmeichel with Egon Balsby (Virgin, pounds 16.99)

John Barnes: The Autobiography by John Barnes with Henry Winter (Headline, pounds 16.99)

A Matter of Opinion by Alan Hansen with Jason Tomas (Patridge, pounds 16.99)

Souness: The Management Years by Graeme Souness with Mike Ellis (Andre Deutsch, pounds 17.99)

Paul Merson: Hero and Villain by Paul Merson with Ian Ridley (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99)

Second Time Around by Kevin Phillips with Luke Nicoli (Collins Willow, pounds 14.99)

Steve Bloomer: The Story of Football's First Superstar by Peter Seddon (Breedon Books, pounds 14.99)

Passovotchka: Moscow Dynamo in Britain by David Downing (Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99)

Three Lions on the Shirt by Dave Bowler (Victor Gollanz, pounds 18.99)

The Final Score by Brian Moore (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 17.99)

Football Memories by Brian Glanville (Virgin, pounds 16.99)

Manslaughter United by Chris Hulme (Yellow Jersey Press, pounds 10)

Bob Paisley: Manager of the Millennium by John Keith (Robson Books, pounds 17.95)

The Book of Football Quotations by Phil Shaw (Mainstream, pounds 7.99)

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