Left Foot Forward – Garry Nelson

The sheer amount of dull football autobiographies on the market is staggering, and most are beyond bland and utterly predictable.  Nelson’s effort is different as he never attained the millions or star status, and the book is much the better for that.

A journeyman professional, Nelson played for lower league teams throughout his career but is appreciative of his position in sport, and the wider context of life. He’s aware that he is living a dream many never come close to achieving.

Told in a diary format over a whole year (the 94/95 season), the author finds himself in a precarious position, at the tail end of his career. He isn’t expected to be a first team start, his contract runs out at the end of the year, injuries are a worry, and younger players are challenging for his position.

The fans applauding  the neat one-two, the snap shot going close from twenty-odd yards, don’t stop to consider the man who on a bad night, thinking his first-class career is almost at its end, lies awake at night worrying about his mortgage.

As carpools are set up to get to training and to save the player’s petrol costs , the weighing up of the risks of declaring themselves fit too early after an injury is an all too real and worrying problem, and the wider problems of the sport are discussed, this is a fascinating look back at a sport which has changed so much off the pitch whilst remaining relatively unchanged on it. Continue reading “Left Foot Forward – Garry Nelson”

23 Sweet FAs – Andy Sloan

51LY55fxBkL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_A student joke became reality when Andy Sloan embarked with his football table on a footballing odyssey which would see him shaking hands with the Iranian national team and sitting down for the World Cup final with footballing legend Pele.

Having drawn a route on a world map and written to the football associations of the 23 countries through which the line of travel passed, Andy set out with the intention of getting the table onto the pitches of the great stadiums of each country and interacting with the local people through the common currency of football.

Bursting with enthusiasm, football histories and fascinating trivia 23 Sweet FAs proves that cultural differences is no barrier when it comes to the beautiful game.

I know I recently wrote a football/travel book review but I felt the need to add another so quickly as it felt like a breath of fresh air, not only for celebrating the game but also because it has a certain zest for life which is infectious and makes the book highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Right from page one, Sloan’s passion for football shines through, his madcap adventure, which he quantifies as the inherent Britishness of doing something adventurous for absolutely no reason reinforces the idea that through the shared love of the global game, it can transcend not only language differences but also cultural barriers.  Over and over again through the pages there is a sense of togetherness, of a local language and for a global family.  That may sound a little glib but beyond the differences in politics and religion and so forth, all it takes is a simple set of rules and a round ball to encourage togetherness.

The innocence of the idea tp walk into the national HQ’s of football associations and play a game on the table, together with the responses, or lack thereof from the FAs really does underline how distant the sport has become from the fans that support it, especially in Europe, it’s a strange setup, keeping the loyal masses away from a shared love. The table is an attempt to cut through the bureaucracy and seriousness (some may argue that that is professionalism) and bring the sport back to those who just love the entertainment factor in its pure form. Continue reading “23 Sweet FAs – Andy Sloan”

The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss

Castel-Maine-XXXXIn the summer of 1996, in a tiny, impoverished town deep in the remote heart of southern Italy, a sporting miracle took place.  The footballers of Castel di Sangro (population: 5000) won promotion to Serie B, the division directly below the most glamorous league in world football.  In little more than a decade, the team had risen from the lowest depths of regional amateur football to within touching distance of Baggio and Batistuta.

Feeling something of a football curio himself – an American who understood and loved the game – Joe Mcginniss followed their fortunes throughout their first remarkable season in the big time.  Populated by characters only the passionate, frenetic, absurd world of sport can produce, The Miracle of Castel di Sangro dramatically reveals football’s limitless potential for magic, wonder and improbable romance.

For those of you not into football don’t leave just yet, for this book is an opportunity to not only learn the basic rules of the game but also to experience the magical side of the game, those rare, special moments when teams move beyond what is expected of them and provide the jaded public with some romance and an underdog to cheer for.

To misuse the sporting cliché, this was a book of two halves, on the one hand the reader will get to follow a small team as they fight to survive in a notoriously competitive league and on the other you have the author’s voice which didn’t take very long to annoy me.

when picking the book up, I was slightly bothered by the line in the blurb that seemingly assured us that although the author was American, he understood the game.  I know this book was written in the year of Major League Soccer’s inaugural season but it seems a little worrying that the publisher has to go to lengths to assure us the author knows what he’s on about, surely the quality of the writing should speak for itself?

Football fans are a passionate breed and McGinniss certainly seems passionate, although his short list of games watched before embarking on the project isn’t impressive, it is pleasant to hear the story about how somebody fell in love with the sport.  Unfortunately as the book progresses he seems to think he has an innate understanding of the game and of the team, even having the temerity to ask the manager why he doesn’t play with a second striker or a certain formation. Continue reading “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss”

Field (Mill) of Dreams

I decided to renew my solitary quest to ‘do things’ at the weekend and this time I went to the first football match of the season.  Naturally as any football fan will tell you, it’s a time of hope, new players in, youngsters brought through to the squad and all is good.  It’s a time of confidence where a positive spin can be put on most things and thoughts of a good season seem realistic, in short it’s a window in which to hope before the inevitable disappointments.

The Saturday weather was glorious helping make it the perfect way to kick off he season and coupled with the sexy new passing style that we have adopted gave the day an added anticipation, I savoured that group feeling like the smell of freshly cut grass or the scent of the first barbecue of the summer.  I started making copious notes on my phone as I have forgotten my notebook and I sadly found that I had lost everything between the stadium and home, another reason why books are better, strangely all my poor attempts at photography came back home unscathed.

Thumb bombing on the festivities as fans slowly start to arrive in replica shirts that mirror the Summer’s day.

Topically for this post, it was announced last week that Field Mill (to give the stadium its proper name not the name of a sponsor One Call we now have) is the oldest professional football ground in the world, being used since 1861 and is second only to Sandy Gate Road (in Sheffield) as the oldest football ground on the planet by a year.  With such heritage coupled with the traditional feeling of hope, it would have been rude not to come and experience the atmosphere again, something I haven’t done for a few years. Continue reading “Field (Mill) of Dreams”

Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy – Tim Moore

51xJGpmh4ILTwelve years after Tim Moore toiled round the route of the Tour de France, he senses his achievement being undermined by the truth about ‘Horrid Lance’. His rash response is to take on a fearsome challenge from an age of untarnished heroes: the notorious 1914 Giro d’Italia.

History’s most appalling bike race was an ordeal of 400-kilometre stages, cataclysmic night storms and relentless sabotage – all on a diet of raw eggs and red wine. Of the 81 who rolled out of Milan, only eight made it back.

Committed to total authenticity, Tim acquires the ruined husk of a gearless, wooden-wheeled 1914 road bike, some maps and an alarming period outfit topped off with a pair of blue-lensed welding goggles.

What unfolds is the tale of decrepit crock trying to ride another up a thousand lonely hills, then down them with only wine corks for brakes. From the Alps to the Adriatic, the pair steadily fall to bits, on an adventure that is by turns bold, beautiful and recklessly incompetent.

Any book that features a Brit abroad, in a country that has the audacity to have its own language is always going to be an amusing read and with Moore only learning certain stock phrases there are plenty of chance to cringe on his behalf.

Anybody who has watched one of cycling’s Grand Tours cannot fail to be impressed by the endurance of such athletes.  Yet with so much negative coverage of a sport blighted by drugs, the author’s choice to chronicle a time when there was not only real suffering but also plenty of sabotage and other nefarious antics is an interesting one.

You don’t need to know anything about the Giro or cycling in general, there are a light smattering of terms and famous riders and also some technical bike talk but that doesn’t go on much after the first few chapters.  The workings of a bike are key to understanding the sheer scale of the endeavour but there is nothing to make the book feel impenetrable, .  It’s an honouring of competitors lost past, a true odyssey in sporting achievement, that deserve more than to be relegated to the history books. The author infuses an atmosphere of nostalgia for a bygone age in a country on the eve of World War One as well as giving a sense of freedom as he and we, the reader follow in those  wheels of last century.

The sadistic in us humans always comes to the fore when enjoying another’s suffering in pursuit of a strange, self-imposed goal and the inept and shambling nature of the adventure makes it an even more endearing one.  These sorts of crazy challenges do have their appeal, though most of us are saner and prefer to let others have the privilege of completing it.  The more woefully – yet delightfully – unprepared for the hardships suffered, the better, it is probably not surprising that I would love to do something along these lines. Continue reading “Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy – Tim Moore”

Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics – Jonathan Wilson

510zkI4wWDLFrom the heated pub debate to moving the salt and pepper across the dining table, discussions about football are part of modern life.  Here Jonathan Wilson shows how tactics spread around the world:  how the South Americans shrugged off colonial order to add their own finesse to the people’s game;  how the Europeans harnessed individual technique into a team structure.  Gradually a marauding five up front became inverted, to the point where one up front is not uncommon.  Inverting the Pyramid is not only a fascinating account of changing football tactics, but also a gripping read for anyone interested in the sport.

My inner geek was thoroughly satisfied by this book, I often find myself straddling the fine line of observance, between the abstract and reality when it comes to the shape of football teams.  I sometimes think I look a little too deeply into a lot of things but this book encourages the studying of the minutiae of player position in relation to each other.

Part of football’s enduring fascination is that it is a holistic game, that the slightest change in one part of the pitch can have unexpected and radical  effects elsewhere.

As well as being a who’s who of some of the most famous and innovative coaches and players of the sport of foots, it is also a fascinating and stimulating look at the diffusion of ideas and subsequent changing of the game throughout different cultures.  In this global world it is interesting to show how ideas seeped through into the fabric of nations, when only the best stuck, unlike the viral videos and such of today.

Football is art, a much used political device and also a decent look at how cultures approach life, imprinting in onto the way they play the game.  You can learn a lot from a country by its play, whether it is the aesthetically pleasing…or Greece.  The structure of the book moves forward from the beginnings of the sport, making it easy to pick your prefered subject matter.  There are digressions but this structure allows you to navigate to areas and names of interest. Is this one more for the fan?  Admittedly it is…but that’s not to say that there isn’t something for everybody, Continue reading “Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics – Jonathan Wilson”

The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper – Jonathan Wilson

Shoe‘Aloof, solitary, impassive, the crack goalie is followed in the streets by entranced small boys. He vies with the matador and the flying aces, an object of thrilled adulation. He is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender.’  It’s safe to say the goalkeeper hasn’t always been a team player. In THE OUTSIDER, Jonathan Wilson traces the sometimes dangerous intellectual and literary preoccupations of the keeper, and looks at how the position has secured a certain existential cool, as well as taking a deep tactical and technical look at the history of goalkeeping. There has been the odd, minor work on goalkeeping in the past, but nothing like this in scope or depth.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, the complex thoughts of your fellow humans are a thing of intrigue.  The psychology of the person who wishes to take on the least thankful position in a football team – or in any role – is always going to fascinate and need a deeper understanding.

The Goalkeeper is the lonely man on the team,  who spends more time waiting to be involved than anything, blamed when things go wrong and given less credit than he deserves when things go right…it is no wonder that people back in the annals of football assumed that anybody wishing to keep goal was either ‘mad or queer’.  This perception of goalkeepers has held on down the ages, do these people really conform or are they a different breed all together?

Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabakov, Pope John Paul II, Evelyn Waugh, Arthur Conan Doyle and Niels Bohr (won the Nobel Prize in physics) were all goalkeepers which perhaps underlines how interesting the position can be and perhaps also inspires intelligent thought.  I should add that Sylvester Stallone in Escape to Victory is perhaps the most awkward goalkeeper ever but it is worth a watch as a decent film in its own right..

Wilson’s choice history of the goalkeeper is a fascinating look into not only an evolving sport but also a position that is a lot more complex then just stopping the ball go in.  Within the books pages is chronicled a look at the progression of the body shape and technique of ‘keeping as well as what cultural differences have contributed to positional techniques and so on. Continue reading “The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper – Jonathan Wilson”

World in a Cup


“We didn’t underestimate them. They were just a lot better than we thought.” – Bobby Robson after playing Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup.

I promise not to do too many world cup posts as I know a lot of you probably aren’t to concerned with the final destination of the trophy, however it would be rude of me not to stick in a bit of football speak as a huge wodge of the world’s population will be obsessed by the on field antics for a whole month.

In fact I do love the getting together of nations, the hopes and dreams, the history, stories, individual memories and of course the opening ceremony.  It is a feast that will hopefully be worth the four year wait and will be another way to bring us bloggers even closer together.

For the next few weeks I am aiming to do a post each week on a football book (or perhaps individual fascinating story if inspiration strikes) as well as carrying on with my usual reviews, thoughts and possibly something a bit different if I get the inspiration.

I am hoping to present these books in a way that may possibly interest the non fan…I don’t mean to presume that I can entice you to pick up the book yourself, that would be a bonus but is possibly a little to like wishful thinking.

What I really want to attempt, is to show an aspect of the game perhaps not thought about by the casual or non fan that may persuade you to enjoy the game with a different view.  Unsurprisingly the books I will review will be more to do with the theory and perspective of the game rather than autobiographies and such that will have limited appeal. Continue reading “World in a Cup”

Seasonal Offering

Love it or loathe it, Football of the English variety is an epic journey, a nine month jaunt that promises so much and delivers good fortune to the lucky few.  I know a lot of you probably don’t follow the football and I don’t blame you as most seasons the flagship of our game the Premier League isn’t half as entertaining as it should be, especially compared to the divisions below.


What captured my thought processes in this instance was the way it was summed up on The Football League Show on Sunday morning.  Picture the scene, it’s the last match of the season for 72 teams across three divisions, it’s been long, arduous, thrilling and challenging all at the same time.  and on that Sunday last each division had set up some fascinating duels between teams looking to avoid the drop or make it to the play off matches for the right to join the automatically promoted teams.

The football fan is not to be envied, following a team through thick and then, travelling for hundreds of miles to miserable places like Bolton only to stand in the cold and rain of a Tuesday winter’s night, when their team typically loses and they have to then travel back  through the night for work the next morning.  It is a tortuous life, one of hopes and dreams for a season constantly adjusted as it runs its course. Continue reading “Seasonal Offering”

Football Programmes

It seems I that have gained an unhealthy and unnoticed – until this morning – obsession with hoarding carrier bags but that is beside the point.  I know football programmes probably won’t interest many of you but I would argue they are more than just a sporting item.

Every week hundreds of clubs take to the pitch for the entertainment of the masses and as ritual dictates, a programme must be bought, a souvenir of the day which is as necessary as all those other superstitions that fans do to make sure that their club wins.


Some of these habits are of course weird or just obsessive such as wearing the same underwear thus termed the ‘lucky pants’, not shaving whilst your team is on a good run, eating food in the same place at the same time for every home match, the list goes on and that’s not to mention the players’ idiosyncracies…

I have a liking for old programmes, I pick them  up randomly if I see them, the chance of ever getting the same one twice is extremely minute as there are over a centuries worth to collect from hundreds of teams who roughly each play (with league, friendlies and various cups) a minimum of 50 games per season. Continue reading “Football Programmes”

%d bloggers like this: