304gloryTwenty years of the Premier League
by Joe Lovejoy
Mainstream, £11.99
Reviewed by Joyce Woolridge 
From WSC 304 June 2012

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Joe Lovejoy seems to have set out to write an analysis of the circumstances surrounding the Premier League's formation and of some of its biggest issues since then, notably foreign players, foreign managers, foreign owners, bungs and grasping agents. The decision to do this chiefly through the medium of long, undigested quotations from interviews with some of the main protagonists means that much of it reads more tediously than it should.

Slotted in between the often wearisome accounts of the machinations of Rick Parry et al are chapters that cast a cursory and abbreviated eye over some of the events on the pitch. "The Big Kick-Off" chapter compiles team lists of the original 22 clubs with a brief, phoned-in intro. This is not the only section that appears to be written almost in note form, but it is one of the more engaging, if you can put faces to the names. Ditto the hasty, often obvious assortment that is "My Top Twenty Matches" (seven of which feature Manchester United being thumped or throw- ing away leads). Spurs' 2008 comeback 4-4 draw with Arsenal ends with the mystifying statement: "The rest is Lilywhite history."

"Managers Who Have Won the Premier League" never strays from the perfunctory, as Lovejoy divulges that Alex Ferguson has "more silverware than H Samuel", José Mourinho is a "Portuguese charmer" and "Monsieur Wenger polarises opinion". Rather than reading "Twenty Headline Makers", why not try to guess which major incidents make the cut. You will not go far wrong if you stick with Manchester United, though John Terry's shagging is a surprise number one. Eric Cantona's kung-fu assault is unaccountably missing.

If the interviews with players and Premier League worthies that make up the other chapters are also intended to leaven the pudding, you would have thought Alan ("The Geordie Legend") Shearer should be last on the list. Though he does let slip that "We had a smashing team at Blackburn and we won the league". "Journeyman goalkeeper" Kevin Poole is almost equally unenlightening, as are Niall Quinn, Stan Collymore, Ryan Giggs and Teddy Sheringham.

Sky Andrew, the agent, and Gordon Taylor offer some thought-provoking comments and the concluding chapters, where the main theme returns, have their moments despite appearing curiously rushed. Most interesting are the reflections on the Financial Fair Play rules and whether UEFA will be able and willing to enforce them. Even the author's final conclusions about whether the Premier League has met its original objectives ("I don't think so") are terse.

Perhaps some space could have been freed up by trimming Gérard Houllier's rambling foreword. The book would have been improved by some coverage of the events that disrupted the "predictability" of the Premier League, which is lamented throughout, such as Norwich and Villa's title challenges. Although the preface claims the book is "the story of the Premier League's first 20 years", this odd mish-mash is anything but. 

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The Inside Story of a Football Scout
by Les Padfield
Sportsbooks, £8.99
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 291 May 2011

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Scouting is one of those activities that runs in the background of football, like a virus scanner, mostly unseen, but with a key role to keep the other stuff working smoothly. Les Padfield's Scouting For Moyes offers an diverting glimpse into the underworld of hastily scribbled player reports and complimentary sandwiches and, in so doing, goes further than many football books to shed fresh light on other aspects of the game.

Tackling Football and Radical Politics
by Gabriel Kuhn
PM Press, £12.99
Reviewed by Tom Davies
From WSC 296 October 2011

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The idea that football and politics cannot or should not mix has always been convenient nonsense. Both continually rub up against and influence each other, without either quite managing to bend the other to its will. The question of how football has been approached politically is addressed here – from an unashamedly leftist perspective – by Austrian activist and one-time semi-pro player Gabriel Kuhn in this collection of essays, interviews and excerpts from journals and pamphlets, interwoven with commentary from Kuhn himself.

50 years of trials and triumph with football’s 
by Tim Quelch
XPublisher, £14.99
Reviewed by Nick Miller
From WSC 301 March 2012

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Part memoir, part collection of anecdotes and – perhaps slightly surprisingly – part modern history, Underdog! is a collection of stories about when the improbable occurs in football. There are the obvious tales, such as Wimbledon winning the 1988 FA Cup, along with more obscure stories, like the Northampton Town side that reached Division One in the mid-1960s.

 by Archie Macpherson
Black & White, £17.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 278 April 2010

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As unlikely alliances go, learning that Archie Macpherson was once good pals with Jeremy Paxman during their days on breakfast TV in the late 1980s must rank right up there as one of the most bizarre double acts in the history of tele­vision. There's no suggestion that they've remained close buddies ever since, rather the rapport was a fleeting mutual support mechanism designed to help both of them deal with the mind-numbing ordeal of early morning broadcasting. Look what it did to Frank Bough after all.

And Other Curious Phenomena Explained
by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
Harper Sport, £15.99
Reviewed by Roger Titford
From WSC 272 October 2009 

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Ignore the title – presumably the publisher’s slant to sell more – and follow the sub-head about curious phenomena. Written by an FT journalist and an economist this is a book for nerds. Around the periphery of today’s football (and sports) industry there are a lot of clever people generating a lot of information that, if correctly assembled, should prove they are cleverer than the likes of Harry Redknapp and the typical phone-in caller. Kuper and Szymanski address topics as varied as the suicide rates after major football tournaments (lower than expected) and strategies in the transfer market (think twice about buying blonds unless you’re a Swedish club). The sacred cows of some of our football beliefs are attacked with hard data. Some, to my mind, survive the onslaught.

A Riotous Footballing Memoir About the Loneliest Position on the Field
by Graham Joyce
Mainstream, £8.99
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 273 November 2009 

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What do goalkeepers daydream about? What goes through their minds when all the play is down the other end? Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular is the true story of a 52-year-old custodian called up to represent England in a Writers’ World Cup in Florence. The story fades into the background, however, as Graham Joyce digresses into matters as diverse as the pre-match huddle, what the six-yard box is for and the efficacy of spraying WD-40 on your osteoarthritic knees.

A German’s view of our beautiful game
by Raphael Honigstein
Yellow Jersey, £11.99
Reviewed by Mike Ticher
From WSC 274 December 2009 

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Psychoanalysing national character is “a murky business”, says Raphael Honigstein, a German journalist who has lived in England since 1993. It certainly is, especially when your picture of the nation is a caricature. An unflattering view from an outsider is often unsettling. It can also be refreshing and challenging, but only if the insights are original. Honigstein has absorbed a lot about English football through direct experience and its literature (he leans heavily on David Winner and David Downing), but most of his conclusions seem to me exaggerated, too broad or half-truths, at best.

Forty years in the commentary box
Xby John MotsonX
XVirgin, £18.99X
Reviewed by Taylor Parkes
From WSC 274 December 2009 

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If you disregard the alarming cover, on which Motty appears to be offering you outside for a fight, this exhaustive autobiography is more or less what you’d expect. Spanning a gruelling 386 pages – the last 65 just listing the games over which Motson has jabbered and chuckled – at its best it’s warm and charming. At its worst, it’s slightly deranged. Mostly, it’s boring.

50 Great Cup Upsets
by Derek Watts
Book Guild, £12.99
Reviewed by Terry Staunton
From WSC 276 February 2010

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The return of a certain country of perceived footballing minnows to the world stage this summer is likely to trigger some dewy-eyed reminiscences in the north-east of England. Bizarre as it may sound to younger fans, there is a corner of Middlesbrough that is forever North Korea.

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