THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Reviews from When Saturday Comes. Follow the link to buy the book from Amazon.

 

343 HigginbothamMy life inside football
by Danny Higginbotham
Trinity Mirror, £16.99
Reviewed by Andy Thorley
From WSC 343 September 2015

Buy this book

 

There was always a lot to like about Danny Higginbotham. As a fan, he was a player that you warmed to because there were never any half measures. He seemed to love football, and always gave the impression that he rather enjoyed playing it. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Rise of the Underdog begins right at the end of his career, when in a desire to get his buzz for the game back he pitches up at his hometown team of Altrincham. He’s honest about his retirement – as refreshingly he is throughout the book – and basically, he just hasn’t got the heart anymore.

It’s not meant as a criticism of either the player or the book to call both him and it workmanlike. It’s a tale of a kid on the estates who has a little bit of talent (with admirable self-deprecation he claims his brother was a better footballer), and supportive parents who nurture and to an extent bully their offspring until he gets a break at Manchester United.

This working-class ethos is shown in a perhaps unremarkable career that doesn’t quite hit the heights. By his own admission Higginbotham was never a top player. He’s also one that evidently still feels a touch insecure, refusing to play for a United team in one of those “legends” style six-a-side tournaments as he doesn’t feel he belongs in such company.  

It’s moments like that which lift this tome from the usual humdrum hinterland of “banter with the lads” and at its best Rise of the Underdog is very good indeed. The interesting stuff usually comes when Higginbotham faces losing everything, such as when on loan in Belgium he is given a lifetime ban – wrongly – or when he prints extracts from his own diaries after the injury that essentially brings to an end his top-level career and robs him of a chance to play in the FA Cup final when at Stoke. Poignantly he admits to jealousy at his team-mates being at Wembley. Things end on a happy note, when he’s given an unexpected opportunity to play for Gibraltar thanks to family connections, and the moving account of what that meant to the country is excellent.

Interspersed with this are some genuinely funny passages about life under Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane, as well as a bizarre team meeting at Southampton which rather shows the relationship between Harry Redknapp and Clive Woodward in a different light to the media portrayal.

While you could never call it an explosive blockbuster – there is very little in the way of controversy here and even less about his personal life – Higginbotham does name names when he needs to. He’s also prepared to give his opinions on modern football in general and the academy system in particular. The biggest compliment you can pay Rise of the Underdog is that it’s better than you thought it was going to be. In that respect it’s exactly like its author. 

Buy this book

343 Exposedby Arild Stavrum
Freight Books, £14.99
Reviewed by Mark Sanderson
From WSC 343 September 2015

Buy this book

 

Perhaps the biggest criticism of ex-footballers working in the media today is that they don’t provide nearly enough insight into what life as a professional footballer is really like. If former Norway and Aberdeen striker Arild Stavrum’s football crime novel is anything to go by then that’s just as well.

Having played for eight clubs in several different countries, as well as working as a manager over a five-year period, Stavrum can offer a telling insight into the various goings on when a player moves clubs. In the book’s case those details tend to involve vast amounts of corruption.

Stavrum’s writing career began while still a player in his early 20s when the local paper asked him to write a column. This, his second novel, but his first to be printed in English, is based upon the murder of the most powerful man in Norwegian football: agent Arild Golden – a man whose ruthless pragmatism compels him to use any means to justify his desired ends. Golden has no moral objection to exploiting teenage African footballers and manipulating his way to earning hugely disproportionate margins on the player sales he negotiates.

Although he spent a few seasons at Pittodrie at the turn of the century, Stavrum’s critique is very clearly aimed at his home country, although the themes of ambition, greed, corruption and jealousy are universal. The murder has already happened as the book begins. Golden’s corrupt ways are revealed in a series of flashbacks, well demonstrated in his dealings with (a clearly fictitious) Everton chairman James Stirling, who he refers to privately as “Mr Gastric Bypass”. The agent’s hand in a particular transfer is strengthened considerably by incriminating photographs he has of Stirling with several Ukrainian women who turn out to be under-age. Golden blackmails Stirling to buy a certain player, as well as paying the full fee to a private bank account in Guernsey.

The plot brings together a young TV sports reporter and a recently retired former Ajax player,  Steinar Brunsvik, who try to solve the case. The reason for Brunsvik’s retirement is the source of his motivation to uncover the killer. In the hands of a lesser writer this may have sounded as far-fetched as Brunsvik’s new career as a lawyer, but the characters are so well sketched out, and the dialogue so convincing, you put the book down trying to remember where you saw him play.

Stavrum excels in creating an environment highlighting the leading characters’ growing paranoia, but he doesn’t hang about: the book moves in rapid-fire chapters that manage to address homophobia, racially divided changing rooms, doping, the culture of celebrity, and what it is to be a single parent, in an insightful way. The book is brought to a satisfying conclusion; the only negative aspect is that it might trigger a trend for publishers to go looking for ex-footballers to become novelists. Stavrum has earned the right to be described as the latter and the book deserves a wide readership.

Buy this book

343 LoveItLiverpool’s unforgettable 1983-84 season
by Tony Evans
Penguin, £9.99
Reviewed by Jonathan Paxton
From WSC 343 September 2015

Buy this book

 

On paper Liverpool’s 1984 treble winners were a surprisingly ordinary side. Even with Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and an occasionally fit Kenny Dalglish, this was a team in transition under new manager Joe Fagan, one that could lose 4-0 at Coventry and in which Michael Robinson could hold down a regular place. Tony Evans, a Liverpool fan who attended nearly all the games that season, holds them in higher regard than the statistically superior and more skilful sides of either 1979 or 1988 and his adoration shines through, if sometimes a little too brightly.

An experienced journalist, at the Times until recently, Evans writes from the perspective of an ardent fan of both club and city. The book’s title (an obscure Chris Rea track, apparently popular only in the Anfield dressing room) and the cover artwork suggest a nostalgic, feel good story but despite the team’s success, attendances are low and the city is struggling economically. Some interesting social and political asides featuring Derek Hatton and Margaret Thatcher are touched upon but the book’s focus never strays far from football.

Through interviews with team members, we find a mainly happy squad but a social group with a heavy drinking culture that new signings and reserve players find daunting. The much eulogised bootroom is presented as dingy with paint flaking off the walls and around the training ground there is an atmosphere of intimidation that sometimes approaches bullying. New boy Craig Johnston is ridiculed for his diet and fitness regime and, in one of the book’s most interesting sections, his failure to hold down a first-team place pushes him close to a breakdown.  Meanwhile, Alan Kennedy’s happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be what cements his position in the side and Fagan struggles to shape a midfield to cover the clumsy defender without ever considering a replacement left-back.

Fagan himself remains an elusive enigma, mainly because the manager was so private and reluctant to speak to the media. His is clearly respected by his players and a good motivator, yet we don’t get the impression he had the wit or tactical insight to compare with his predecessors Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Even through quotes from his diary we struggle to get to know Fagan the man. Entries such as “Well the lads did it, each one deserved a medal” suggest that he was dull and unimaginative.

Evans does tell a good story and undoubtedly loves his subject. Sometimes though rambling quotes from players can be overlong and struggle to explain a point clearly, and when the squad travel to Denmark the journalist in Evans can’t resist a Hans Christian Andersen/fairytale analogy. At points it reads like a hagiography of the team, particularly Souness who kicks and punches his way through matches but is lifted to the status of demi-god by the author. Like Souness, this book may not be universally popular outside of Anfield but it stands as an interesting if rose-tinted review of what was a very successful team.

Buy this book

342 DysonMy autobiography
by Terry Dyson with 
Mike Donovan
Pitch Publishing, £18.99
Reviewed by Alan Fisher
From WSC 342 August 2015

Buy this book

 

“The game is about glory,” proclaim the hoardings on all sides of White Hart Lane. Before it was plundered by the marketing department, Terry Dyson was one of the creators of Tottenham Hotspur’s proud heritage. In 1961 Spurs became the first team since 1897 to win the Double, with 11 straight league wins at the start of the season. Two years later they were the first British team to win a European trophy, the Cup-Winners Cup. Dyson is one of the lesser-known stars of a team managed by Bill Nicholson that included Danny Blanchflower, the indomitable Dave Mackay, Cliff Jones, Bobby Smith and perhaps the best of them all, “the Ghost” John White (who was killed by lightning on a golf course in 1964).

Born in Scarborough where his father was a well-known but impoverished jockey, Dyson was spotted in 1954 playing for the army during his national service. Over the next decade he made 244 appearances for Spurs as a hard-working little left-winger, scoring 68 goals including two in his finest match, the 5-1 Cup-Winners Cup final victory.

Much of the book is understandably taken up with the Double season, rich with insider detail and anecdotes on a game-by-game basis that will fascinate Spurs fans, while the less committed reader can’t help but be swept along by Dyson’s enthusiasm and growing sense of destiny. However, the abiding impression is one of humility, a simple delight in playing good football with team-mates he liked, admired and respected. His description of soft-voiced conversation and calm satisfaction in the Wembley dressing room after the Cup win to seal the Double is typical and evocative, striking for its lack of brazen celebration even though they were perfectly entitled to let go. Nicholson was genuinely upset that the team had let themselves down because their performance was below their best.

Dyson played in a very different era, being paid £40 in weekly wages even after the season’s other momentous event, the abolition of the maximum wage. He lived locally in digs with the same family for ten years and drank after matches with the fans in the Bell and Hare pub next to the ground. He bemoans the separation between supporter and player that is the norm today. However the most telling sign of different times is that the editor felt the rules of Dyson’s favourite playground game, conkers, had to be explained in detail to an apparently bewildered readership.  

Yet in many ways this was an entirely modern team. The cheerful Dyson recounts how he and his team-mates talked football incessantly, supporting each other on and off the pitch. Contrast Gary Neville’s recent criticism of the lack of on-field intelligence and problem-solving in the English game.

Later in his career Dyson played for Fulham and Colchester, then managed in non-League and coached in local schools. Spurs fans of all vintages will revel in this account of a man who was part of a team contemporaries called the finest of all time yet who remains humble. Now a sprightly 80 the stories he is able to tell allow Terry Dyson to step into the limelight. 

Buy this book

342 JourneymanOne man’s odyssey through the lower reaches of English football
by Ben Smith
Biteback Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Tim Springett
From WSC 342 August 2015

Buy this book

 

The template for autobiographical tales of journeyman footballers was Eamon Dunphy’s Only A Game?, published nearly 40 years ago, although the most celebrated examples were the two books by Garry Nelson. The reason why these were successful was because they took the reader into the dressing room, onto the training ground, into the manager’s office, down the tunnel for a match and into the players’ lounge. Ben Smith’s effort does this only sporadically and remains, for the most part, inside his own mind. The result is a chronological account of Smith’s career with a large dose of soul-searching but too many unnecessary details to make for a compelling read.

The first half of this 360-page tome documents Smith’s nomadic progress through seven clubs. The narrative, however, does not change appreciably – everywhere he goes it seems Smith agrees terms, trains hard, has a bad game, gets dropped, demands reasons, wins his place back, plays well, enjoys being named “man of the match”, gets injured, is shown the door. We learn about Smith’s own perceptions of his ability and form, as well as his club’s fixture list for the season in question, but very little else. While he remarks about management styles and training at each club, his on- and off-field relationships with other players are hardly mentioned. For a story about life as a lower-league pro, this is a glaring deficiency.

Things improve with a chapter entitled, prophetically, “Finally getting somewhere” which focuses on Hereford’s promotion season in 2007-08, when there is at last some insight into the atmosphere of the club and even a few snatches of humour. The most interesting section chronicles his years with Crawley Town under the idiosyncratic management of Steve Evans. Smith’s opinion of Evans does not come as a surprise even if some of the man’s methods still manage to – such as telling the squad that the club will cease supplying training kit and announcing a session two hours afterwards, forcing several players to head for Sports Direct to kit themselves out. Smith eventually learns to let the regular vicious personal bollockings wash over him and is amused that, prior to each of Crawley’s appearances in a televised match, Evans would refresh the highlights in his hair.

Interspersed with the historical are snapshots of Smith’s new life as he comes to terms with no longer making his living from full-time football. It’s hard not to feel sympathy as he struggles in the world of education before finding a niche. Some of the sympathy dissipates when we learn that, aged nearly 34, Smith was offered the position of head of youth at Crawley as they prepared for their first season in League One. He rejected the role, believing he could continue playing despite having struggled to get a game the preceding season. One is left with the impression of somebody who, while showing commendable honesty, liked to be treated with kid gloves and never mastered the art of making his own luck.

Buy this book

342 NegriThe story of the mysterious Marco
by Marco Negri with 
Jeff Holmes
Pitch Publishing, £20
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 342 August 2015

Buy this book

 

Oleh Kuznetsov, Alan McLaren, Seb Rozental, Daniel Prodan: Rangers had more than their fair share of expensive crocks in the 1990s. But easily the strangest tale was that of Marco Negri, who started off as a superhuman goal-machine and ended up as a Winston Bogarde-like byword for lethargy as his contract slowly dribbled away. Moody Blue is his sporadically diverting attempt to set the record straight.

Readably ghostwritten by a Scottish journalist, Moody Blue is dominated by Negri’s time at Rangers, even though he only played 42 times for them. Signed by Walter Smith for £3.75 million along with several other Italians, his stats for the first half of 1997-98 were fairly special, even in a lopsided SPL. From August to December, he averaged more than a goal a game, scoring 33 times in 29 matches. Then it all abruptly ended when he suffered an eye injury during a game of squash with team-mate Sergio Porrini. Hospital treatment didn’t prevent him being out for months, and his irresistible momentum faded away overnight.

Moody Blue is good on the grotesque culture-clash stuff that characterises books by foreign imports in British football. On one occasion, Negri and Gennaro Gattuso decided to “eat like the Scots before a match, just once”. A few hours later, during the game, Gattuso found himself incapable of belching, and thus unable “to dislodge the rock inside our stomachs”. Negri also couldn’t get used to the uninterrupted flow of SPL matches, remarking that he played in games during which “the referee intervene[d] fewer than ten times”.

Negri got on well with Smith (until the end), but not with assistant coach Archie Knox, who he says picked on him in training. After Rangers were routed by IFK Gothenburg in a Champions League qualifier, Knox hairdryered him in the dressing-room in front of everyone: “Ten minutes of hell, as the attack was aimed especially at me.” To return to the belching theme, he also accuses Knox of often burping loudly while speaking, the polar opposite of Smith, who was apparently “always the epitome of elegance”.

Another nemesis was Ian Ferguson, who regularly addressed him as “fucking Italian”. The feeling was mutual. Negri nicknamed the midfielder “piedi di padella” – which meant pan-feet, or iron-feet, as I didn’t consider him a player of great class”. Lorenzo Amoruso was a much bigger enemy, “the type of person who would travel around the world so that it could see him”. Negri accuses the defender of meddling in his private life, and of backstabbing him by passing comments made in confidence on to the unamused Smith.

Negri doesn’t heap all the blame for his stop-stop career on others. Now 44, he admits that his 27-year-old self was bursting with “conceit and arrogance”. He scores just three goals in the second half of 1997-98, falls out with Smith over the manager’s “no beards or stubble” rule and, with zero interest in playing alongside Amoruso (whom he realises will be the captain for 1998-99), slides into a physical torpor. Rangers owner David Murray rings him at home one evening to resolve the situation, cops a mouthful of abuse – an incident which Negri recounts here with obvious mortification – and stops his wages there and then.

And that’s more or less that, apart from a loan spell at Vicenza, more injuries, three appearances in three years and a bizarre HIV scare after a blood test turns up some unexpected results. Fifteen minutes against Sturm Graz in October 2000, his only ever appearance in the Champions League, are how he signs off. “Looking back, I am proud of the career I made for myself,” he says near the end, though you wonder if he truly believes it himself.

Buy this book

342 FACupWhen the FA Cup really mattered Vol 3
by Matthew Eastley
Pitch Publishing, £14.99
Reviewed by Jonathan Paxton
From WSC 342 August 2015

Buy this book

 

It’s hard to imagine Aston Villa or even Arsenal fans looking back on this year’s FA Cup final with much nostalgia but a dip into Matthew Eastley’s entertaining trip through finals from the 1980s is a pleasant reminder of why the competition’s heritage means so much to fans of a certain age. This was a time when Cup runs excited whole communities and smaller clubs had genuine hopes of reaching Wembley and lifting the famous trophy.

The stories, told chronologically from West Ham’s win over Arsenal in 1980, are recalled by fans in their own words and the absence of journalistic hyperbole is welcome. Interviews with supporters at Wembley on the day gives the stories a down-to-earth quality and fans of all clubs will understand quirks such as the West Ham fan who stuffs his Wembley ticket in his Y-fronts for safe keeping. Referencing hit singles and news stories of the day is a standard, if predictable way of placing the events in time but, by having fans recall the horrendous fashions of the era, we identify closely with them.

The other device used by Eastley is to revisit TV coverage of the day’s build-up and match. Cup final editions of Mastermind and It’s A Knockout are recalled with little affection and one wonders how Michael Barrymore blacking up to greet John Barnes at the Watford team hotel in 1984 was ever considered appropriate. Yes, we’ve all seen Ricky Villa’s goal and Gordon Smith’s miss but Eastley still manages to maintain some tension when describing matches and even the dire 1982 final is injected with drama. Some match reports (particularly from earlier rounds) do get a little stat heavy however and transcripts of John Motson’s commentary and basic descriptions of well-known action don’t add much to our knowledge of the matches. The occasional nugget does appear though: the tragic story of Welsh international winger Alan Davies (a winner in 1983 with Manchester United) is briefly touched upon and feels like it deserves its own book.

While there is no nostalgia for hooliganism, anecdotes of fans sneaking onto the opposing terraces are written with a sense of cheeky fun but descriptions of a dilapidated Wembley and crowd congestion are ominous. For those who fail to get tickets through the official channels, going directly to touts is seen as a perfectly viable option at the time and poor policing and stewarding is the norm. The author deserves great credit for his handling of the 1989 final.

Whether a supporter of the clubs involved or not, most fans will find something to identify with here. Those around at the time will enjoy the evocative memories but for younger fans, brought up on Sky coverage and all-seat stadiums, the sport may be unrecognisable. While it will probably find more warmth in Brighton and Coventry than in Liverpool or Manchester, this is an enjoyable retrospective of a time when Cup finals did actually stay long in the memory.

Buy this book

341 BlackThe story of black 
British footballers
by Emy Onuora
Biteback Publishing, £16.99
Reviewed by Paul Rees
From WSC 341 July 2015

Buy this book

 

The issue of racism in football remains sadly pertinent, as indicated by serial incidents at games in eastern Europe and the taunting of a black man by Chelsea supporters ahead of a Champions League fixture in Paris earlier this year. As such, there is a requirement for a definitive history covering the emergence and ultimate triumph of black footballers in the British game. Emy Onuora would seem to be well-placed to produce it. Brother of erstwhile Huddersfield, Gillingham and Swindon striker Iffy Onuora and a race relations scholar, he promises to bring a unique perspective to his subject but never manages to mould that into a gripping narrative.

Pitch Black is strong on basic detail. It capably charts the rise through the 1970s of players such as Clyde Best at West Ham and West Brom’s so-called Three Degrees, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson, relating the vile abuse these early trailblazers were routinely subjected to at grounds across the country. Similarly, Onuora sheds light on the tales of less familiar names. Among them are those of Bradford City’s Ces Podd, the first black British footballer to be granted a testimonial, and Calvin Plummer, a promising young forward with Nottingham Forest press-ganged onto a tour of apartheid-era South Africa by his manager, Brian Clough. However, Pitch Black is undone by the author’s dry writing style, often reading like an academic dissertation, and his unfortunate tendency to continually repeat the same facts.

Onuora’s book also suffers from his apparent lack of access. He recounts the chastening experiences of one black footballer after another, but the reader is deprived of first-hand accounts. As a result Regis, Batson, Garth Crooks, Ian Wright and others pass through Pitch Black like ciphers and with no new flesh being put on the bones of their stories. Onuora is scant on the contemporary game too. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling are all but invisible and he skips over the Luis Suárez and John Terry controversies with undue haste.

Frustratingly, there are the beginnings of a more rounded book here. Onuora touches upon such disparate but integral themes as the upsurge of the National Front, the role taken by football fanzines in confronting racism on the terraces head-on and the paucity of black managers and Asian footballers in the British game, but without burrowing down to extract deeper truths. Other than passing references to evolving hairstyles and “high-five” goal celebrations, he is remiss in tracing the strong influence black culture has had on football and the wider society in this country. Reggae, ska and hip-hop, to name but three black musical forms of incalculable significance, barely rate a mention.

Doubtless, there is a fascinating and important book to be written on this subject, one that is as much a social and cultural document of record on post-war Britain as it is about football. It is a shame that Pitch Black isn’t it.

Buy this book

341 MatchdaysThe hidden story 
of the Bundesliga
by Ronald Reng
Simon & Schuster, £18.99
Reviewed by John Van Laer
From WSC 341 July 2015

Buy this book

 

Its front cover shows three members of the all-conquering Bayern Munich and Germany teams of 2014, but Matchdays is not an exposé of the machinations of the modern football industry. Instead, author Ronald Reng recounts the life and experiences of Heinz Höher, a winger who played in the first seasons of the Bundesliga and went on to manage a series of clubs without ever enjoying any lasting success.

Growing up in post-war Germany, Höher had seemed to epitomise a new generation of sportsmen in the land of the economic miracle. Breaking with accepted tactical wisdom and daring to grow his hair long, he came close to playing for the national team aged 20. However, a knee injury caused by a foolhardy skiing trip in the final winter break before the start of the Bundesliga robbed him of the acceleration that had been his trademark. Unable to express himself on the field, Höher was only able to overcome his taciturn nature off it with “two beers and a shot”, on a regular basis. He was not alone in this – being able to take a drink was part of what was expected of this first generation of professional sportsmen in the new Bundesliga.  

Despite his tactical innovations, modern training methods and acceptance of the role of the new medium of television in his sport, Höher was never able to reach the pinnacle of the game, whether in Germany or at his various jobs in Greece or Saudi Arabia. He remains Bochum’s longest-serving trainer, and is also the only Bundesliga manager to have survived a players’ revolt, as the president of Nuremberg chose to sack half the first-team and support Höher in a 1984 dispute. The critical problem seems to have been his inability to articulate his thoughts and ideas verbally: over the years, Höher wrote to managers, players and journalists but could not discuss problems face to face. This lack of communication cost him dearly after he moved up to the role of general manager in Nuremberg, an unsuccessful tenure that remains his last role at the top level of German football.

Höher’s later years have been a mixture of obsessive support and training of promising young players and a constant search for gainful employment to ward off the temptations of online gambling, property speculation and alcohol, all of which have cost him a large proportion of his earnings. However, now dry since 2010, the 76-year-old Höher can look back lucidly, recognising his failings as a person and as a professional. Meanwhile, he is also able to see that his beloved football is constantly reinventing itself – and can prove that modern “game-changing” innovations such as Spain playing without an out-and-out striker were in fact tried out by his VfL Bochum side in 1977.

Matchdays was awarded a major prize for non-fiction in 2013 and James Hawes’s translation from German is sometimes rather literal but retains much of the easy style of the original. If a little long at over 400 pages, this is a fascinating look back over the last 50 years of the Bundesliga, and of the changing role football continues to play in Germany.

Buy this book

341 UglyHow football lost its magic and what it could learn from the NFL
by Martin Calladine
Pitch £12.99
Reviewed by Roger Titford
From WSC 341 July 2015

Buy this book

 

Martin Calladine is a disillusioned football fan who is going over to the ugly game that is American football. On his way out he offers observations on the differences between the two sports in 20 loosely connected short essays. He is an intelligent consumer of the sports, rather than a business insider or supporter activist, and brings some interesting perspectives to bear on the current failings of football. But The Ugly Game is not even a wish list, let alone a manifesto for change. There is no rigour in the 
comparisons; he uses the Premier League, English football and football in general interchangeably. The hugely differing structures and contexts that surround the NFL and Premier League are ignored. Calladine has a desirable destination in mind but no means of direction towards it.

The value of The Ugly Game is the fuel he provides for a more actively minded reformer. In particular there is a helpful analysis of what makes that curious billionaires’ socialist collective called the NFL tick. In entertaining fashion he unpicks the virtues of the salary cap, the draft transfer system, regulated ownership and the Rooney rule that enhances the chances of ethnic minority coaches. All of this helps to create a far more level playing field in the NFL than we see in the Premier League.

The concept of fairness is at the heart of Calladine’s thinking and he illustrates the lack of it and the need for it in apt ways. There is no prize money for winning the Superbowl but the cumulative effect of decades of prize money in the Champions League has distanced a few clubs from all the rest. Kids in the park having a pick-up game would never put all the best players on one side.

But there is more than one kind of fairness. There is no room in the NFL’s cartel of 32 clubs for a fast-rising Swansea, Hull City or Bournemouth. England and Wales support and give access to over 100 professional clubs for a population of 50 million, a sixth of the size of the US. While Calladine looks forward to more American football at Wembley he makes no reference to the, perhaps larger, trade going the other way – the strong and recent growth of soccer in the US.

There are strong chapters on the misuse of statistics and the weak analysis proffered by Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer compared with what US audiences receive and he has the occasional arresting phrase, such as “identikit tattooed greyhounds” to describe the modern footballer. Yet despite taking this high ground the whole work is disfigured by a 
peppering of snide asides about Pelé’s potency, Peter Beardsley’s looks, Titus Bramble’s brains and so on. Random photos with lame captions that drift like tumbleweed undermine what is an insightful work on fairness and power. One expects there will be more in this canon of “modern football is rubbish” from those freshly deserting the game. Indeed this is not the only football book with this title currently on sale.

Buy this book