Peter Matthews reviews more of the latest sporting-themed books to hit the bookshelves of Gloucestershire…
So here we go again. After a pause for the summer we now prepare to deal with the oncoming rush of sports books in the run up to Xmas.
We’ll start with rugby and cricket. Later we’ll try and make sense of the mass of football books, which traditionally come out at this time of the year.
The Rugby World Cup has now ended and most England fans will have just about finished crying into their beer after the heartbreak of losing in the final. Three books to review here – firstly a factual book looking at the teams – the ITV Guide to the Rugby World Cup priced at £9.99 and published by Carlton. This is a fairly thin and, to be honest, basic guide, not much better than some of the supplements produced for free by newspapers. Whilst it is well produced, I would give it a miss.
Much better are two history books. Alison Kerwin’s book – Thirty Bullies, The History of The Rugby World Cup (Simon and Schuster £17.99) is a terrific read, with a focus on personalities and stories rather than a factual account of each game. She is particularly good on some of the more obscure stories of the World Cups, e.g. the coup in Fiji just before the 1987 World Cup. Highly recommended.
Also recommended would be Rucking and Rolling – 60 Years of International Rugby by Peter Bills (Carlton £25). This is a very well illustrated history of the game, with plenty of great pictures; less scholarly than Kerwin’s book but a good read for people who want to be reminded of some of the great games and characters of the last sixty years.
The summer flood deprived us this year of the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, and with it the chance for me to review on air the latest cricket books during the tea interval. So, with the end of one of the most exciting county seasons for many years, it seems a good time to review three books from Fairfield Books, a publisher which delights in a focus on county, rather than international cricket.
Stephen Chalke is a very fine writer indeed, and his two latest books do nothing to change that statement. Sadly, Tom Cartwright, The Flame Still Burns (£16) can only be read with the knowledge that Cartwright, with whom Chalke collaborated on the book, died shortly after it was released.
This is a typical Chalke book, well written, with an eye for the unusual story from a bygone era; although one that this reviewer can (just about!) recall. Cartwright had a long and distinguished career; as with all biographies the depth of material is a key contributor to the interest of any book, and the result is a very fine book indeed.
Chalke has also brought out a small paperback book entitled 555 – the story of the stand between Holmes and Sutcliffe at Leyton in 1932. This is in many ways a mystery story rather than a cricket book – the real fascination is in the author’s efforts to try and work out whether the stand was 555 or 554 (it is such an integral part of the book that I will not elaborate here!). The style of the book and the informal light writing is very similar to that of a Gloucestershire icon, Nico Craven. Very enjoyable.
Finally from Fairfield Books is the autobiography of the former Glamorgan cricketer turned TV-presenter Peter Walker (£15): a book that whilst having some interest, perhaps suffers from not having a third party to draw out some of the broader themes of Walker’s cricketing career.
Lastly two books from Cheltenham based SportsBooks. The Encyclopedia of World Cricket by Roy Morgan (£17.99) is an account of the history of cricket across the world – by some way the more interesting sections are those on countries where cricket is less well known as a sport (Fiji, Greece and USA to name but three), whilst Lala Armarnath – Making of a Legend, by his son, Rajender (£16.99) suffers a little from the account being written by a man who clearly adores his subject- not always a good basis for a balanced book.
Finally here are the latest football books and there’s no shortage to choose from, although I do wonder whether there are slightly fewer this year than before – perhaps publishers are getting the message that the market is close to saturation point. Anyway, he is the first selection, with more to follow. As you would expect, it’s a mixed bag……
Let’s start with the big sellers- these are the ones that you will be advertised everywhere and will be readily available at “all good bookshops” (and presumably supermarkets too). Seeing Red (Harper Sport) is the autobiography of Graham Poll, and is a full and frank account of his refereeing career, with a focus on that night in Germany at the 2006 World Cup where he inadvertently booked the same player three times before sending him off.
It is a surprisingly good read, with Poll being honest enough to admit to mistakes made on and off the pitch, although modesty appears to be in short supply!! It is I think better than the other “big seller”, Bobby Charlton’s autobiography “My Manchester United Years” (Headline), where Sir Bobby appears to be more reluctant to “tell it how it was” – I respect his decision to do this, particularly as he is still heavily involved in football, but the result is a blander book than might have been the case.
Blandness is not something that you would ever accuse Neil Warnock of, and despite the fact that Warnock, too, is still very much involved in football, he has chosen to be very forthright in his autobiography “Made in Sheffield” (Hodder and Stoughton). Many people get the short end of his pen, but in particular if you are Gary Megson, Stan Ternent or indeed Graham Poll, you should probably avoid the book. The result is a very entertaining read, perhaps a little guiltily, I really enjoyed the book.
On the subject of Sheffield, it is a shame that in many ways the best of this week’s crop, From Sheffield With Love by Brendan Murphy (SportsBooks), which traces the story of England’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC, will get little publicity or potentially shelf space. It really is a fascinating read, brilliantly researched, about a club whose heyday was well over 100 years ago. Well done to both the author for his research, and also local publisher SportsBooks for having the courage to bring out such a book. I hope it does well.
Another really excellent book is Jim White’s You’ll win nothing with kids (Little, Brown), the story of the author’s experiences running an under fourteens side. It reads at times like a comic novel, and you get really caught up in the trials of Barney, Max, Kal, Lee et al. Very funny and touching, it is a must have for anyone who has run a boys football team.
If that book is funny, the most solemn book of the week is Know the Scores magnum opus The Champions League Yearbook 2007/8. Superbly produced, this is a full account of every goal and game in last seasons Champions League. Copious colour photos break up the statistics but this is one for people who like their football based on hard facts. BBC Books The Premiership in Focus, an account of the first fifteen seasons of the Premiership is also statistical in its outlook, although there is more narrative, which makes it more readable – how quickly those years have gone.
Finally a stocking filler from Carlton Books – Pulled Off at Half Time by Stuart Reeves, a collection of funny football quotes. Many of them will be familiar but there are some new gems in there, including a very funny West Brom song, which means I would still recommend this to anyone seeking something for a football loving relative.