THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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

 

340 CatterickThe untold story 
of a football great
by Rob Sawyer
De Coubertin Books, £18.99
Reviewed by Simon Hart
From WSC 340 June 2015

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It was 30 years ago in March that Harry Catterick died after suffering a heart attack at Everton’s FA Cup quarter-final against Ipswich Town. Five years earlier, Dixie Dean had also died at Goodison Park yet unlike the nationally famous striker, Catterick’s achievements – building two League title-winning teams – are today largely ignored beyond Merseyside.

Rob Sawyer has sought to redress the balance in a well-crafted biography that begins with a foreword from Colin Harvey, part of Catterick’s 1970 Championship side. “Don Revie, Bill Shankly, Bill Nicholson and Sir Matt Busby all get mentioned as being the great managers of the era while Harry doesn’t,” says Harvey of a man who won as many Leagues and FA Cups as Revie.

It is with Shankly, though, that Harvey makes the most telling comparison. For half of his 12-year reign, Catterick’s Everton drew the bigger crowds on Merseyside yet as Harvey recalls: “The press enjoyed being courted by Bill Shankly, but Harry was an introvert and snubbed them.” This is the crux of his image problem. Here was somebody who refused to allow the BBC cameras in to film Match of the Day until 1967 and had none of the charisma of his rival. Catterick was an aloof figure more akin to a modern-day director of football who – as his players would joke – put on a tracksuit only when the TV cameras or chairman John Moores appeared.

To achieve this insightful portrait, Sawyer pieced together interviews given by Catterick himself along with reminiscences of players and journalists and contemporary press cuttings. Alex Young recalls the coldness of a man not interested in courting popularity, saying: “I never got a pat on my head.” He had a devious side too, lying to the press and his own players; he told midfielder Brian Harris, for instance, that rumours of Tony Kay joining were false, only to swoop later that day for a player who had helped his Sheffield Wednesday side finish Division One runners-up in 1960-61.

Yet while his 1963 title-winners,  built with the largesse of Littlewoods tycoon Moores, were dubbed “cheque-book champions”, the vision behind his youthful 1970 team would fit most current ideas of how to play the game. It was a 4-3-3 formation with the “holy trinity” of midfielders Howard Kendall, Harvey and Alan Ball at its heart. Dave Sexton, then Chelsea manager, applauded him for succeeding with a “set of small players up front” and Catterick’s own view was: “When it comes to the creation of something in tight corners, which midfield men have to do, give me the little ones.”

His players might have endured an old-fashioned factory-style clocking-in system but his planning of Everton’s Bellefield training ground – with an indoor pitch for small-sided matches – was another demonstration of foresight. Indeed in October 1970 Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly magazine dubbed the then 50-year-old “a manager for the Seventies”.

Sadly for Catterick – and his legacy – his Everton team soon fell apart. Sawyer recalls a pivotal week in March 1971 when they lost a European Cup quarter-final to Panathinaikos and FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool. After Ball left in controversial circumstances and Catterick himself suffered a heart attack, he was sacked in 1973. Not until 1985, two months after his death, would Everton win the League title again.

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340 Januaryby Philip Kerr
Head of Zeus, £14.99
Reviewed by Robbie Meredith
From WSC 340 June 2015

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Despite the relatively recent success of David Peace’s The Damned United, football, given its prominent position in many people’s lives, has always been under-represented in fiction. Partly this is due to most of the extensive media coverage of the game being a form of story-telling itself, but it’s also the fact that the collision of the two worlds often feels so unsatisfactory on the page. Peace, successfully if somewhat controversially, wrote a fictional interpretation of actual people and events, but Philip Kerr decides to insert his central character and an imagined team – London City – within the existing reality of away games in Newcastle and tactical battles against Sam Allardyce.

Kerr is best known for a long, and very good, series of thrillers set in Nazi Germany, but he has a specific set of problems to tackle in using modern football as a backdrop. His flawed hero is Scott Manson, a rising coach at City, who are themselves a franchise team, a high-flying Premier League version of MK Dons. When manager Joao Zarco – a charismatic, aggressive, lyrical Portuguese – is found dead in City’s east London stadium, Manson is invited by the club’s hard-nosed Ukrainian owner both to take over the team and to investigate Zarco’s killing. The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is mentioned twice in the novel, and there’s more than a hint of a Gunners fan’s – which Kerr is – fantasy in imagining such turmoil at a fictional parallel of the Chelsea of José Mourinho and  Roman Abramovich.

There are some obvious tensions in the narrative. Manson is a black, former top player with Arsenal and Southampton, whose playing career ended prematurely after he was wrongly convicted of rape. He is occasionally misogynistic, but is also educated to degree level, has a detailed knowledge of modern art, is fond of quoting Aristotle after sex and, in his fledgling coaching career, has already worked at Barcelona and under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. If anything, he’s too rounded a character.

This is presumably because Kerr has decided that his audience are either going to be devotees of his previous work who know little of football and view it with distaste, or fans drawn to a rare novel about their passion. As a result, there are regular, and sometimes grating, narrative digressions, especially in the first half of the book, so that Kerr can explain some facet of the game to a reader who knows little of football or its history.

Despite this, January Window just about carries it off, mainly because Kerr is such an adept plotter and because he’s on surer ground as the quest to find Zarco’s killer comes to dominate the narrative. It’s an effective thriller, with numerous potential suspects, red herrings and a seemingly insignificant detail which leads to the case being solved, while revealing little about football that a literate supporter will not already know.

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340 ErbsteinThe triumph and tragedy of football’s forgotten pioneer
by Dominic Bliss
Blizzard Books, £10
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 340 June 2015

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Erno Erbstein is a deeply niche subject for a book, the first to be published by Jonathan Wilson’s quarterly which has won a deserved reputation for quality output over the last few years. Though the incident in which Erbstein perished – the 1949 Superga air disaster that wiped out the entire Torino squad – is one of the defining moments of Italian football history, his own story has slipped through the cracks of memory until now. And though he came from the same central European Jewish coaching lineage as Hugo Meisl and Bela Guttmann, he’s far less well known than either of them (as the title of this book implies).

Five years in the writing, Dominic Bliss’s biography is a hugely well-researched and elegantly written study of a man whose life was punctuated with innumerable dangers and hardships (he served briefly in the First World War and later survived the Holocaust). Perhaps unsurprisingly in view of this, as a player Erbstein gained a reputation for a robust style: a particularly poor challenge on an opponent during a match was one of the two reasons he got out of Budapest in the 1920s. The other was the dark shadow of encroaching anti-Semitism.

In 1928, Erbstein began coaching in Italy, where he assembled a series of tightly organised teams from seemingly unpromising materials, like a proto-Otto Rehhagel. He put the emphasis on quick-fire passing and subjected his players to relentless drills, so that they would be able to pass to each other in their sleep. And the results, initially unspectacular, soon flowed easily: he got the tiny Lucchese club up to a seventh-place finish in Serie A, for example. “He conceived a mode of football 30 years ahead of its time,” says one Sardinian journalist whose father was in the Cagliari youth team while Erbstein was manager there.

Sadly, like so many other Jews, Erbstein spent all too much of his life frantically moving around Europe in search of sanctuary. Benito Mussolini’s 1938 Manifesto of Race forced him to flee again, this time back to Hungary, where he went into business with his brother. He narrowly saved his wife and daughters from death at the hands of the Nazis by utilising one of his innumerable connections (a story recounted in gripping detail here by his daughter Susanna, who’s now in her 80s). Meanwhile, he himself, along with future Benfica manager Guttmann, jumped off a train taking them to a concentration camp in Germany.

After the war, Erbstein came back to Torino, where he had been coaching before Mussolini’s reign of terror. They had won the league twice in his eight-year absence, but now he and club president Ferruccio Novo made them an even better team who cruised to two more championships. Had the European Cup existed at the time, they would undoubtedly have won it at least once. And then, on May 4, 1949, came Superga. This is a sad book in many ways, unashamedly esoteric, and also a fine one.

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339 BirminghamThe rise and fall of Carson Yeung
by Daniel Ivery & Will Giles
GHI HK Ltd, £20
Reviewed by Chris Sanderson
From WSC 339 May 2015

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English football’s wholehearted embrace of the free market has meant that the sense of place and identity that clubs once provided their fans is increasingly meaningless to owners and administrators. Of course, the game here has always been dominated by a handful of wealthy clubs and provided a platform for the likes of Bob Lord, Robert Maxwell, Doug Ellis et al to use clubs as their personal playthings. But as the history of English football since 1992 has been one of untold riches and a wholehearted embrace of laissez-faire economics, so it has likewise seen a wholesale loosening of the links between the clubs and their communities. And as fans of teams as diverse as Leeds, Portsmouth and Coventry can testify, their acquisition by owners who have little regard for their club’s history or supporters has rarely been positive.

Haircuts & League Cups tells the cautionary tale of how Carson Yeung, a former Hong Kong hair stylist who made a personal fortune through gambling and stock market speculation, came to purchase the heroically underachieving Birmingham City.

As the sum Yeung’s consortium paid – a frankly ridiculous £81.5 million – was hardly questioned at the time, so the book is less a narrative of one man’s ownership of a club but more an exposé of the willingness of the football authorities, media and initially Blues fans themselves to wilfully ignore his  financial shortcomings. Meticulously written by Daniel Ivery, whose excellent Often Partisan website is regularly the sole source of reliable and verifiable information on the club, and Hong Kong solicitor Will Giles, the story throws light on the murky nature of football finances and the profound effect that decisions made thousands of miles away can have on fans.

Yeung aside, the book includes a cast of pantomime villains that range from Birmingham’s previous owners (Davids Gold and Sullivan), the Premier and Football Leagues and above all Yeung’s acolyte Peter Pannu. Indeed since publication, this litigious former Hong Kong policeman has posted a series of offensive, rambling posts on Often Partisan, that may well be the catalyst for the change in ownership that Blues fans so desperately desire.

When sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering, Yeung was described as someone who was “prepared to, and did, lie whenever he felt the need to”. It is to Ivery’s credit that his single-handed and determined work has unravelled his story and produced a factual document that exposes not just the current plight of Birmingham City but the shortcomings of English football more generally. As Ivery and Giles say: “The Football League will not even talk to the media about how they police the game, preferring to hide behind soundbites. Football has become a honeypot for investors looking for a quick buck. Add in the additional element of international transfers which involve numerous unregulated intermediaries, then you can easily understand why it is attractive to money launderers.” It’s a cautionary tale of which fans of all clubs should be mindful.

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339 FanaticalEverpresent since 1968 – an incredible journey
by Gary Edwards 
& Andy Starmore
Pitch Publishing £15.99
Reviewed by Simon Creasey
From WSC 339 May 2015

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Every club has single-minded fans who are prepared to follow their team everywhere through thick and thin. At Leeds United the custodian of the title of “superfan” is Gary Edwards, who hasn’t missed a competitive game home and away since January 1968 – in fact, in the last 46 years he’s only failed to see one pre-season friendly and that was due to an air traffic control strike which stopped him flying to Toronto.   

Edwards’ unstinting dedication to the club is documented in Fanatical which charts Leeds’ modern history, from the heyday under Don Revie, through the hooligan-fuelled 1980s and the heights scaled in the 1990s, before the collapse around the new millennium that culminated in relegation to League One. In addition to detailing a vanished era of “football special” trains, piping hot plastic cups of Oxo sipped on the terraces and an orange ball being hoofed around a badly chewed up pitch, Edwards’ book is filled with humour and tragedy.

The former includes his various ways of getting into the home end at away matches, such as sneaking through the hospitality section at the Bernabéu and running around the edge of the pitch after losing his match ticket and wallet (miraculously the wallet and its contents were handed back to him at half time having been passed through the crowd). For the latter, there is an account of the numerous times the club have fallen foul of bad refereeing decisions and, more seriously, the deaths of two Leeds supporters in Turkey. (In response to intimidation from Galatasaray fans who famously greeted away supporters with banners bearing the words “Welcome to hell”, Edwards created a poster that read “Hello hell, we’re Leeds”.)

As well as charting the club’s highs and lows, Fanatical also provides an insight into what sort of character becomes a die-hard fan. Edwards is an eccentric – a painter and decorator by trade, his hatred of Manchester United runs so deep that he refuses to use the colour red and will even remove it for free. He also used to travel to games in a hearse christened “Doombuggy” ferrying around an empty coffin. On one occasion the coffin was stolen and dumped in a local pub – Edwards turned up at Leeds police station’s lost property department to retrieve it dressed in funereal top hat and tails.

As the above examples suggest, Fanatical is not an attempt to intellectualise the game or explain the nature of fandom. It’s an honest account of the experiences that every football supporter will endure during a lifetime of following any club. It’s also a timely reminder that players, managers and chairman may come and go (particularly at Elland Road at the moment), but the one constant are the supporters and especially those like Gary Edwards.

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339 MediaFootball’s journey through the English media
by Roger Domeneghetti
Ockley Books, £12.99
Reviewed by Tom Davies
From WSC 339 May 2015

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We are frequently told that both the media and football have become distortingly all-pervasive, so a history of the relationship between the two would appear long overdue. In this exhaustively well-researched book Roger Domeneghetti delves deeply not just into the earliest histories of both but into what initially seem like diversionary tangents – betting, gaming and comic strips. If these are occasionally longer than they need to be, they do at least fit the author’s wider, convincing narrative of mutual interdependence.

Tracing this many-tentacled history, from the newspaper boom in the late 19th century through to the Premier League, Sky and Twitter, it is obvious how football and the media industry have always fed off each other. We may rail against kick-off times being switched at the behest of TV companies but the “traditional” Saturday 3pm start is rooted in media demands. Regional newspapers in the late 1800s required standardised kick-off times to suit Saturday evening edition deadlines. Into the 20th century, early newsreels looked to play up talking points and personalities. Sport drove radio sales and provided events for the newly established BBC to build itself around.

A common theme is the authorities’ inability to prevent themselves being outwitted, or to protect the game’s wider interests. From the wrangling with the BBC that obstructed the broadcast of inter-war Cup finals to the way the FA allowed themselves to be outflanked by the TV companies and Premier League, wearily familiar shortcomings persist.

The BBC’s agreement to pay the FA £1,000 to broadcast the 1953 FA Cup final “set the template for football coverage to this day”, not least in investing the “Matthews final” with symbolism. Competition between broadcasters changed the game again: “If the football authorities were unclear as to how exactly their relationship with television should develop, neither the BBC nor their rivals had any such doubts,” writes Domeneghetti.

The chapter on the development of newspaper journalism sheds light on the changing status of players and their relationship with reporters, as well as on the way those papers have altered, with the expansion of broadsheet coverage flattening their distinction with the red tops; writers move between both with increasing frequency. Fanzines are also given their due for changing how football was written about in the mainstream.

Domeneghetti is a press box regular himself and writes about football for the Morning Star, so as might be expected a strong social-political context frames his narrative. This, and a breezy conversational style, ensures that the dominant perspective here is that of the ordinary fan/reader/viewer. Media-analyst business-speak is thankfully lacking.

Of course we end on blogs and social media, which have given both fans and players more of a voice while posing challenges to the traditional industry. “The process of becoming a football writer’s become more democratised,” Jonathan Wilson points out here, yet making a living from it becomes ever more precarious. The contention that football is central to new media might be overstated, but not by much, though the deaths of various sectors (radio, newspapers) have been predicted many times, and not always accurately. Instead, they’ve muddled through, much like clubs themselves.

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339 Busbyby Iain McCartney
Amberley Publishing, £16.99
Reviewed by Charles Morris
From WSC 339 May 2015

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A book about managerial succession and how a club attempts to replace an outstanding, long-serving supremo is timely, particularly in Manchester United’s case. Iain McCartney’s book follows his Rising from the Wreckage: Manchester United 1958-1968, which charted the club’s recovery from the Munich air tragedy to become the first English team to win the European Cup.

Rapid decline, however, is the theme of his sequel as he relates the club’s dismal failure to replace Matt Busby between 1968 and 1974 – when they were relegated from Division One – and to replenish the team of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.

As a history of those six seasons it succeeds, but it seems a missed opportunity not to have broadened the format and considered other cases of managerial succession, particularly as United currently remain in a troubled transition from Alex Ferguson’s reign. Busby’s Legacy does, however, provide a case study in how not to handle such a handover. A tired Busby quit in 1969 after nearly 24 years that also included five domestic championships and two FA Cups. But he fatally remained as general manager and was allowed to choose his successor.

His choice of Wilf McGuinness proved disastrous – a history lesson ignored when Ferguson was allowed to select David Moyes. McGuinness, aged only 31, was Busby’s reserve team coach. He had no experience of managing a first team and was younger than some in an ageing United side, such as Charlton, Bill Foulkes and Shay Brennan. His authority was further undermined by initially being appointed only as “club coach” for an “unspecified probationary period”, and by the presence of Busby. The Scot kept the manager’s office while his successor was given a “corner cupboard”, and he later secretly tried to replace the hapless McGuinness with Celtic’s Jock Stein.

After McGuinness’s inevitable failure and removal in December 1970, Busby played a major part in the hiring of Frank O’Farrell from Leicester City. Although more experienced than his predecessor, O’Farrell’s record was “not trophy strewn”, including only one promotion with Torquay and an FA Cup runners-up and relegation with Leicester. Busby unsuccessfully tried the office belittlement trick on O’Farrell, too, and subsequently interfered in team matters.

One is tempted to conclude from these appointments that Busby, unconsciously, could not bear the idea of handing over to someone who might emulate his feats. After a disappointing 18 months O’Farrell was also sacked and replaced by Scottish national manager Tommy Docherty, who was unable to save the club from relegation before quickly restoring their fortunes back in Division One.

McCartney’s tale of a great team in decline for the most part rattles along, reminding us vividly of Best’s genius and his sad early fall into alcoholism, the complacency and ineptitude of United’s directors and the onset of two decades of appalling football hooliganism. It suffers, however, from an over-reliance on match reports, sticking only to the historic facts and dreadful editing. The book is littered with spelling errors and misused words, all of which are irritating and only one amusing: where the team’s performance is said to be “bisected with a fine toothcomb”. Readers paying £16.99 deserve better.

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338 HowardA life of saving goals and achieving them
by Tim Howard with Ali Benjamin
Harper Collins, £18
Reviewed by Ian Plenderleith
From WSC 338 April 2015

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Twice in two pages I laughed out loud during this otherwise unfunny book. When a young Tim Howard arrives in England to play for Manchester United, he calls his compatriot Kasey Keller in London for some advice. “Well, Tim,” says the older, wiser sage of White Hart Lane, “I guess my advice to you would be this: make as many saves as you can.”

Just seven paragraphs later, Howard recalls his senior debut for United and captain Roy Keane’s pep talk before the 2003 Community Shield game against Arsenal. “Just pass it to a red shirt, guys. It’s as simple as that: take the ball and pass it to another player in red.”
The problem with reading footballers’ autobiographies is that you rarely learn anything new. Not about the game and not about the player. As David Foster Wallace wrote in his review of tennis star Tracy Austin’s life story, such books are “at once so seductive and so disappointing for us readers”, because the player is only equipped to “act out the gift of athletic genius”. If they were able to articulate that gift, they probably wouldn’t possess it 
at all.

That’s where the ghost writer comes in, but they can only work with what they’re given. Howard’s flat account of his life is imbued with the kind of sentimental journalese that signifies a second pair of hands. His ability to overcome Tourette’s syndrome is interesting and admirable, but is not compellingly told because the writer fails to get inside Howard’s head. Either the goalkeeper wouldn’t let her in, or she chose not to go there. While there may have been good reasons for that, it fails to lift the book above its absolutely ordinary level. Instead, the tension is stressed on the Belgium v US World Cup round of 16 game in Brazil, with interludes between each chapter taking us through the action. This was of course a heroic performance by Howard, but we know how it ended. The US lost. It was just last summer, remember?

In fact the most intriguing thing about Howard’s book is how he dodges the issue of his failed marriage. For the longest time we hear only wonderful things about his wife, Laura. Then while in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup Howard blithely springs it on us that he doesn’t miss her any more. He blames the “suspended reality” of life as a football player, “where we retreated... into a kind of grade [junior] school mentality”. His previously extolled faith in God is suddenly of no help. Being “addicted to my job” is the closest we come to learning why he gets divorced from the seemingly perfect mother of his two children (I really hope Laura got a better explanation than that).

Such withheld integrity makes this kind of book a bust. It exists to sell, not because Tim Howard wants to share his world with you. If there’s no narrative, you should stick to making as many saves as you can.

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338 CardiffCardiff City and the Cup Winners Cup 1964-1993
by Mario Risoli
St David’s Press, £16.99
Reviewed by Huw Richards
From WSC 338 April 2015

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Collective memory tends to privilege the ancient and modern at the expense of what came in between. For Cardiff City the FA Cup win in 1927 looms with the same symbolic weight as 1966 does for England fans, while recent recall summons up unwanted red shirts, thwarted promotion campaigns and misery last season.

Mario Risoli, an expert preserver of Welsh football’s past, aims here to reclaim a time when Cardiff combined being a lower-division club at home with redoubtable warriors in Europe. It needed recovering. That these achievements were in a tournament which no longer exists, and enabled by a route Cardiff can no longer take – winning the Welsh Cup – cuts institutional continuities. And while the last venture was in 1993, the core of this history (and two thirds of its length) is contained in the years between 1964 and 1971.

Risoli draws on press archives and an outstanding collection of interviews with former players. They offer a vivid picture of European competition before it was subsumed to club business plans, as a glorious break from mundane reality and, in a less travelled age, a venture into the unknown.

Even that future footballing cosmopolite John Toshack could recall of the food in Tashkent in 1968: “It was like dog food. The only thing that we could eat were these big bread rolls. We called them discuses.” Entrepreneurial players took chocolates, ties and socks to sell in Moscow, only as Bobby Ferguson recalls: “We ended up eating most of the chocolate and giving the rest away because the people were so nice.”

Along with the tales of Cardiff stalwarts such as Peter King, who contributes a fine foreword, and Don Murray are glimpses of more widely remembered careers, bracketed by John Charles’s last great display at Sporting Lisbon in 1965 and Robbie James’s final senior goal, scored in defeat by Standard Liege in 1993. At the book’s heart is a compelling warts-and-all picture of Jimmy Scoular, Cardiff’s manager from 1964 to 1973 – so competitive he would kick players in a Friday afternoon five-a-side, given to tirades of abuse and arbitrary decisions and paranoid about all foreigners, yet still cherished by many of his players.

And the title gets it right. Beating Real Madrid 1-0 in 1971 is the most remembered achievement of this whole period. Yet the truly historic feat was the extraordinary expedition of 1968, passing through Breda, Moscow, Tashkent and Augsburg en route to a semi-final defeat by Hamburg which ranks for heartbreak alongside the missed penalty that cost Cardiff the League title in 1924. Risoli might perhaps have made more of fan memories and put his excellent game-by-game narration more into the wider context of the club’s history. There should certainly have been an index included. But with all that, he has produced both a great read and a real contribution to football’s collective memory.

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338 SmilingHow Newcastle 
became United
by Paul Brown
Goal Post, £10
Reviewed by Mark Brophy
From WSC 338 April 2015

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Popularly, Newcastle United were founded in 1892 and in a way they were, for that was when the current name was adopted. But the club existed before that under other names, Stanley FC and Newcastle East End. This is their story from the beginnings 11 years earlier until the first FA Cup win in 1910. Though the facts are known, the first part especially has had little presence in the popular mythology of the club. Even the latter part, taking in three League titles as well as the aforementioned FA Cup win in the Edwardian era, has faded into history a little, certainly in the mind of this fan.

It’s a story which travels between two extremes, the club moving rapidly from a bunch of teenagers playing on sloping wasteground to professionals playing in the country’s top division. Along the way we learn the “United” name was pure PR. It’s commonly believed East End merged with their main local rivals West End to form Newcastle United, but East End merely took over West End’s lease on St James’ Park after they folded. The decision to change the name was meant to placate both sets of fans. There’s physical movement too, the club’s home shuffling around the city’s east end until finally settling at its present location.

The chronological tale is hung off the author’s visits in the present day to the club’s five home grounds and surrounding areas, various museums and a local theatre. The latter trip is to experience something like the atmosphere of watching the first footage filmed of the club in action, as spectators who attended the game against Liverpool in 1901 would have done later that evening, and there is atmosphere aplenty in this book. An effort is made to identify with the fans of the time, which perhaps is easy for a resident of the city and fan of the club to do. But it wouldn’t be impossible for anyone from an industrial city who supports their local team, such is the sense of community and shared experience.

This is a story about football though, with plenty of heroes. Outstanding players, shrewd secretary/managers, all spring to our attention, not least Colin Veitch, the long-serving captain of the club through their greatest days and a polymath in both the sporting and more conventional sense. He was an innovator as well as a truly versatile footballer, playing all over the pitch for Newcastle, and the book calls him “arguably the greatest player in the club’s history”. He was also a committed socialist, a founder of both the players’ union and a still-performing local theatre company, an actor and a musician.

It’s difficult in the circumstances not to contrast the drive for success in the first decade of the 20th century on display here, “boundless in its ambitious aims”, with the inertia and cynical refusal even to try for it today. For all that, this isn’t about glory. The most successful period of the club’s history is covered in only two chapters. More important is the journey, where the club came from and how they eventually got there.

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