BOOK!RE­VIEWS

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

A look at the lat­est of­fer­ings

Back Where We Be­long – How Tran­mere re­turned to the Foot­ball League, by Matt Jones, £12. Rat­ing out of 10:9

LIFE­LONG Tran­mere fan Matt Jones was so happy when the club won pro­mo­tion that he de­cided to write a book about it!

The 28-year-old hadn’t had much to cheer about as a Rovers fan over the years, so the club’s dra­matic re­turn to the Foot­ball League this sum­mer af­ter a three-year ab­sence gave him the idea.

‘ Back Where We Be­long’ charts Tran­mere’s three years in the Na­tional League and is a warts-and-all look at the highs and lows along the way.

Jones is a broad­cast jour­nal­ist with Liver­pool’s Ra­dio City Talk and has cov­ered Tran­mere for the last four years for the Liver­pool Echo, so he has built up some de­cent con­tacts.

It meant he could help tell the story through the words of Tran­mere chair­man Mark Palios, past and cur­rent man­agers Gary Bra­bin and Micky Mel­lon, striker James Nor­wood, who fa­mously scored the Wem­b­ley win­ner that clinched pro­mo­tion, and Tran­mere Rovers Sup­port­ers Trust chair­man Ben Har­ri­son.

“I al­ways wanted to do a book and I was wait­ing for a bit of in­spi­ra­tion,” said Jones, who was taken to his first Rovers match by dad Glynne back in 1995.

“When we won the game at Wem­b­ley (2-1 against Bore­ham Wood with ten men in May), I thought ‘there’s a story’.

“All the peo­ple I ap­proached agreed im­me­di­ately to take part and they all had a dif­fer­ent story and mes­sage to tell.

“They were all so hon­est and that’s the amaz­ing thing.

“For ex­am­ple, Micky was very hon­est about how he strug­gled to get over the For­est Green (play-off fi­nal) game the year be­fore.”

He’s right about that. There’s an ex­cel­lent pas­sage where Mel­lon talks about at­tempt­ing to put the For­est Green de­feat to bed by beat­ing Bore­ham Wood.

“I can’t tell you the depths I’d gone to my­self, and prob­a­bly the rest of the staff and play­ers too,” he says. “I felt the only way to get rid of that or deal with that was to go up those 107 steps (as a win­ner at Wem­b­ley).

“Emo­tion­ally, it was a case of go­ing up those steps, lift­ing the tro­phy, leav­ing my sh*t at the top and walk­ing to some­thing new down the other side. That was where my men­tal­ity was. It was crazy how I was feel­ing.” It is that raw hon­esty that gives the book an ex­tra edge. All the lead­ing pro­tag­o­nists tell it to you straight. There’s no skirt­ing around the is­sues.

Jones got writ­ing as soon as the sea­son ended and whizzed through it.

“It took six weeks to write,” he said, “while my wife, Emma, was watch­ing Love Is­land! I wanted to get the book out for the first home game of the sea­son.”

With a thou­sand books hav­ing al­ready been snapped up, Jones ad­mits he has been bowled over by the re­sponse to his self-pub­lished tome.

“I’m quite amazed,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve read one neg­a­tive com­ment. I don’t know what I was ex­pect­ing, but peo­ple seem to like it.

“There haven’t been many books writ­ten about Tran­mere and it’s so long since we’ve had any suc­cess that I think peo­ple are en­joy­ing re­liv­ing the story.

“It builds up to Wem­b­ley and I was lucky to get some great peo­ple on board. I’m quite over­whelmed.”

This is a book that Tran­mere fans will love, but it also mer­its a wider au­di­ence.

Back Where We Be­long is avail­able from the club shop or from mat­tjones90. word­press.com John Lyons

State of Play - Un­der the Skin of the Mod­ern Game, by Michael Calvin, Pub­lished by Cen­tury, Price £16.99. Rat­ing out of 10: 8

AWARD-WIN­NING sports writer Michael Calvin’s lat­est book is an am­bi­tious, in-depth and wide-rang­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of the cur­rent game. Calvin takes as his in­spi­ra­tion Arthur Hopcraft’s ‘The Foot­ball Man’, which was writ­ten two years af­ter Eng­land won the World Cup and is re­garded as one of the best foot­ball books ever writ­ten.

Hopcraft’s book was di­vided into nine sec­tions but Calvin has gone for four broad head­ings: The Player; The Man­ager; The Club, The Peo­ple.

It is an epic un­der­tak­ing which cov­ers: the need for more emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent man­agers and coaches; the rise of the women’s game; the fail­ing pro­to­cols for as­sess­ing and safe­guard­ing in­jured play­ers; the high-pres­sure, throw-away cul­ture of the mod­ern game and its toll on men­tal health; the so­cial im­pact of foot­ball – in pris­ons, home­less shel­ters and ur­ban es­tates around the UK - and the fu­ture of the sport – for coaches, own­ers and fans alike.

Calvin in­ter­views many well-known fig­ures in the game, in­clud­ing Gareth South­gate, Arsene Wenger and Dele Alli, but of­ten the more af­fect­ing hu­man sto­ries are with lesser-known in­di­vid­u­als such as Dawn As­tle.

The daugh­ter of the West Brom and Eng­land striker Jeff As­tle, who trag­i­cally died pre­ma­turely from Alzheimer’s, is at the cen­tre of the “Jus­tice for Jeff” cam­paign, which she started in 2004.

The foot­ball au­thor­i­ties were in de­nial when the coro­ner found As­tle had died from an ‘in­dus­trial dis­ease’ – de­men­tia brought on by the re­peated trauma of head­ing the ball.

A long and all-con­sum­ing cam­paign to get jus­tice for As­tle and the hun­dreds of other foot­ballers who have died pre­ma­turely has en­sued.

So­cial me­dia is also dis­cussed and Calvin com­ments: “Twit­ter has made ev­ery­one a pun­dit. Opin­ion takes prece­dence over ac­tion.” And he is par­tic­u­larly scathing of Fan TV.

“The stars of Fan TV, uni­formly self-re­gard­ing and in­evitably self-ap­pointed, em­pha­size the coarse­ness of what passes as pub­lic de­bate in a world with­out the con­straint of truth, fair­ness and bal­ance.

“Their nar­cis­sism is as over-pow­er­ing as their ig­no­rance, yet they set the tone,

pur­port to speak for those who lack the in­tel­lect or in­cli­na­tion to think for them­selves.”

Arsene Wenger acidly com­ments on a mod­ern malaise: “Five hun­dred years ago the tar­get for peo­ple was to be a saint, fifty years ago it was to be a hero in the war. To­day it is to be a bil­lion­aire or, even more, a celebrity.”

Calvin delves deep into the ever-in­creas­ing in­equal­i­ties of the mod­ern game. While Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley chair­man Andy Holt strug­gles to keep his club afloat, the top six demon­strate greed and avarice and try to im­pose serf­dom on a game that needs to be­come more civilised than com­mer­cialised.

The hypocrisy of most fans’ mo­tives is ex­posed. Bob Beech a Portsmouth sup­porter who set up the fans’ board dur­ing their fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, is bru­tally hon­est when he says: “Most fans are liars. They will tell you they want their foot­ball club to be as pure as the driven snow, with a great academy pro­duc­ing lo­cal boys for the first team. What they re­ally want is to win on Satur­day. If that hap­pens they don’t re­ally care whether a Colom­bian drug car­tel is run­ning the place.”

In his sum­mary, Calvin high­lights the huge con­tra­dic­tions in the mod­ern game when he says: “Foot­ball’s beauty has long been in the eye of the be­holder. It is ca­pa­ble of lyri­cism and cyn­i­cism, artistry and ba­nal­ity. It is steeped in reck­less ro­man­ti­cism, and blood­less cal­cu­la­tion. Its es­sen­tial con­tra­dic­tions are em­bod­ied by its most ac­claimed coach Pep Guardi­ola.

“The splen­dour of his teams and the au­then­tic­ity of his per­sonal prin­ci­ples are un­de­ni­able. Yet his pas­sion­ate es­pousal of the Cata­lan cause left him ex­posed to ac­cu­sa­tions of hypocrisy, since he has prof­ited from an Abu Dhabi-owned club Manch­ester City and his am­bas­sado­rial role with the Qatari World Cup. Nei­ther Gulf regime is noted for its Lib­er­al­ism.”

Bet­ting com­pa­nies and agents are a huge stain on the game and ex­ploita­tive prac­tices, such as West Ham’s pol­icy of charg­ing £700 to ful­fill the dream of be­ing a mas­cot, are con­temptible.

Break­ing through all the hype around foot­ball, Calvin shows us the re­al­ity of what is re­ally go­ing on in­side our clubs and as­so­ci­ated in­sti­tu­tions. It is an in­tel­li­gent and deeply in­sight­ful book, if some­what dispir­it­ing read­ing, about the cur­rent state of our na­tional game. Ian Aspinall

Record Break­ers – The In­side Story of Notts County’s Mo­men­tous 1997/98 Ti­tle Win, by Paul Smith, pub­lished by Pitch Pub­lish­ing, £16.99. Rat­ing out of 10: 8

PAUL Smith has pre­vi­ous – he was the au­thor of Pie in the

Sky, the tale of Notts County’s 2009/10 ti­tle vic­tory.

I haven’t read that one, but if it’s as good as Record

Break­ers, it must be some book. This time around, Smith takes us fur­ther back – to the 1997/98 sea­son. It is one that has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for the au­thor.

“… The first year I truly re­call games, in­ci­dents within them, great goals and the play­ers who made it hap­pen, is 1997/98 – Sam Al­lardyce’s record break­ers,” he states. “The Third Divi­sion ti­tle was won by March, some­thing no side has ever man­aged. This was a Notts County side that just won and won and won.”

The jour­nal­ist also felt that County side hadn’t re­ceived the credit they de­served for their achieve­ments. So with the 20th an­niver­sary of that re­mark­able sea­son beck­on­ing, he de­cided it was the per­fect time to track down as many of the play­ers as he could and get their take on things.

It helps that there were some de­cent names in that team – for ex­am­ple, Ian Hen­don, Mark Robson, Shaun Derry, Andy Hughes, Ian Bar­a­clough, Steve Fin­nan – and a man­ager in Al­lardyce who has gone on to have a highly suc­cess­ful ca­reer, in­clud­ing man­ag­ing Eng­land, al­beit briefly.

The glo­ri­ous sea­son Notts had in the fourth tier in 97/98 was all the more sur­pris­ing given the dis­as­trous cam­paign they had had the one be­fore, fin­ish­ing rock-bot­tom of the third tier.

Al­lardyce has be­come known as some­thing of a rel­e­ga­tion es­cape ex­pert in re­cent years, but he was only able to win two games out of his 21 in charge hav­ing taken over mid-sea­son.

It meant the pres­sure was on him – and the team – to get off to a fly­ing start at the lower level.

Striker Gary Jones, who hit 28 goals in the rip-roar­ing ti­tle sea­son, said: “Sam must have gone through our con­tracts with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass be­cause he brought us back on 1 June – I f**ck­ing hated it!”

Yet what the play­ers re­garded as the tough­est pre-sea­son of their ca­reers be­gan to pay div­i­dends as the re­sults started to go their way.

The book cap­tures the at-the-time in­no­va­tive ideas of Al­lardyce, like spe­cial­ist train­ing for goal­keep­ers and the use of sports sci­ence.

It also makes clear how close the bond was be­tween all the play­ers, a team spirit that made them put in that ex­tra ef­fort when the chips were down.

There’s the ten­sion in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween chair­man Derek Pavis and Al­lardyce over money for sign­ings and the sale of play­ers.

One of the book’s strengths is that it’s not just a chrono­log­i­cal ac­count of what hap­pens. It flits around and fo­cuses on dif­fer­ent as­pects and in­di­vid­u­als.

It’s well writ­ten and the con­tri­bu­tions from so many of those in­volved bring it to life.

It was a time when foot­ballers played hard on the pitch and off it. The game has be­come more pro­fes­sional, some would say bor­ing, since then.

There’s a de­cent in­ter­view with Al­lardyce, then Ever­ton boss, who laments that very fact.

He says: “The re­mark­able dif­fer­ence is to­day a squad can’t have any fun any­more to­gether… It’s a no-no any­more sadly, and cer­tainly you as a man­ager and a coach (you) couldn’t even dream about pro­mot­ing any­thing like go­ing out and bond­ing to­gether by hav­ing a few drinks and play­ing silly games like we used to.”

With loads of sto­ries and anec­dotes, fans’ rec­ol­lec­tions and up­dates on what the play­ers are do­ing now, this is a well-rounded book that Notts fans – or foot­ball fans in gen­eral - will thor­oughly en­joy. An ex­cel­lent read.

John Lyons

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