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 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

341 FathersGreat Britons who took the game to the world
by Keith Baker
Pitch Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Paul Brown
From WSC 341 July 2015

Buy this book


Britain did not invent football, as Sepp Blatter would no doubt remind us, but it did knock it into shape, drawing up rules, forming clubs, organising competitions and sending the association version out into the world. British migrants, travelling with Laws of the Game pamphlets and deflated leather casers in their suitcases, became football missionaries, teaching and inspiring new converts, and sowing the seeds for what would become an international obsession.

In Fathers Of Football, Keith Baker profiles several of these pioneers of the world game, many of whom remain relatively unknown in their home country. Take James Spensley, who left Britain in 1896 to work for an insurance company in Genoa. Today, Spensley has an Italian park, street and junior football tournament named in his honour. His great contribution to football in Italy began when he persuaded the expat Genoa Cricket and Athletic Club to take up the association game (and to admit non-British members).

Spensley became the club’s goalkeeper, captain and de facto manager, leading Genoa to six Italian championships between 1898 and 1904. Their success saw the club renamed the Genoa Cricket and Football Club – a name they retain today. The influence of British pioneers can be seen in the Anglicised names of several international football clubs: Genoa rather than Genova; Milan rather than Milano; Athletic rather than Atlético.

Some of the individuals profiled here may already be familiar to football readers. Charles Miller is popularly regarded as the father of football in Brazil, and was the subject of various colour pieces during last summer’s World Cup. Alexander Hutton is similarly regarded in Argentina. Meanwhile Jimmy Hogan’s incredibly influential contribution to the development of football in Austria and Hungary (via the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Germany) is well documented, although it remains a remarkable story.

More obscure are the Charnock brothers, Clement and Harry, who do not have so much as a Wikipedia entry between them, despite the role they played in the development of football in Russia. The brothers, from Lancashire, travelled to Moscow around 1890 to manage textile factories. Both men encouraged their employees to take up football and inspired the formation of several clubs, despite state opposition to organised activities involving workers. Harry’s OKS (Orekhovo Sports Club) were a founding member of the Moscow League, and won five consecutive championships between 1910 and 1914, playing in front of crowds of around 15,000. However, after the Revolution in 1917, OKS were placed under the control of the Cheka – a forerunner of the KGB. The club were renamed Dynamo Moscow, and the Charnocks were expunged from their history. They deserve to be better remembered.

Baker makes it clear that his “Great Britons” were not solely responsible for the spread of association football around the world, and he places the growth of the game into wider historical and social context. But his concise and informative book pays tribute to their individual achievements, and provides an illuminating record of their contributions to the world game.

Buy this book

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

Buy this book


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.

Buy this book

337 LifeIan Liversedge: the highs and lows of a football physio
by David Mitchell
AuthorHouse UK, £10.95
Reviewed by Brian Simpson
From WSC 337 March 2015

Buy this book


Ian Liversedge had a long career as an itinerant football physio working for 20 clubs and 15 managers. The highlights are at the margins of his central story as he encounters famous people who played minor roles in his life. As a young player who didn’t make the grade as a pro he experienced the detachment of Everton’s legendary manager Harry Catterick and later encountered Brian Clough, in decline but still gracious in victory. A quote from Kevin Keegan in his playing days at Newcastle goes someway to explaining why striker Imre Varadi was on his way to accumulating 16 clubs: “OK, Varadi has scored 21 goals this season. I’ve set him up to score 60. How many times has he set me up? None. Fact.”

Less well known but vividly drawn is Accrington’s ex-chairman Eric Whalley. He had played for the club, managed them twice, taken a place on the board and eventually bought them. He funded player purchases but fell out with the local council about the cost of yoga classes for the club’s players. A major focus is the ten years Liversedge spent at Oldham from the mid-1980s, where the chalk-and-cheese chemistry of the taciturn Willie Donachie and the garrulous Joe Royle is captured well. His time at Newcastle also gives an insight into the management pairing of Keegan and Arthur Cox, yet very little of this is entirely new.

A desire to pack in as many stories as possible means that some topics don’t get followed up as fully as they might. For example, there are several incidental comments on the changes that have taken place in the treatment and medical care of players, but these are not considered in any coherent way. Some key points are better illustrated by a simple anecdote, such as when the gap between rehabilitation options at elite clubs and the rest is highlighted by noting that at smaller clubs his best option was sometimes to just take players for a walk and a coffee.

Towards the end of the book he describes meeting old friends from football when the conversation rarely touches on the game but is more about “the scrapes” they shared. But drinking exploits are the sort of tales that can only have been funny to those taking part and possibly not even then. Fans who followed Oldham in the period he describes might feel slightly short changed to find that many at the club followed a motto Liversedge characterises as “win or loose, have a booze”.

His description of players’ behaviour, and his own, is at least frank as he acknowledges its impact on his family life. But there is little reflection on whether the behaviour should have a place within any professional sport, nor an understanding of the way it feeds the negative stereotype of football held by many people. In the end, and despite the strengths of the book, his largely uncritical acceptance of some of what he saw or did leaves an impression in places of an opportunity missed.

Buy this book

336 Cup1336 Cup2From Barry Stobart 
To Neil Young
When the FA Cup really mattered vol 1 – the 1960s
by Matthew Eastley
Pitch Publishing, £14.99

From Ronnie Radford To Roger Osborne
When the FA Cup reallymattered vol 2 – the 1970s
Pitch Publishing, £14.99

Reviewed by Adam Powley
From WSC 336 February 2015

Buy this book


There’s a game that’s been doing the rounds among fans of a certain age for a while. It involves being asked to name every FA Cup-winning club from a starting point – usually the mid-1960s – up to the present day. The respondent can invariably name each one, until he or she gets to the late-1990s, when all finals seem to blur into one boring, “Big Four”-dominated melange.

The point is to illustrate that the FA Cup is so obviously not what it used to be that it means we forget the recent past and savour the more distant. Memory can play curious tricks, however, and as Matthew Eastley shows, plenty of the finals during those supposed golden years of the 1960s and 1970s were far from being the classics of popular imagination.

For every totemic game and incident – Everton fan Eddie Cavanagh leaving pursuing police trailing in World Cup year, Chelsea battling Leeds in 1970, Sunderland embarrassing Leeds in 1973 (the best chapter in this double offering) – there are mediocre and pallid matches that undermined the final’s claim to its status as the biggest game of the season.

Yet the myths endure. Eastley writes extensively on every year in each decade, drawing on recollections of the fans who were there. Blended with references to newspaper stories and often laboured connections to hit singles of the day, the tale of each competition is told in present tense. The narratives are common: the thrill of the third round, building excitement as a Cup run gathers momentum and the agonising tension of semi-final day. The finals themselves express the wide-eyed wonder felt by supporters present for the great occasion, and the extreme emotions of victory and defeat. These really were games that mattered.

Other testimonies dare to contradict the orthodoxy. Hooliganism increasingly becomes a problem, even at finals. There are also the horrendous problems with ticketing and the annual disgrace that (then and now) saw loyal fans of competing clubs miss out while the touts enjoyed massive paydays. Eastley’s books do make some missteps. Many of the interviews read suspiciously like they were conducted via email, betraying a lack of natural conversational flow, and there is a lot of cliche. Clubs are “beloved”, Abide With Me sends “shivers down spines” and the experience, of course, is a “rollercoaster”.

But then FA Cup nostalgia is one big cliche. The competition’s rituals and customs have become the game’s liturgy, and its progress defined the rhythms of the season. League titles lacked the prestige and glamour of football’s great occasion. It was a Wembley FA Cup final everyone dreamed of seeing their team play in, and even if the old stadium was rundown as early as the 1960s, the whole event still rendered fans giddy and touchingly emotional.

Now, sadly, it is an afterthought, an inconvenience that gets in the way of the more lucrative Premier and Champions Leagues. The FA Cup is football from a different time and age – when, as Eastley delightfully shows, referees from Merthyr Tydfil named their house “Offside”, workmates generously strove to source a final ticket for a teenage colleague and fans could sing “Ee Ay Addio We Won The Cup” with sincere pride and not a hint of embarrassment. Eastley recognises the special place the Cup once had in fan affections and has created easy-going and perfectly justified wallows in nostalgia to suit.

Buy this book

335 Cronicasedited by Jethro Soutar 
and Tim Girven
Ragpicker Press, £10
Reviewed by Nick Dorrington
From WSC 335 January 2015

Buy this book


The Crónica is a Latin American literary form, somewhat akin to the output of the new journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s, in which the author involves themselves, to some degree, in the story. Written from a bold and engaging first-person viewpoint, it is a form that is the subject of a number of dedicated magazines across Latin America.

It is through the medium of the Crónica that this collection explores the football and society of a region in which a team bus is shown more deference than an ambulance in traffic, where villagers gather on a hillside to get the best possible signal for the radio broadcast of a match and where entire cities can be brought to a halt by an important fixture. These entries are supplemented by a book extract in similar style and three short stories.

The standard varies a little from piece to piece but the overall quality of both the writing and translation is to be applauded. Authors from across South America, plus two from Mexico, have been included, writing on subjects as varied as a prison team in Argentina, a Latino immigrant league in New York and a team of transvestites in Colombia. The rare missteps occur when the focus is on well-known subjects such as Alcides Ghiggia or Romário.

One of the most interesting entries is by the Peruvian writer Marco Avilés. It tells the story of the women’s football team of a high Andean village where no Spanish is spoken and the comforts of modern society are not to be found. The women travel down to the nearest developed city to take on the local team in a match that Avilés bills as a battle of ojotas (rustic flip-flops) versus trainers; ancient tradition against globalisation.

The changing face of football is masterfully described in a wry short story about an elderly man denied access to a stadium due to his failure to produce a shop loyalty card. “Purchasing power is all that matters,” a steward tells him as the man fruitlessly describes the various triumphs and defeats he has witnessed in his many years in the stands.

The best pieces in the collection are those about people who for one reason or another stand on the margins of mainstream society. We sometimes forget that football, in its most basic form, can act as a unifier for communities, or provide a platform for those whose voice is rarely heard. This theme is beautifully summarised in the final entry, a short story by Vinicius Jatobá that provides a fictionalised account of the genesis of Brazilian football and the emergence of Leônidas da Silva in the docks of Rio de Janeiro.

Laced with local patois and references to the art, food and history of the region, the book is, at times, a challenging, even daunting read. Explanatory footnotes would have been a welcome addition. Yet it is still an enlightening and ultimately rewarding excursion into the football and culture of Latin America.

Buy this book

335 GoldblattThe meaning and making of English football
by David Goldblatt
Viking/Penguin, £16.99
Reviewed by Alan Tomlinson
From WSC 335 January 2015

Buy this book


David Goldblatt writes with the authority of a serious academic theorist of the globalisation process, but displays a lucidity and fluency to match the best feature journalists and sport writers. In The Game Of Our Lives he draws on specialist journalism, consultancy reports, arcane academic findings, new media and personal observations to analyse how English football has both mirrored and anticipated the broader neo-liberal agenda over the last two or three decades. Citing JK Galbraith in his conclusion, Goldblatt argues that English football represents the triumph of unaccountable affluence for the few over the many whose experiences and hopes are increasingly defined by the deprivations that denies them access to the game’s new riches.

The book confirms how swiftly the Premier League seized power in the early 1990s, and how timid the FA were in defence of the traditional values of the game. There may have been reviews, commissions and discussion of the need for serious change and modernisation; but the FA never managed to act, beyond the backing of the Taylor report for reform following the Hillsborough tragedy. Yet the consequent modernisation of grounds, in significant levels publicly funded in the name of community and civic goals, was a transformative project that Rupert Murdoch must have thought was a ruse or a booby-trap. But no, here it was on the eve of transnational satellite broadcasting: a cleansed and modernised infrastructure for him to buy into and sell on worldwide. Rarely has any besieged culture handed the battering-ram to the invasive aggressor in such a naive and timid way.

Goldblatt knows the sport too, and this is far from any dry history of the economics and politics of the game. He conveys the enduring cultural appeal of football, the resonance of matchday in the face of the forces of “fragmentation and distraction” that the new mobile media bring to bear in threatening the crowd’s “unbroken engagement and shared experience”. Analyses of the culture of the game, including the lost genius of the flawed Paul Gascoigne and the global profile of the feted metrosexual David Beckham, alternate through the book with vignettes on the political and economic realities of the emerging neo-liberal agenda. He illuminates the meaning of the game in its Premier League phase, balancing an evocation of its excellence and attractions with a critique of its financing and governance, reminding us too of the collective values that originally made football possible in its modern form, and of the game’s capacity to offer models of co-operative endeavour.

In a synthesising achievement of this scale, errors will certainly have crept in, and Burnley’s former chairman Barry Kilby is presented as “benefactor… Barry Kidder”. Wigan Athletic were formed in 1932, not “the late 1970s”, which was when they replaced Southport in the League; England’s “first defeat by a foreign team at home” was not the Hungarian lesson at Wembley in 1953, but a 2-0 loss to Ireland at Goodison Park in 1949. But this is a superb study that will surely inform and sustain debate on the nature and culture of the game, and the impact of the excesses of the Premier League upon football’s rich cultural legacy.

Buy this book

334 UpThereThe north-east, football, boom & bust
by Michael Walker
DeCoubertin Books, £16.99
Reviewed by Paul Brown
From WSC 334 December 2014

Buy this book


In 1960 the BBC journalist Arthur Appleton wrote a still-admired portrait of north-east football called Hotbed of Soccer. The title was apt, the book being published between Jackie Milburn’s Newcastle winning the FA Cup three times in the 1950s, and Bobby and Jack Charlton’s England winning the World Cup in 1966. The north-east had long been regarded as football’s great nursery, producing a succession of fine players and 
influential managers.

Yet Appleton recognised that the area’s influence on British football was waning. Its clubs were in decline and its players were leaving the region. As cases in point, Newcastle have not won a domestic trophy since the 1950s, and neither Charlton brother played for a north-east team. Even from his 1960 vantage point, Appleton was inclined to look back. “When the present has been temporarily exhausted, there is the rich past to be peeped into,” he wrote.

Fifty-four years later, Michael Walker explores that rich past, and the unavoidably depressed present, in Up There, an excellent and long-overdue social history of north-east football. From the game’s earliest years, Walker shows how the industrial north-east established itself as a football powerhouse. Cash-rich Sunderland won the Football League four times by 1902 and innovative Newcastle won the League three times, and the FA Cup, by 1910. There was a seemingly infinite stream of great players, from Colin Veitch, Raich Carter and Wilf Mannion to Stan Mortensen, George Camsell and Stan Anderson (who, uniquely, captained Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough).

Some became great managers. Brian Clough and Don Revie both grew up in terraced houses in Middlesbrough. Bob Paisley and Bobby Robson, like many of the region’s most prominent football characters, came from mining communities. As Walker discovers via a series of insightful interviews, mining and other industries were central to the success of north-east football, providing structure and stability for community teams and local players. When north-east industry took hits, so did north-east football, particularly after the wars, and then, fatally, during the brutal 1980s.

The 1990 World Cup represented something of a last hurrah. England’s starting XI included four north-east players in captain Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle, plus manager Bobby Robson. By the 2014 World Cup, England’s sole north-east-born starter was Jordan Henderson. Henderson is one of the few remaining north-east players in the Premier League, with Steve Bruce the only north-east manager.

The decline of north-east football at all levels is well illustrated when Walker presents Durham FA secretary John Topping with a 1983-84 yearbook, and asks what has happened to its list of 16 youth leagues. “Gone. Gone. Gone…” replies Topping. Only two of the 16, he explains, are still around.

Walker does manage to find some causes for optimism. The pioneering Northern League is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, Gateshead are pushing for a return to the Football League and Middlesbrough are challenging for promotion to the Premier League. At junior level, Northumberland’s Pinpoint League is thriving, catering for 12,500 young players. “It’s a mini-revival,” the Pinpoint League’s Ian Coates tells Walker. “In five years’ time I think what you’ll see are more local boys and better local boys playing for the big 
north-east clubs.”

Buy this book

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday