Football: Honesty of Adams and Best hits spot

Books for Christmas: Football's great attackers weave their magic across the spectrum from high art to low life
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The Independent Online
JUST AS televised football is best watched with a beer to hand, good books are traditionally accompanied with a mug of cocoa. This is something of a blessing when it comes to reading the year's two blockbusters.

While both Bestie, the authorised biography of George Best and Addicted, Tony Adams' ghosted autobiography, are good reads, neither should be savoured over a pint. Alcoholism is at the heart of Adams' book and a running thread through Best's.

Much of Adams' book is standard fare. A hard-hitting opening chapter is followed by a pacey run through his career from aspiring schoolboy to trophy-winning captain of the Arsenal. There is even the obligatory chapter selecting his "best of" XI. What marks it out is that the opening chapter really does shock as it details his personal rock bottom, the moment he faced the reality that booze had taken over his life. Searingly honest, the book benefits from Adams' close relationship with his conscientious and understanding ghost, Ian Ridley.

Freed from the constraints of writing in someone else's words, Joe Lovejoy's Bestie is a more complex book combining the necessary chronological run through Best's career with modern-day snap-shots of his current life. Best and a long line of former team-mates, ex-lovers and friends, have co-operated in full but the result is as severe on Best's faults as Adams is on himself. A tawdry night in a Hereford bar, when a drunken Best's jealousy turns him into an arrogant boor, shows what Adams has escaped and Best probably never will. That his mother died an alcoholic underlines the tragic nature of his disease.

Alcohol abuse also plays a prominent part in the year's most controversial book, Glenn Hoddle's My World Cup Story, which revealed something of Paul Gascoigne's problem. In literary terms the book is poor, an inevitable result of its speed of completion and its concentration on banalities. Many still feel it is not banal enough and, given that Hoddle is still in the job, they may be right. Even so, his occasional candour, though not in admitting any mistakes, made for some interesting moments and plenty of headlines and some good may come from his revelations about Gascoigne.

A contrasting World Cup diary, about a very different campaign, is offered by Robbie Earle and Daniel Davies. Earle provides a perceptive view from the dressing-room but the real strength of One Love is Davies' depiction of Jamaica's passage to France. This includes Fitzroy Simpson's priceless description of a nervous first night in Kingston: "I had to put a chair up against the door"... "I'd been to Jamaica before but that time I went to civilisation". His Portsmouth team-mates' reaction to his and Paul Hall's involvement is also detailed: "How do you think they felt, we'd gone to Jamaica, they were fighting for survival in the middle of winter and watching Caribbean Uncovered [Sky's sex and sandfly-on-the-barroom wall programme]".

The 1990 World Cup features in Bobby Robson's autobiography, but so extensive is the former England manager's career it only rates a few pages.

His fight with cancer opens the book, giving a sense of perspective to the rest.

Another manager with a passion for the game, Harry Redknapp, is authentically captured by Derek McGovern in an unusually candid and entertaining autobiography. He also had a brush with death and proceeds go to a cancer charity.

Harry Harris has combined with Ruud Gullit for a run through the Dutchman's career pre-Newcastle, while the similarly prolific Dave Bowler has produced a dry account of Danny Blanchflower's life and an absorbing one of Sir Alf Ramsey.

From the Netherlands comes Ajax, Barcelona, Cruyff: the ABC of an Obstinate Maestro, taken from old interviews with the enigmatic Dutchman while David Elleray's Referee!, a self-written diary of his season, has interesting elements but will confirm the prejudice of those who believe referees are rampant egotists. Not the perfect Christmas present for Gordon Strachan.

Bestie: A Portrait of a Legend (Macmillan, pounds 16.99) by Joe Lovejoy; Addicted (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99) by Tony Adams and Ian Ridley; Glenn Hoddle: My 1998 World Cup Story (Andre Deutsch, pounds 17.99) by Glenn Hoddle & David Davies; One Love: The story of Jamaica's Reggae Boyz and the 1998 World Cup (Andre Deutsch, pounds 14.99) by Robbie Earle & Daniel Davies; Bobby Robson (Macmillan, pounds 16.99) by Bobby Robson & Bob Harris; Harry Redknapp (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99) by Harry Redknapp & Derek McGovern; Ruud Gullit: My Autobiography (Century, pounds 16.99) by Ruud Gullit & Harry Harris; Danny Blanchflower: A Biography of a Visionary (Victor Gollanz, pounds 16.99) by Dave Bowler; Winning Isn't Everything - a Biography of Sir Alf Ramsey (Victor Gollanz, pounds 16.99) by Dave Bowler, Ajax, Barcelona, Cruyff: the ABC of an Obstinate Maestro (Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99) by Frits Barend & Henk van Dorp; Referee!: A Year in the Life of David Elleray (Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99) by David Elleray.