Monday, 14 July 2014

Top 5 - A completely idiosyncratic list of football books

Well, that's the World Cup over for another four years and I can already feel the withdrawal symptoms setting in.

It was a fabulous tournament all round, with highlights aplenty.

The shock humbling of the once mighty Spain (a team whose style of play I was never a fan of) seemed to herald a return to a more attacking game all round. Though it was a disappointment Messi and Ronaldo didn't feature more heavily on the score-sheets.

Of those that did, Van Persie's athletic header was a favourite for me. As was the Rodriguez stunner, but my goal of the tourney goes to an Aussie, Tim Cahill, for a volley that was just an incredible piece of skill.

Low points have to be the Brits disappointing showing, of course would like to have seen Scotland there, but in their absence I was backing the England team. The lowest of the low points has to be Suarez's biting incident, shocking beyond belief, but the Uruguay reaction - blaming his actions on an English media conspiracy - was idiotic.

Germany, in the end, were deserved winners - though their keeper should have been red carded for the full-on assault that had eerie echos of Spain 82 when Schumacker recklessly lunged from his six-yard box. Still, great to see the legendary Klose managing to play nearly the whole final and a fitting swansong to see such an outstanding goalscorer go out on a high.

It's the German's 7-1 thrashing of the most disinterested and lacklustre Brazil team I've ever witnessed that will stay with me the most from this World Cup, however. I can't remember watching another match through slitted fingers so much. It was beyond embarrassing. I felt truly uneasy witnessing a side I'd worshipped from boyhood demolished in such fashion. Sad for Brazil, sad for the people who picked up the tab for such an enormously expensive spectacle to be left with those memories.

If, like me you're feeling a little starved of international footy action already then a little distraction might do the trick. Here's another completely idiosyncratic list of football books that I can recommend to while away the hours:

1- Pele: The Autobiography - by Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Does the legendary 'best player of all time' need any introduction? His autobiography has been around for a few years now and it's probably an indication of its quality that the book is still in print. It's a dramatic rags to riches story, littered with all the top names from the top teams, and a fascinating account of his early years in the game right through to the dubious move to Cosmos. There's nice accounts of things like his first bicycle kick and the retelling of the early hopes and dreams of a spirited lover of the beautiful game are priceless.  

2- Blessed - by George Best
The number of books written by, and about, George Best could fill a football stadium but this one is the pick of the crop. Part memoir, part confessional and part autobiographical testimony the book sparkles with Best's wit and wisdom. As quick off the lip as he was on the ball, Best, has an eye for an anecdote and a lovely humorous, self-deprecating way of delivering a tale. All the highlights of the life and loves of El Beatle are there, too, like the time he was asked how many Miss Worlds he'd dated? "Two or three, it would have been more but I stood some of them up!" For me, the greatest player the game has ever produced, blessed beyond belief, indeed.  

3- The Damned United - by David Peace
Forget the Carry On version you've seen on the telly or at the cinema, The Damned United is a damned fine book written by an equally fine writer. If you know British football, then you know it was impossible to ignore Brian Clough. Love him or loath him - and many did, objecting to his blunt-speaking - he was impossible to ignore. His achievements at Nottingham Forrest look like the stuff of fantasy league these days but this book doesn't reach that point in his past. It's his ill-fated time at Leeds, taking over from the dearly-loved Don Revie for a mere 44 days that Peace documents in the kind of warts and all way that only a near Shakespearean character of Clough's stature is fit to fill. 

4- The Lone Rangers - by Tom Maxwell
Edinburgh-writer Maxwell is well-known as the author of the recent football book, The Fabulous Baker Boys, but this earlier book is fast becoming a classic of the genre. As a committed Berwick Rangers fan, Maxwell, knows all about the highs and lows of the lower leagues. Interestingly, Berwick are the only English team to play in the Scottish league, however, and display a fiercely competitive streak, backed by a committed following. The book retells the team's story of the last hundred years, with cameo appearances for a host of household names whose early careers touched on the Lone Rangers. The Jock Wallace episodes are as entertaining a read as I've come across in a footy book, but you can expect similar from the likes of Gordon McQueen, Ally McCoist and Gary Linekar.

5- Scotland '74: A World Cup Story - by Richard Gordon
As a Scotland fan any retelling of our nation's exploits will be beset with mixed emotions. For all the highs, the lows can be heart-crushing. For those of us reveling in the glory days of old when World Cup qualification seemed like a foregone conclusion this book will be meat and drink. All the greats are there: Law, Bremner, a young Kenny Dalglish, Lorimer, and the plug-toothed Jaws, aka Joe Jordan. Forget about Archie Gemmill's exquisite goal in Argentina '78 or David Narey's thunderbolt in Spain '82 (it wisnae a toe-poke) the tournament where it looked like the Scots could do no wrong was West Germany '74. Of course, we did do wrong in the end, it's Scotland we're talking about here, but what a story we had to tell. Thrilling, immersive and packed with the stuff of revelry; and with a very nice foreword by Gordon Strachan as well.