Book of the Month

February 2018

Scotland - Glory, Tears & Souvenirs
By Robert Marshall and David Stuart

Pitch Publishing
Hardback, 210 pages, £19.99
Reviewed by Kevin Whitcher

David Stuart and Robert Marshall co-founded the ‘Scotland Epistles, Bullshit & Thistles’ fanzine, and the two have combined again to produce this marvellous book, which tells the story, in the authors’ own words about ‘the trials and tribulations associated with supporting our national football team.’
The book is effectively split into two sections. The first covers Scotland’ s participation in the major international tournaments (or at least their qualifying campaign) dating back to the 1950 World Cup. And despite neither of the authors witnessing a Scotland match in the flesh before the 1970s, they have researched their history thoroughly, which forms the basis for their personal relaying of the material. This is no straightforward reference book. Programme covers, match tickets and postcards are among the illustrative material.
The other section is titled ‘A to Z’ , and is a fascinating potpourri of collectables and trivia. Here’ s the menu for the letter A to provide an example: ABC Cards ‘the Scottish collection, Abandoned and Postponed Matches, Advertising and Publicity, Ageing Process ‘Players and Supporters, Anfield ‘77, Anglo Confectionary, Annuals (The Scottish Annual Annals). To accompany the excellent writing style, the illustrations are a thing of wonder.
There is no question this is a labour of love, although perhaps for the most part unrequited, but no less passionate for that. Let me select a few personal highlights. A Bevy of Beermats, a set of 23 with different players produced for the 1974 World Cup Finals, Comic Capers and Collectables, with Scotland themed covers on the likes of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ in the run-up to the 1978 World Cup, and ‘Scorcher and Score’ .
There are entries for Fanzines, the Kirin Cup (an international tournament Scotland actually won in Japan back in 2006 ‘with limited edition replica shirts being produced in celebration!), Ally MacLeod, Monty Gum football cards, Nearly Men, Panini, Me and the Wilderness Years and Ticket Stubs & Prices. All are covered with humour, humility and knowingness.
This, ultimately, is a celebration of a nation that dared to believe, get a pint of lager poured over its head and come back for more, its faith not affected one iota. And as such, the style of writing produced by the authors is a perfect fit. This excellent book will be enjoyed by any football fan, Scottish or otherwise.

January 2018

The Fall of the House of FIFA
by David Conn

Yellow Jersey Press
Hardback 328 pages ££16.99
Reviewed by Richard Rutherford

This is a comprehensive history of FIFA which was founded in 1904 to unite the football playing world, its first congress stating that ‘No person should be allowed to arrange matches for personal profit’ . A little over a century later, a judge in a Brooklyn courtroom called FIFA a ‘Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organisation (RICO), a term originally used to describe the mafia.
Money poured into the coffers of FIFA as numerous World Cups created great wealth. For forty years Joao Havelange and then Sepp Blatter presided over a FIFA now plagued with scandals, dawn raids, FBI investigations, accusations of money laundering, bribery, tax-evasion and vote buying that came to define an organisation whose purpose was to foster international cooperation of the beautiful game.
Davis Conn, three times UK Sports Reporter of the Year, chronicles this remarkable history and staggering scale of corruption. All the central characters at the heart of the organisation are investigated. He puts the allegations to Blatter in an extended interview; although there is no evidence to show that Blatter took bribes, the corruption took place under his leadership. The author also describes how and why England has lost its place at the top table of football influence.
Franz Beckenbauer is the subject of one of the book’ s most explosive chapters, whilst one might feel some sympathy for Michel Platini who appears to have been rather naive as opposed to willingly corrupt when he stepped up from UEFA into a FIFA career.
Extremely well researched and well presented this is not an entirely easy read, I found the author’ s style rather long winded. Nevertheless, Conn manages to give the reader a summary of FIFA’ s hugely complex fifty year web of corruption in around 300 readable pages, which is no mean feat.

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