THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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.

 

348 HandofGod400by Philip Kerr
Head of Zeus, £7.99
Reviewed by Huw Richards
From WSC 348 February 2016

Buy this book

 

Fiction with a sporting setting is notoriously variable in quality. Binary win-lose outcomes reduce the scope for ambiguity and authors may either be poor writers or under-informed. Philip Kerr sidesteps all of these traps with ease. His fictional club, London City, provides the context for crime rather than a narrative end in itself.

348 Drogba400My autobiography
by Didier Drogba
Hodder & Stoughton, £20
Reviewed by Si Hawkins
From WSC 348 February 2016

Buy this book

 

A couple of lines late in Didier Drogba’s autobiography really drive home that this isn’t your average burly striker life story. “On November 2009 I teamed up with Bono to help launch an initiative with Nike on the eve of World Aids Day,” Drogba recalls, before rattling through his UN work, including “mobilising people to eradicate the use of cluster bombs/munitions”. Clearly we’re in a different ballpark to, say, Micky Quinn’s Who Ate All The Pies.

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