Book of the Month

December 2017

The 146 Football Clubs to have played in the Football League
by Paul Kember

Soccer Books Ltd
156 pages £14.99
Reviewed by Phil Brough

Paul Kember’s book is enterprising and will be essential for lovers of statistics. Information for each of the 146 clubs to have appeared in the Football League since 1888 includes the seasons spent in each division, players to have reached 400 appearances and those that scored 100 goals.
The author has excluded some competitions which are regarded as ‘official’ in some quarters but has included expunged Club records, the British Championship games in 1933 and 1963 and the matches played in the weeks before war was declared in 1939.
We learn that both Manchester United and Liverpool have 26 players who have passed 400 appearances, Everton have spent the most seasons in the top Division (114), Ryan Giggs has made the most appearances for one club followed by John Trollope at Swindon (51 players listed), Dixie Dean scored the most goals for one club (55 listed) and Lincoln City have played the most seasons without reaching the Top Division.
One stat that has not been seen anywhere before, according to the author, is that Brian Talbot holds the record for the most senior appearances in one season – 70 for Arsenal in 1979/80. Talbot was unaware of this until the author told him and promptly returned the compliment by writing the Foreword in the book. I am not giving too much away; the book is packed with similar records.
Forest Green Rovers became the 147th member of the League and the author acknowledges this on an inside page. Why this could not be altered in the title is puzzling – perhaps there was some rush to get the book in the shops. Reading through the book is a trip down memory lane, some brilliant players, some real characters, goals and performances, red cards and lost tempers but laughs too, a ‘must have’ book, I would suggest.

November 2017

Sir Matt Busby, The Definitive Biography
by Patrick Barclay

Ebury Press hardback
384 pp £20
Reviewed by Kevin Whitcher

The author’s research for this biography is exhaustive, and interviews with players such as Denis Law, Pat Crerand, Alex Stepney, David Sadler and John Aston bring first hand testimony to the story of Busby’s years at Old Trafford.
Before that though, we find out about Sir Matt’s early life. Born into a family of Irish immigrants, forced to leave their home country due to famine, he was born and raised in a Scottish mining town. His father worked down the mine, his mother at the pithead, but tragedy entered the young Busby’s life when his father died during the First World War, on the Western Front in 1917, to leave the eight-year-old as the eldest male in the household.
Busby’s home was a crumbling two room cottage without inside taps or sinks; his outlook on life was formed amid the deprivation of his early years, and working down the mine, a job he greatly disliked. He took part in the General Strike, at the same time, playing football at weekends, improving enough to be scouted by Manchester City. The story moves on to Busby’s playing career at City, as a wing-half, winning an FA Cup and international honours for Scotland.
Of course, he was to achieve far more as a manager, and it is strange now to think that what he might have achieved at Liverpool, who offered him the job of assistant manager. But United secured Busby by offering him complete control over team affairs and a five-year contract starting on £15 a week. The details of Busby’s career before the development of the ill-fated Babes are less familiar, but no stone has been left unturned by the author, and he sheds fresh light on the manager as an innovator.
The author believes that Busby was more tactically aware and astute than many have previously given him credit for, drilling the team, into playing in a certain style. If the first team were set up in a particular way, then so was the reserve team. We see how Busby was a master of squad rotation, decades before anyone else considered it a necessity.
Barclay argues that he was even more radical in his rotation than Ferguson and that he had many similarities with Ferguson, including a belief in wingers, in youth development, and not wanting to throw money at a problem that could be solved within. The coverage of the Munich disaster is exhaustive, sensitive and moving. It is of course one of football history’s great unknowns as to whether Sir Matt’s team would have prevented Real Madrid’s 1958 triumph were it not for the tragedy.
Busby’s flaws are also covered. The author highlights that although he was personally generous, he could be unreasonably parsimonious with the club’s money, and his treatment of some of his managerial successors did not reflect well on him, a trap Ferguson has managed to avoid.
Well written, with diligent detail as well as maintaining a distinct flow, with plenty of insight and anecdote I recommend this book highly and it is sure to be of interest to many football fans outside of Manchester United’s ranks.

15th November 2017

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