Reviews from When Saturday Comes. Follow the link to buy the book from Amazon.
by Lutz Pfannenstiel
Vision Sports, £12.99
Reviewed by Jon Matthias
From WSC 344 October 2015
The slogans on the cover indicate that this is more than a journeyman footballer’s lifestory. “Died on the pitch”, “Kidnapped a penguin”, “Played on six continents”, “Wrongly jailed for match-fixing”, “Lived in an igloo”, “Played against Beckham” and so on. The igloo, it turns out, is a throwaway reference about a stunt to raise awareness of climate change.
What really stands out throughout Lutz Pfannenstiel’s story is his naivety, which seems undiminished after several years. Born in Bavaria in 1973, his globetrotting career began aged 19 when he met an “agent” and flew to Malaysia for a pro contract that never materialised. Fifteen years later he is recruited for a new super-club in Armenia, but the money runs out before the season starts.
Being overly trusting led to his match-fixing conviction and five-month prison sentence in Singapore. One night he was followed home by a fan who had recognised him in a restaurant. Normal people might be suspicious of that but Pfannestiel befriended the fan, who almost inevitably worked for a betting syndicate. Pfannestiel thought they had just been chatting about football, but when the friend gets busted by the Singaporean Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau he says Pfannenstiel was supplying information. The experience of prison is not overly elaborated, but the bare details are horrible enough.
The book is reasonably well written (possibly due to the assistance of journalist Christian Putsch), but padded out by cliches and familiar facts about places he has visited. It only takes eight pages before he says you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper. The Premier League, meanwhile, is every professional’s “utopian dream”, even though Pfannenstiel was barely connected to it, barring a season without playing at Nottingham Forest. With a charming lack of self-awareness, he gives a potted history of legendary German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann’s experience in England before saying he couldn’t possibly compare himself to Trautmann. Of course, he promptly then goes on to do exactly that.
Pfannenstiel has been through trauma. His heart stopped three times after a hefty challenge in a game for Bradford Park Avenue (for whom he played 14 games in 2002-03) – he copes with it by going back to training a week later. He is less affected by his failed marriage and other relationships and there are some seedy womanising tales, including helping an English under-21 team avoid police charges of rape while on tour in Asia. His lack of awareness prevents him from realising how these stories implicate him.
Still, Pfannenstiel has plenty of interesting observations to make. He reckons at least a dozen Bundesliga players are gay; North American soccer crowds “just came to the stadium to eat” – one game in Calgary is ignored by the crowd, who are watching a Stanley Cup ice hockey game on the big screen instead. Everywhere, though, has “lovely people”, the fans are great and he’d love to go back. Recently Pfannenstiel set up Global FC, a charity highlighting the threat of climate change which he hopes will get people seriously addressing the issue. Sadly, it’s hard not to think this is his trademark naivety on display again.
The secrets of surviving as a football manager
by Michael Calvin
Century Books, £16.99
Reviewed by Huw Richards
From WSC 344 October 2015
Football uses managers as defining figures much as old-style history employed monarchs, to the extent of describing often pathetically short periods in office as “reigns”. Michael Calvin’s labelling of this phenomenon “Gaffer as Godhead” typifies an eye for the neat, aphoristic turn of phrase. He sees Roberto Martínez as “an undercover pragmatist” and identifies Ian Holloway as a “man of contradiction and impulse”. Such one-liners stud a book built on long interviews with its subjects, among which Holloway’s stream of consciousness stands out along with a sympathetic account of Alan Irvine’s travails and an intriguing portrait of Paul Tisdale.
Anyone wanting the long view of football management still needs to read Neil Carter’s historical study (The Football Manager, published in 2006). But as a picture of how it is now, this will be hard to beat. Those seeking the “how to” guide implied in the subtitle will find plenty of ideas, but must look hard since they are located within the wealth of insight and anecdote throughout the interviews rather than any grand overarching exposition. “Survival” implies retaining health, sanity and self-respect, rather than avoiding the all-but inevitable sack, although on either count your chances are better at Swansea, Exeter or Everton than QPR or Leeds.
This is a job which demands unshakeable self-confidence, but at the same time is designed to erode and ultimately destroy it. The toll it can take is shown at its most extreme by Martin Ling’s description of depression and electro-convulsive therapy, but there is plenty of testimony elsewhere, such as Brian McDermott’s belief that: “There are a lot of depressed people in football, but they probably do not even know it, because they are conditioned by the game.”
Calvin’s questioning evokes a sense of men who are confident and reflective, with credentials and hinterlands beyond their coaching badges. Some, such as Brendan Rodgers, are adepts in neuro-linguistic programming (no, me neither before I read this book), while Chris Hughton did a corporate management course and many have benefited from the League Managers Association’s training.
Aidy Boothroyd may still periodically punch a wall at half time, but sensitivity has replaced rage as a default setting. It is not just innate decency that explains Eddie Howe’s practice of “being a shoulder” for players, but that it “can only help you”.
They are also supportive of each other. Rodgers and Alan Pardew in particular emerge as willing to assist others, while Pardew also generates the best piece of trivia with his pride, from his past as a glazier, at having installed windows on the Natwest Tower and Sea Containers House.
Calvin is no soft touch, but the overwhelming impression he conveys is a sympathetic one – of largely decent, if driven men working in a world where, as Mick McCarthy says, “common sense is not very common”. The problem is not the managers, but the people who appoint them and the hysterical atmosphere in which they must try to function.
by Stan Osborne
Legends Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Julian McDougall
From WSC 343 September 2015
Making the Grade was published in 2012 but without the critical reception it deserved. Stan Osborne has had two careers, footballer and teacher. Here, he shares his memories of the first, spanning just two years (1969-71) as an Everton youth player and alludes to its impact on the much longer second. This is most striking when he accounts for his own time at school: “This was the 1960s and there was no hue and cry about physical punishment... we accepted [it] without complaint, in the knowledge that it was invariably administered justly and fairly.” The author never says this directly, but there is a strong implication that he laments not only today’s player power but also the shifts in school discipline.
On the cover, Joe Royle says he read the book in one night, and certainly any reader with an interest in the vein of unsung football insight previously attributed to the likes of Eamon Dunphy, Gary Nelson and Gary Imlach (whose father Stewart, then an Everton coach, plays a prominent role here) won’t labour over this.
Osborne writes directly and with precision, dispensing with the need for reflective flourish – the order of things was as it was, and the better for it. The book reflects on the social and hierarchical function of “banter” at a football club and the pervading insecurity of that world – much of the bullying is carried out by those with the most to lose, the younger pros keeping apprentices in their place, while the first-team stars are benign and aloof.
Has Osborne observed a parallel in education, you wonder? But the central theme – of this being a harsh world for working-class men, from school to football to the outside world – ultimately turns the author into a victim as he is released and bluntly asked by Everton manager Harry Catterick to “close the door on the way out”. His playing days will continue at semi-pro level, but within weeks he is at college training for PE teaching. Never, though, does Osborne lay blame, he accepts this cruel fate as harsh but fair, as with the pain inflicted by his teachers.
This sense of undeveloped implication ultimately frustrates as the book might have been even more fascinating had Osborne described life as a PE teacher in the Black Country. Every day must, we’d assume, be inflected with the experiences of his first career. Teaching is full of exes: artists, musicians, athletes and these days, thanks to Michael Gove’s scheme, soldiers, all carrying the weight of the past. When Osborne tells us “I walked out a hard bitten angry young man with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Liver Buildings who was determined never to feel the pain of failure again”, I want to know how this impacted on his teaching, and how he feels about his students’ attitudes.
In the final pages he returns to Everton’s training ground, Finch Farm having replaced Bellefield, now a “relic from a different time and place”, and casts another stoical gaze on the inevitability of heartbreak for most of today’s academy hopefuls, still envious of their slim chance despite his own experience – “gosh, the tears hurt… even now”. Leaving the reader wanting more is, of course, the hallmark of a great book, and this reader hopes Osborne writes a sequel about his second career.
My life inside football
by Danny Higginbotham
Trinity Mirror, £16.99
Reviewed by Andy Thorley
From WSC 343 September 2015
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.
by Arild Stavrum
Freight Books, £14.99
Reviewed by Mark Sanderson
From WSC 343 September 2015
Perhaps the biggest criticism of ex-footballers working in the media today is that they don’t provide nearly enough insight into what life as a professional footballer is really like. If former Norway and Aberdeen striker Arild Stavrum’s football crime novel is anything to go by then that’s just as well.
Having played for eight clubs in several different countries, as well as working as a manager over a five-year period, Stavrum can offer a telling insight into the various goings on when a player moves clubs. In the book’s case those details tend to involve vast amounts of corruption.
Stavrum’s writing career began while still a player in his early 20s when the local paper asked him to write a column. This, his second novel, but his first to be printed in English, is based upon the murder of the most powerful man in Norwegian football: agent Arild Golden – a man whose ruthless pragmatism compels him to use any means to justify his desired ends. Golden has no moral objection to exploiting teenage African footballers and manipulating his way to earning hugely disproportionate margins on the player sales he negotiates.
Although he spent a few seasons at Pittodrie at the turn of the century, Stavrum’s critique is very clearly aimed at his home country, although the themes of ambition, greed, corruption and jealousy are universal. The murder has already happened as the book begins. Golden’s corrupt ways are revealed in a series of flashbacks, well demonstrated in his dealings with (a clearly fictitious) Everton chairman James Stirling, who he refers to privately as “Mr Gastric Bypass”. The agent’s hand in a particular transfer is strengthened considerably by incriminating photographs he has of Stirling with several Ukrainian women who turn out to be under-age. Golden blackmails Stirling to buy a certain player, as well as paying the full fee to a private bank account in Guernsey.
The plot brings together a young TV sports reporter and a recently retired former Ajax player, Steinar Brunsvik, who try to solve the case. The reason for Brunsvik’s retirement is the source of his motivation to uncover the killer. In the hands of a lesser writer this may have sounded as far-fetched as Brunsvik’s new career as a lawyer, but the characters are so well sketched out, and the dialogue so convincing, you put the book down trying to remember where you saw him play.
Stavrum excels in creating an environment highlighting the leading characters’ growing paranoia, but he doesn’t hang about: the book moves in rapid-fire chapters that manage to address homophobia, racially divided changing rooms, doping, the culture of celebrity, and what it is to be a single parent, in an insightful way. The book is brought to a satisfying conclusion; the only negative aspect is that it might trigger a trend for publishers to go looking for ex-footballers to become novelists. Stavrum has earned the right to be described as the latter and the book deserves a wide readership.
Liverpool’s unforgettable 1983-84 season
by Tony Evans
Reviewed by Jonathan Paxton
From WSC 343 September 2015
On paper Liverpool’s 1984 treble winners were a surprisingly ordinary side. Even with Graeme Souness, Ian Rush and an occasionally fit Kenny Dalglish, this was a team in transition under new manager Joe Fagan, one that could lose 4-0 at Coventry and in which Michael Robinson could hold down a regular place. Tony Evans, a Liverpool fan who attended nearly all the games that season, holds them in higher regard than the statistically superior and more skilful sides of either 1979 or 1988 and his adoration shines through, if sometimes a little too brightly.
An experienced journalist, at the Times until recently, Evans writes from the perspective of an ardent fan of both club and city. The book’s title (an obscure Chris Rea track, apparently popular only in the Anfield dressing room) and the cover artwork suggest a nostalgic, feel good story but despite the team’s success, attendances are low and the city is struggling economically. Some interesting social and political asides featuring Derek Hatton and Margaret Thatcher are touched upon but the book’s focus never strays far from football.
Through interviews with team members, we find a mainly happy squad but a social group with a heavy drinking culture that new signings and reserve players find daunting. The much eulogised bootroom is presented as dingy with paint flaking off the walls and around the training ground there is an atmosphere of intimidation that sometimes approaches bullying. New boy Craig Johnston is ridiculed for his diet and fitness regime and, in one of the book’s most interesting sections, his failure to hold down a first-team place pushes him close to a breakdown. Meanwhile, Alan Kennedy’s happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be what cements his position in the side and Fagan struggles to shape a midfield to cover the clumsy defender without ever considering a replacement left-back.
Fagan himself remains an elusive enigma, mainly because the manager was so private and reluctant to speak to the media. His is clearly respected by his players and a good motivator, yet we don’t get the impression he had the wit or tactical insight to compare with his predecessors Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Even through quotes from his diary we struggle to get to know Fagan the man. Entries such as “Well the lads did it, each one deserved a medal” suggest that he was dull and unimaginative.
Evans does tell a good story and undoubtedly loves his subject. Sometimes though rambling quotes from players can be overlong and struggle to explain a point clearly, and when the squad travel to Denmark the journalist in Evans can’t resist a Hans Christian Andersen/fairytale analogy. At points it reads like a hagiography of the team, particularly Souness who kicks and punches his way through matches but is lifted to the status of demi-god by the author. Like Souness, this book may not be universally popular outside of Anfield but it stands as an interesting if rose-tinted review of what was a very successful team.
by Terry Dyson with Mike Donovan
Pitch Publishing, £18.99
Reviewed by Alan Fisher
From WSC 342 August 2015
“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.
One 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
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.
The story of the mysterious Marco
by Marco Negri with Jeff Holmes
Pitch Publishing, £20
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 342 August 2015
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.
When the FA Cup really mattered Vol 3
by Matthew Eastley
Pitch Publishing, £14.99
Reviewed by Jonathan Paxton
From WSC 342 August 2015
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.