Reviews from When Saturday Comes. If you've liked – or disliked – any of the books, add your comments to those of our reviewers. Follow the link to buy the book from Amazon.


347 GretnaThe rise, fall and rebirth of Gretna football
by Anton Hodge
Chequered Flag, £11.99
Reviewed by Paul Brown
From WSC 347 January 2016

Buy this book


The rise and fall of Gretna FC is one of the most fascinating football stories of recent times. After swapping English non-League for the Scottish Third Division in 2002, the border-town club won three successive promotions, reaching the Premier League and a Scottish Cup final, plus the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds. But, after just six years in League football, the club fell into administration and folded. Then came the rebirth, the tale of which Anton Hodge is well placed to tell, as he was the first chairman of phoenix club Gretna 2008.

347 CovThe inside story of Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup win
by Steve Phelps
Pitch Publishing, £18.99
Reviewed by Ed Wilson
From WSC 347 January 2016

Buy this book


For the relative newcomer to football, the fact of Coventry City’s victory in the 1987 FA Cup final, 3-2 against Spurs in one of the most dramatic games in the history of the competition, may come as a surprise. The longer the club spend in the lower reaches of the League, the more improbable the event seems. For success-starved fans, it has acquired quasi-mythical status, conferring a credibility and pride that the club’s current incarnation fails to provide. In Sky Blue Heroes, Steve Phelps offers a hit of nostalgia for those who witnessed this story unfold, and a detailed account of the triumph for those too young to remember it.

347 Jock1347 Jock2Blue Thunder
The Jock Wallace story
by Jeff Holmes
Pitch Publishing, £17.99

Big Jock
The real Jock Wallace  
by David Leggat
Black & White, £9.99

Reviewed by Ian Plenderleith
From WSC 347 January 2016

Buy Blue Thunder

Buy Big Jock

Jock Wallace was the manager of Rangers from 1972 to 1978, and is revered at Ibrox for leading the club to two trebles that ended a decade of dominance by Jock Stein’s Celtic. In the 1980s he returned for a second, less successful, spell at the club. He is also famous for making his players run endlessly up and down the sands of Gullane, a costal town east of Edinburgh.

347 SamMy autobiography
by Sam Allardyce
Headline, £20
Reviewed by Jon Callow
From WSC 347 January 2016

Buy this book


As a Bolton supporter, I have a fairly uneasy relationship with Sam Allardyce. Without question, he brought my club some of the greatest days in our history, and took us to places I could never have imagined when I was watching him plod through his second spell as a player at Burnden Park in the mid-1980s. Still, there’s something about him I just don’t like.

346 ConroyThe autobiography 
of Terry Conroy
by Terry Conroy
Pitch Publishing, £18.99
Reviewed by Andy Thorley
From WSC 346 December 2015

Buy this book


It’s a reflection on both the career of Gerard “Terry” Conroy and Stoke City (the club with whom he played nearly all his professional football and where he still works part time) that for large parts of the country the title of this book might be apt.

346 ForeverThe days of 
Citizens & heroes
by James Lawton
Wisden, £18.99
Reviewed by Ian Farrell
From WSC 346 December 2015

Buy this book


Manchester City’s dynamic, highly successful but long-underappreciated side of the late 1960s has finally started to become a familiar literary subject over the last decade. The title- and multi-cup-winning team’s brilliance, camaraderie and innovation have been comprehensively dissected in several fan-written books, autobiographies by Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Mike Doyle, individual biographies of genial boss Joe Mercer and charismatic coach Malcolm Allison, and even a novelisation of the managerial relationship.

346 MicA football commentator’s journey
by Ian Crocker
Pitch Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by John Earls
From WSC 346 December 2015

Buy this book


Now in his second spell covering Scottish football for Sky Sports, Ian Crocker’s career is a potentially fascinating story of being one of commentating’s nearly men. Crocker says he was aware of his place in the hierarchy at Sky, in the rung below the channel’s big four commentators, but his defection to the ill-fated Setanta to become their top dog lasted just one season.

346 Wengerby John Cross
Simon & Schuster, £20
Reviewed by David Stubbs
From WSC 346 December 2015

Buy this book


Supporters of one of the Big Four Or Five teams each have different ideas why their club, overbearingly large as it might seem, actually has some core value. For Arsenal, there was once a sense of shame even among their own fans that they were one-nil blaggers who added little to the overall value of the game. That has turned round completely under Arsène Wenger.

Although, as many interviewed by John Cross in this latest biography testify, he is perhaps an even worse loser than Alex Ferguson, Wenger holds fast to what is vaguely described as his “philosophy”, which has traditionally consisted of valuing attack over defence, maintaining aesthetic values rather than grinding out victories, imposing your own style of play rather than merely reacting to your opponents.

This is a source of pride to Arsenal fans but also, increasingly, exasperation, one only partly stemmed by the recent two trophies and a softening of said philosophy. His baffling reluctance to spend available funds has also led to some stormy AGMs, with fans suspicious at the amounts they must today shell out to watch their fitfully aesthetic but too often brittle also-rans.

Mirror journalist Cross is not to able to answer the question of whether Arsenal’s relative lack of spending is down to Wenger himself or the club, who have become complacently happy with their cash cow. From the earliest pages, we know from Cross’s admiring tone towards Wenger not to expect any scathing, incisive critiques of his subject; he is far too valuable a contact in the author’s day job.

He begins with an account of how he visited Pope Francis rather than attend to transfer deadline day, in terms inviting us to marvel at the manager’s spirituality and indifference to the mammon of the modern game. The text is similarly lavished with borderline sycophantic tributes to Wenger’s intellect, erudition and integrity, lest this sometimes thin-skinned man take the slightest offence.

The book, however, does yield some intriguing facets of his time at Arsenal, where he arrived in 1996 to bewilderment from its core of bibulous, hard-bitten professionals, whose careers and habits he turned upside down, generally for their own good. Cross is decent on Wenger’s golden years, and details of the new regimen he instilled, drawing on interviews with ex-players such as John Hartson and Nigel Winterburn.

For a man whose hobby as an escape from watching football is generally assumed to be watching football, Cross reveals one or two fun details about the private Wenger; his interest in politics, and his belief that both communism and capitalism are failed systems; his love and aptitude for dancing, which would probably see him progress a long way on a future series of Strictly, for example. He also reveals less palatable aspects of Wenger, such as his occasionally short way with staff, and his snubbing of Gaël Clichy, or examples of his loss of temper with players, such as the time Nicklas Bendtner was taking the piss out of X Factor: “You think there is something funny about losing?” He also reveals how close Arsenal came to not being able to pay their wage bill during a cash flow crisis in 2004.

While Cross’s prose is not exactly silvery, this is about as revealing an account of Wenger’s career as we’re likely to get in his lifetime.

Buy this book

345 SubThe story of football’s most famous number 12  
by David Fairclough and Mark Platt  
De Coubertin Books, £18.99
Reviewed by Dan Davies
From WSC 345 November 2015

Buy this book


Between making his first team debut in November 1975 and playing his last game for the club in April 1982, David Fairclough made just 92 starts for Liverpool. He was named as substitute, more often than not the only substitute, in a further 137 matches and came off the bench in 62 of them – a club record he currently has the dubious distinction of sharing with Danny Murphy, Vladimir Smicer and Ryan Babel.

If this does not sound like particularly fertile territory for an autobiography, it should be pointed out that 18 of the forward’s 55 goals for the most successful club in Europe at the time were scored as a substitute, the most famous being the winner against Saint-Étienne in the second leg of a European Cup quarter-final at Anfield in 1977, the year Liverpool went on to lift the trophy for the first time.

This happy knack earned the local boy a nickname he came to detest and which defined his career. It is Fairclough’s honest appraisal of the 72 occasions he was an unused substitute, however, which provide the book’s most telling insights. “Even getting a shower brought with it a sense of guilt,” he writes, before admitting that as the years went by and a regular starting spot continued to elude him, he began to think only of himself: “To me, every game Liverpool won, or even played, without me was a slight on my ability and setback for my career.” He maintains that “everyone was out for themselves”, with first team regulars routinely concealing injuries because they feared if they dropped out of the team they might never be able to get back in again.

From the first chapter, it is clear who Fairclough blames for the “sense of resentment” he now feels at the way his career panned out. Bob Paisley is variously described as “cowardly” and “pathetic”, despite Fairclough winning four League titles, two European Cups (one as an unused sub), a UEFA Cup and League Cup under Anfield’s most successful ever manager.

The most vehement criticism for Paisley is reserved for way he broke the news to Fairclough that he would not be figuring in the 1977 FA Cup final, a decision that upset the boyhood Liverpool supporter so much he admits there were times in the game he wasn’t sure he wanted his team to win. The disappointment was compounded by Paisley’s “false promise” that he was being saved for the European Cup final in Rome a few days later. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it moulded me as a person,” Fairclough reflects, “but it certainly instilled a sense of cynicism in me.”

Whether Paisley was right to harbour doubts about Fairclough, who made more appearances for Liverpool’s reserves than he did for the first team, is a moot point. The second half of the book, in which his career peters out in a series of short-lived spells in America, Switzerland, Belgium and the lower reaches of the Football League, is characterised by further criticisms of managers who failed to pick 
him regularly.

The final stop was Wigan Athletic, where he fell out with manager Bryan Hamilton. “You’ve never fulfilled your potential,” said Hamilton as Fairclough walked out of his office. It’s a verdict, Fairclough readily admits, that has haunted him ever since.

Buy this book

345 SecretTips and tactics from the ultimate insider
Guardian Books, £7.99
Reviewed by Roger Titford
From WSC 345 November 2015

Buy this book


We are in the era of 3G pitches and perhaps also 3G football biographies. In the beginning there were gentle offerings such as Goals Galore by Nat Lofthouse which told us who was there but not really how they did it. Then came the grittier school of Eamon Dunphy, Tony Cascarino, Gary Nelson et al who told us both who was there and what it was like, but not at an elevated level in the game and in a milieu that was light years away from today’s Premier League. And now we have the Secret Footballer – an artificial construct I would contend – who purports, credibly enough, to tell us what it’s like today at the top without naming many names.

This is the fourth in the Secret Footballer series or franchise, all allegedly by “the same author”. I have my doubts about that because, like many fans, I have tried to suss the identity from the clues left and hints dropped in previous books and come to the conclusion that the Secret Footballer is a composite character, a screen behind which several can hide. In this volume he even has a mate called the Secret Physio to tell us all about hamstrings and individual training programmes and another, the Secret Psycho, to offer a devastating tip on what to do if you are the fourth penalty taker in a shootout. With this formula the possibilities are as endless as the playing time on a 3G pitch.

Despite this confection I do find the Secret Footballer franchise interesting and valuable as an aid to understanding the environment in which the top players operate nowadays. This volume focuses on the aspects of fitness and playing, with chapters on psychology, formations, nutrition and equipment. Even the chapter entitled “Fashion in football” stays firmly on the pitch with a helpful analysis of the boom and bust in Claude Makélélé-alikes. The examples and arguments are current, covering the decline of 4-4-2 and the 50-50 tackle and a plausible, if mind-boggling, explanation of how Wayne Rooney’s wages are justifiable.

The writing is crisp, slick and businesslike without that edge of awfulness that belongs to the self-help business book genre, and is doubtless helped by the copywriting skills of Guardian Books. While the Secret Footballer is an experienced player I cannot see “him” retiring for a good while yet. Hunter Davies’s The Glory Game (1972) was a classic fly-on-the-wall look at the Spurs team of that era. The dressing-room chatter and the off-the-field personalities of the Premier League player today are more remote to me than that. The Secret Footballer could usefully provide another in the series that deals with all the personal, family, relationship, divorce, money, vendetta, foreign language, agent, commuting and social media pressures that the top player has to deal with – and a full list of what he actually spends all that money on.

Buy this book