It seemed to have everything going for it: unparalleled access to the game's archives and the undivided attention of a writer indisputably out of the First Division. And yet it has fallen uncomfortably between two sets of goalposts. In was unrealistic to expect a bigger version of At the George - one of the best books on the game ever written - although I would happily have settled for that.
The trouble with A People's Game is that, although it is predictably well-written, it does not contain enough of Moorhouse's own vision of the game to satisfy. Conversely, it is not the definitive history of the game which is needed. And, for pounds 20, we should have had a book of coffee- table-bending weight, like the Australian equivalents, considerably more lavishly illustrated than this one.
The best rugby league book of the year is far more specific: Never Before, Never Again by Larry Writer (MacMillan Australia, pounds 22.95 from Sportspages). It is not an original idea to take a celebrated side and follow the lives of its players after the glory fades. It was applied the 1966 England World Cup-winning team, for instance, but the members of the St George sides that won the Sydney Premiership every year from 1956 to 1966 - a record unmatched by anyone, even Wigan - are made for the treatment. Their subsequent fortunes encompass everything from wealth and public office to the gutter, and Writer draws out all the personalities involved in the most vivid fashion. There is more of the authentic flavour of the game here than in a hundred official histories.
Worthy British offerings include Trevor Delaney's fascinating The International Grounds of Rugby League (self-published, pounds 15.95), Cec Thompson's compelling Born on the Wrong Side (Pentland Press, pounds 14.99) and an admirable history of professional rugby in London, Touch and Go by Dave Farrar and Peter Lush with Michael O'Hare (London League Publications, pounds 9).
It has been a productive year in New Zealand, too, particularly for Dean Bell. His Power League, with Richard Becht (Aurum, pounds 14.95) is a superbly illustrated guide to the techniques of the game, while Ultimate Warrior, also with Becht (Gollancz, pounds 15.99), is infinitely more revealing than the average sports biography - especially on the subject of John Dorahy's turbulent season at Wigan. It is a shame it was written too soon to include Bell's own first experience of coaching at Leeds, which would be worth a new chapter in itself.
One of his players there has put his name to Garry Schofield's Rugby League Masterpieces, with Neil Hanson (Sidgwick and Jackson, pounds 20). This is a comprehensive anthology of writing on the game and undoubtedly worth any league nut's attention. There will be some writers like myself pleasantly surprised to have had their doodlings reclassified as masterpieces, but Garry Schofield's Rugby League Potboilers would not sound half as good. Also recommended:
A New Breed Rising by Richard Becht (Harper Sports, pounds 14.95 from Open Rugby); Buff Berry and the Mighty Bongers by Michael Latham (Mike RL Publications, pounds 9.95); James Leythan's Diary by Tom Mather (self-published, pounds 8.99); Rothmans Rugby League Yearbook (Headline, pounds 16.99).Reuse content