A friend once took his wife to a lower division football match. She had no interest in football and did not enjoy the game. She was, though, fascinated by the opportunities for people-watching: with everyone else focusing on the football she could look unobserved on their unselfconscious passion, angst, humour and fury.
It is this aspect of the game that is caught on camera in Football Days (Mitchell Beazley, £30) by Peter Robinson. This beautifully presented opus captures the ambience and incident that surround football matches. As Fifa's photographer for nine World Cups he has had unparalleled access to the élite but, alongside the shot of the Yokohama dressing-room, where Brazil's World Cup-winners signed their lockers, are plenty from the game's nether regions.
There are action shots but Robinson's concentration on composition and his search for something different endow even those images with a timeless quality. Look for Emlyn Hughes, sitting on the ball at the end of an England line-up, presumably waiting for the presentation to start; Lennart Johansson, Uefa's president, laying out his sun-bed early one morning as Uefa's logo floats in the pool; and a hand in the wall, taking money at the FC Porto turnstile. As the summation of a life's work it is an enviable epitaph.
Game Of Two Halves (Carlton, £20) by Tim Glynne-Jones inevitably suffers by comparison but it achieves its aim of capturing the contrast between the sepia era and the colour one. Each spread features an image from way-back-then, and one from the modern game. Particular favourites are Eusebio, in 1966, refreshing himself from a hot water bottle, and a groundsman with a horse-drawn roller in 1922, both counter-pointed by modern equivalents.
The mix of contrasts and similarities apply also in two autobiographies by England and ex-Manchester United midfielders: My Side (Collins Willow, £18.99) by David Beckham, and After the Ball (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) by Nobby Stiles. Independent readers may find the latter's style familiar: the ghostwriter was our own James Lawton. The former was penned by Tom Watt whose own brush with celebrity, as EastEnders' Lofty, will have given him some insight into Beckham's goldfish bowl world.
Stiles was one of Beckham's first coaches at United and the pair share more than might be imagined. Stiles writes vividly of his early days in the Coronation Street terraces of Collyhurst, of fearsome scrapes with opponents, of the importance of luck and self-belief when forging a career. He recalls also the hard times when his legs and confidence were failing, and, much later, of contemplating suicide and suffering a heart attack.
Through it all Stiles' wife, Kay, John Giles' sister, stood by him. Victoria Beckham is clearly a very different character but her husband appears to draw similar strength from their partnership. Like Stiles he was also a boyhood United fan dedicated to improving his game and supported by his parents. There are, however, telling differences. Stiles does not list, in an appendix, "personal sponsors", nor include glossy modelling photos. Nor will Beckham ever find himself, as Stiles did, pushing his bank card into the wall and finding "insufficient funds" blinking on the screen. My Side, though it captures Beckham's boyish voice, and is more revealing than his first book, My World, cannot tell the full story. Beckham is only 28 and just embarking on the second phase of his career.
Utterly different, except for a matching wide-eyed disbelief at his fortune, is The Keeper Of Dreams (Yellow Jersey, £10), Lars Leese's startling account, written with Ronald Reng, a German journalist who covered English football, of a career which peaked with a clutch of matches at Barnsley.
Leese's tale is an extraordinary one, told with great frankness, which lays bare the juvenile mindset of the jobbing English pro and the naïvety of the club's management. Leese is equally unsparing on himself and his brutal self-analysis, supported by Reng's astute observations of England, makes an entertaining but sobering read. Highly recommended to everyone but the wives of Barnsley footballers.
Less candid but still rewarding is Behind The Network (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) by Bob Wilson. Those who know Wilson only from his television career will discover a remarkable tale. A schoolboy international whose father denied him the chance to join Manchester United, Wilson became a PE student, then a teacher, before playing for Arsenal as an amateur.
It is, as Michael Parkinson writes in the foreword, a meticulous account but it is also an emotional one. Wilson, whose words are his own, writes movingly of the deaths, in the Second World War, of two brothers in the RAF, and of his daughter, Anna, from cancer at 32.
For those who prefer their biographies to be of the potted variety, there is a fully revised edition of a traditional stocking-filler, The Book Of Football Quotations (Ebury Press, £7.99) by The Independent's Phil Shaw. Personalities are summed up in a paragraph: there are three entries for Stiles, all referring to his uncompromising style; one for Wilson, reflecting his association with Arsenal and his humanity; and several pages on Beckham highlighting his celebrity.
Another colleague (how do they ever find the time?), Nick Harris, has produced one of the two contenders for this year's Anoraks' Award. England, Their England (Pitch, £18.99) includes a stupendous appendix listing every foreign-born footballer to have played in England, all 1,700-plus. Not that this is just a list. There is also much to read, especially on the pioneers.
The other contender, Mike Collett's timely The Complete Record Of The FA Cup (Sports Books, £19.99), also contains plenty of good reading matter. The heart of the book is, though, an awesome work of reference containing every match and virtually every goalscorer in the competition plus much absorbing trivia. Did you know, for example, that Nottingham Forest are the only team to play ties in all four home international countries? If Trivial Pursuit does not appeal at Christmas, frame some posers from this.Reuse content