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Football books for Christmas (2005)

Release date: 24th December, 2005
Publisher: Miscellaneous

List Price: £Various
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Football books for Christmas

In my role as a sports book reviewer, I have ample opportunity to consider what it is that makes a successful sporting tome.

Is it the writer's literary ability which invites us to re-visit specific sporting events or incidents, or perhaps it is the earliest influences upon the skill, drive and tenacity of an individual sportsman or woman which captures our imagination?

Granted, there are a (very limited) number of superstars - Beckham, Woods, Tyson - of whom we cannot get enough, but I would suggest that mostly, we're more interested in reading about a specific sport rather than its personalities.

Of course, the publishing industry will continue to produce what it believes will sell; if this means the occasionally lamentable 'authorised biography' of semi-literate, 24-year-old footballers, then so be it, but a) you will not see such titles reviewed here, because b) readers of sports books justifiably demand more.

Which brings me on to the clutch of football books now occupying a high street bookshop or internet site near you.

You cannot escape football's all-pervading influence, even at Christmas, which accounts for bookshelves groaning under the weight of some very ordinary fare, most of it along the following lines: "Turned up very late for the game at United, but scored and was booked in a 2-1 win. Vital three points in our quest to stay in the Premiership. Beat our new Angolan striker at Playstation2 on the way home. Went for few drinks at the new club in town where I met my model girlfriend Angie who told me the Merc had had a prang etc etc.."

Searching for something a tad different can be an arduous task, but there are several titles that would be a welcome Christmas present for any football fan.

The first of these is Football Dreams by Chris Lightbown and Michael Bennet. If what you seek in a sports book is originality and an ability on the part of its authors to make you laugh, look no further. Essentially a collection of scenes which portrays some of the game's biggest names as you have never seen them before - Ron Atkinson 'getting it on' at the Notting Hill Carnival for instance - the book's subtitle 'players in the real world gives a hint at the amusement in prospect.

Another favourite is Matchday by Chris Green, a snapshot of the rituals which take place before, during and after football matches, everything from catering to post-match interviews.

Green examines each aspect through the eyes of unsung heroes, from Rob Bradley, Lincoln City's architect chairman, to Paul Barnett, once the youngest groundsman in the Football League, now looking after matters at Scottish second division club Gretna, a man who will not remove his 'please stay off the grass' sign until 2pm (and that's for the players).

Leeds supporters at Wigan, erstwhile Bristol City boss Brian Tinnion (nice bloke) and a rare photograph of James Alexander Gordon preparing to read the football results. They're all here, each an essential piece of football's Saturday jigsaw.

Finally, with the third round of the Cup scheduled for the first week in January, there is Motson's FA Cup Odyssey, an ideal gift for the supporter who wants to polish up on his stats and facts. Motson, naturally enough, is full of them. My favourite is Tommy Docherty's pre-match words of warning to his Manchester United players as they took the field to face Southampton in the 1976 Cup Final. "Sunderland!" declared the Doc; United lost 1-0.

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