Mining a highly lucrative seam

Sport Books: BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS: Football is now big business in publishing. Phil Shaw samples the latest prose
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The Independent Online
Hard on the heels of Fever Pitch comes sales pitch. The unprecedented volume of books vying for our cash this Christmas reflects the fact that, in the aftermath of Nick Hornby's extraordinary success, publishers have never been more willing to take a chance on football.

So fashionable has the game become that autobiographies of two legendary figures are actually enjoying a run among the Top 10 hardbacks. Dalglish, by Kenny Dalglish with Henry Winter (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 16.99), reveals more of one complex character than Jack Charlton (Partridge Press, pounds 16.99) does of another, without quite demonstrating that the "real" King Kenny is as funny a man as his friends claim.

Dalglish relives the Hillsborough disaster with all the sensitivity he showed at the time, and there is no self-pity as he recounts how the pressure eventually caused his head to "explode". It is also evident that much of his famous taciturnity comes from his domineering mentor at Celtic, Jock Stein.

Charlton, in contrast, was often at odds with Don Revie before Leeds became a force, yet there is more of Revie's cautious outlook in his approach to management than he lets on. Peter Byrne, Big Jack's "ghost" and doyen of Irish football writers, might have been better employed penning an objective biography.

On to two less "traditional" books, which view football in the way that made Hornby famous: as part of popular culture, linked to the wider world. Euro 96 inspired two enjoyable examples, Dave Hill's England's Glory: 1966 And All That (Pan, pounds 9.99) and David Thomson's 4-2 (Bloomsbury, pounds 16.99).

Hill, by starting his book about England's distant World Cup triumph with an account of Geoff Hurst handling a question and answer session at Butlin's in Bognor Regis, makes plain his intention to probe beyond mythology and mere football. The reader becomes as well acquainted with the style of Harold Wilson as the steel of Ray Wilson.

Thomson's book has been described, misleadingly, as the first to focus entirely on one game, the '66 final. In fact, the author uses the match as a peg on which to hang the story of his own journey of self-discovery (well, it was the 60s). So the sexual revolution rubs shoulders with England's wingless wonders, while Alf Ramsey is compared with Philip Larkin. Dull, it isn't.

Pete Davies wrote a classic about the 1990 World Cup, All Played Out. His follow-up, I Lost My Heart to the Doncaster Belles (Heinemann, pounds 14.99) is not, by definition of its subject matter, of similarly epic proportions, but it does not disappoint. Davies followed the fabled women's team through 1994-95, eliciting the players' thoughts, about the game and their "private" lives. Patronise these "ladies" at your peril.

Simon Inglis should also figure in any self-respecting fan's library. An updated version of his Football Grounds of Britain (Collins Willow, pounds 14.99) is particularly timely, what with the old architecture of football disappearing and new stadiums rising everywhere. Inglis gives new meaning to the words "detail", "research" and "expert", while his vigorous prose sets him apart from groundhopping anoraks.

There is now an indispensable companion volume. The Football Fan's Guide, by Janet Williams and Mark Johnson (Harper Collins, pounds 8.99), not only gives incredibly precise directions to every ground but also details of which pubs to drink in (and which to avoid), where to get a good vegeburger and even the state of the toilets.

Meanwhile, Elegance Borne of Brutality: An Eclectic History of the Football Boot, by Ian McArthur and Dave Kemp (Two Heads Publishing; pounds 15.99 hardback, pounds 9.99 paperback), is an example of how to turn a cow's hide into a silk purse. From the primitive Manfield-Hotspur to today's Predator, boots have been an essential yet invariably overlooked facet of the game. When the authors wrote to the Football Association, they were informed that there was nothing on footwear in Lancaster Gate's collection of 2,000 books and were they sure this would make a book? They were, it has, and it is lovingly illustrated to boot.

Another visual treat is One: Images of a Goalkeeping Season, featuring the photographs of Robert (son of Bob) Wilson (Boxtree, pounds 10.99). There is not a single action shot, nor, curiously, many of hands though, as his father suggests in an eloquent introduction, "the dedication and the effort and the drive oozes out of some of the studies". Most are of scarred, stubbly faces, brilliantly evoking the solitary nature of a breed apart.

Equally original, but in the field of biography, is Richard Adamson's Bogota Bandit (Mainstream, pounds 14.99). The sub-title - "The Outlaw Life of Charlie Mitten: Manchester United's penalty king" - reveals more, as well as linking the book to a club whose name should encourage the sales it deserves.

Mitten was part of Old Trafford's first great side after the Second World War. He broke with the feudal set-up of English football to go and play for a millionaire football baron in Colombia. An adventure story of sorts, it is also a critique of the insularity endemic in these islands.

The cover of Dream On: A Year in the Life of a Premier League Club, by Alex Fynn and H Davidson (Simon & Schuster, pounds 14.99), shows a wall on which names like Greaves, Jennings and Chivers are spray- painted. The shot conjures up Tottenham's past, inviting comparisons with Hunter Davies' seminal study, The Glory Game.

Although it is strong on the acrimony between Terry Venables and Alan Sugar, as well as on the politics of the Premier League and the unfettered commercialism of the big clubs, the book seldom emulates its predecessor's ability to be a fly on the dressing-room wall. Once bitten, Spurs were obviously twice shy.

Derick Allsop's Kicking in the Wind (Headline, pounds 14.99) succeeds rather better in getting "inside" a club the way Hunter Davies did. That the club is terminally unsuccessful Rochdale rather than some Premiership plc should not deter potential purchasers. Allsop turns a year in their humdrum existence into a gripping soap opera, whose plots and personnel will engage even those who have never visited the town.

I Think I'll Manage, by psychologist George Sik (Headline, pounds 15.99) promises insights into the tricks of the managerial trade. Unless you count Dave Bassett staging Christmas in August, his interviewees are actually rather short on "tricks". However, the black humour of a precarious profession shines through. What, the author asks Jim Smith, keeps you at it? "The mortgage," he replies.

Talking of the domestic life of managers, or the lack of it, one of the many appealing stories in Return of the Little Villan, by Brian Little with Peter White (Sports Projects, pounds 11.95) concerns the day the gas man called to find the Aston Villa supremo home alone for once. Little had to ask him to come back when his wife was in. He had no idea where the meter was.

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