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

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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. 

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

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“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. 

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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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337 SlimJimSimply the best
by Tom Miller
Black & White, £9.99
Reviewed by Gordon Cairns
From WSC 337 March 2015

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The radio football parody Only An Excuse captured the Scottish perception of Jim Baxter almost to perfection back in the 1980s. His character explains his most famous performance, against England in 1967 where at one point he juggled with the ball: “I had a couple of great teachers... and three White & Mackays and a double Grouse, before I went on the pitch, like. That would explain the languid fluidity.” Unfortunately, the only inaccuracy was the choice of spirit – Baxter preferred Bacardi over whisky. Tom Miller tries to expand on the popular caricature of an incredible footballer who loved a drink by offering an explanation for Baxter’s self-destruction in this new biography, with somewhat limited results.

James Curran Baxter is often described as Scotland’s greatest player but ended a 12-year playing career with only ten domestic medals, which was not a lot given that Rangers were the dominant team in Scotland for most of his time at Ibrox. Perhaps that is why his eulogists focus on individual performances, including two victories at Wembley and being picked for a Rest of the World select. However the extent of Baxter’s drinking and lack of training must surely limit claims that he was truly world class. Although alcohol abuse was rife in the football culture of the 1960s, it’s questionable whether you can consistently operate at the top level with high volumes of alcohol in your bloodstream – Pelé and Eusébio weren’t playing with hangovers.

It seems Baxter’s problem was that he simply didn’t value the natural ability that raised him out of the ordinary, his career a long attempt at sabotaging the skill he possessed. In the most interesting chapter, sports psychologist Tom Lucas examines how never being acknowledged by his birth parents as their son during his playing career may have affected Baxter. (He grew up thinking his real mother was his aunt, who he was raised by.) Lucas’s conjecture is that the pitch was the only place Baxter could escape from the pain of rejection by his mother while his womanising could be connected to his feelings of abandonment.

Published two years after what was billed as “the definitive biography”, the bulk of this book rehashes the well-worn tales of Baxter’s drinking, gambling and occasional footballing. Miller, an in-house commentator for Rangers, didn’t have to wander far in his choice of interviewees, the majority of whom seem to come from the club’s “family”, including current defender Darren McGregor and youth-team coach Davie Kirkwood, I assume because both had played for Fife clubs like Baxter, hardly justifying their inclusion. Baxter’s own voice is barely heard, yet for most of his playing career he wrote syndicated columns. Although ghost-written, surely a trawl through these would have unearthed something more relevant than how McGregor felt when he joined Rangers.

The inclusion of two poems and a selection of pen portraits from the back of football cards feel like fillers to make the book up to the required length. There is no interview with Alex Ferguson, who played alongside Baxter; Scotland’s greatest manager’s views on getting the best from Scotland’s most talented player would have been compelling. Neither is there any input from Baxter’s sons or first wife, which could have given greater insight into how he felt about family, especially if he had issues about abandonment.

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337 CaseThe autobiography of Jimmy Case
by Jimmy Case
John Blake, £18.99
Reviewed by Seb Patrick
From WSC 337 March 2015

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If things had worked out differently, Hard Case could have been the first footballer’s autobiography to be crowdfunded. Jimmy Case and his ghostwriter Andrew Smart initially sought to get the book printed via online publisher Unbound, a site on which authors solicit advance orders for titles, last year but Case’s memoir didn’t attract enough pledges. Undaunted, they’ve instead managed to find a traditional publisher to take it on – but unfortunately, this change in approach doesn’t seem to have affected the content of the book, which feels badly in need of a stronger editor’s hand.

What becomes immediately apparent from its disjointed, conversational style is that Hard Case is essentially a transcription of Case talking about his career and sharing anecdotes. An opening chapter centred on his Wembley experiences at both Liverpool and Brighton suggests that these thoughts have been grouped together in some kind of thematic order; but from then on it’s a roughly chronological run through his playing career, which nevertheless takes in several diversions forwards or backwards whenever the mood strikes him to refer to something elsewhere.

It’s clear that making itself an accessible read is one of Hard Case’s foremost aims – it’s a welcoming book, from its fairly large print size to its apparent desire to directly replicate the experience of hearing Case reminisce in person. But this style lends itself to repetitiveness very quickly, and by the time you’ve read him guess at having played “thirty-seven games” for the reserves in a particular season only ten pages or so after having already stated that same figure as precise fact, you begin to yearn for Smart to start interfering in the narrative a bit more decisively.

Case himself is difficult not to warm to, especially when telling the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell directly to his face that he hates him, or responding to a Kenny Sansom taunt about his lack of England caps with the reply “Sorry, I thought you said European Cups”. In his time at Liverpool he was the archetypal example of a hard-working, tough-but-honest 1970s pro and his career is littered with distinctive quirks, from being allowed to continue his apprenticeship as an electrician after signing for Liverpool (essentially becoming a semi-pro player for two years) to being a contemporary of Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan who was somehow still playing in the Football League as late as 1995.

Yet while there’s much about Case’s career that was unique to him, there are also a good number of his stories – especially on the pitch – that are on the somewhat generic or predictable side. He even manages to squeeze in perhaps one of the most forgettable Bill Shankly stories yet recounted in an autobiography. It’s a shame that so many of these take up space that could have better been spent exploring his life outside football a bit more.

Instead, once the tale of his later years on the south coast is concluded, Case switches to a chapter in which he discusses the present-day Liverpool side’s prospects with an optimism born out of the events of the 2013-14 season. It’s an ill-advised sojourn that has the effect of severely dating Hard Case even before it’s reached shelves; and it’s symptomatic of a book that, for all its good intentions and occasionally lively source material, is sorely in need of knocking into better literary shape.

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336 LargeThe story of Frank Large
by P F Large
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Alan Fisher
From WSC 336 February 2015

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Growing up in the early 1960s, I got to know the players not through television or the papers but via my collection of bubble gum cards. On the front was a colour photo of my heroes, I devoured the brief biography on the back. Many times I shuffled the pack to create imaginary teams but one man always led the line.

Frank Large was the epitome of what I believed a centre-forward should be. Rock solid, over six foot tall, his rugged face battered, I presumed, from aerial battles with similarly uncompromising defenders. The right attributes too: “Honest, works hard, good in the air.” False nines, a pivot, mobile and pacy, I get it, times have changed but that image remains.    

Large played for nine League clubs between 1958 and 1973, a total of 629 appearances including three spells at Northampton Town. His career spanned four divisions and he scored goals in all of them, well over 200 in total.

Large’s assessment of his talents is characteristically straightforward: “I can only do one thing but I’m good at it.” The story of this engaging, open man is lovingly told by his son through match reports, personal memories and interviews with ex-pros and managers, including his boss at Fulham Bobby Robson, who speaks with the humour and tenderness that footballers of a certain generation reserve for team-mates who they respect as a professional and friend. There’s a theme though – knock it up to Frank, Frank gets on the end of it, Frank never gives up.

Managers wanted him, often to give that extra push for promotion or to stave off relegation. Yet he was also easily dispensable as these same managers looked to upgrade. In 1966 alone he played for Carlisle, Oldham and Northampton. If he had regrets, he seldom showed them because this proud man was grateful for the chance to play.  

There’s no in-depth analysis but the many anecdotes portray the life of this football man as a world away from that of today’s top professionals. Arriving at Halifax, his first club, he looked so bedraggled the other players gave him clothes. His reward for a cup run with Northampton was four new tyres for his second-hand turquoise Mini Clubman. There are many more and enjoyable they are too.

Perhaps the most telling insight comes when the game has finished with him. Returning home after his first morning in a factory, lungs and eyes chocked with toxic dust, he vows never to return yet picks himself up and endures the Dickensian conditions, 60 hours a week for 11 years, to provide for his family.  

Frank Large died in 2003 aged 63, content in retirement in Ireland. His son’s readable, pleasing account does ample justice both to his father and a bygone age of football. Then again, Large will always be fondly remembered by supporters across the country as much for his wholehearted approach as for his goals. One of his most important for Leicester in Division One is described thus: “Frank slides in on his arse and crashes a shot into the top corner.” That’s my kind of centre-forward.

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336 Gossby Jeremy Goss with 
Edward Couzens-Lake
Amberley Publlishing, £12.79
Reviewed by Paul Buller
From WSC 336 February 2015

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Jeremy Goss is not a player who can claim to have had a long and illustrious career. He did, however, light up English football in Europe after its very darkest days and brought myself and other Norwich City fans two seasons of sheer pleasure, the like of which we’ll probably never experience again.

Best known for his UEFA Cup goals in 1993 that helped Norwich become the only English side ever to beat Bayern Munich at their Olympic stadium, the midfielder briefly became a household name. His rise to fame, however, was as much a surprise to him as it was to those of us in the stands at Carrow Road who’d watched him endlessly trudge up and down the sidelines hoping to get a game.

Goss’s story charts his time in the wilderness very personably and it’s hard not to feel for him. Stuck in the reserves at Norwich for ten years, to this day he holds the record for most consecutive picks as first-team substitute (18). He doesn’t drink, he rarely goes out with the lads and he trains harder than anyone at the club. He’s sick of hearing managers tell him “Your time will come, son”. Yet every time he tries to move clubs, Norwich give him a new contract.

Perversely then, things work out for him just at the point he’s decided he doesn’t care anymore. He has become so sick of Andy Townsend getting picked ahead of him that he decides to go off the rails and enjoy a few pints, get a bit lippy around the training ground and nastier on the pitch. Enter the new manager, Mike Walker, who tells Gossy he’s going to build the team around him. And he does. Goss becomes an integral part of a Norwich team who start the season by beating Arsenal 4-2 at Highbury, are eight points clear at the top of the inaugural Premier League in December and finish in third place having qualified for the UEFA Cup.

On top of this he starts scoring spectacular goals – namely 20-yard volleys that win him goal of the month on Match of the Day, an honour he is almost childishly (and touchingly) proud of. A season in Europe ensues and Goss plays his huge part in creating history. He and the team believe they’re going to win the UEFA Cup and only Inter put a stop to it in the third round. And then his career crumbles as suddenly as it rose. Walker leaves for Everton, players are sold, Goss is back in the reserves.

Tales of banter are refreshingly scarce; this is a story of how hard work, dedication and an incredible belief gave Goss and his team their just rewards at a time when football was still more about competition than money. Gossy is a proper story and an interesting insight into what a footballer is actually paid to do – train, work hard, play and win. And he enjoys it. At the end of the book, whether you’re a Norwich fan or not, you can’t help but admire the man.

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