Book Review – Aberdeen Greatest Games: The Dons’ Fifty Finest Matches by Kevin Sterling

Aberdeen are a powerhouse. One of only two teams in Scotland who have never been relegated, they have been there or thereabouts in cups, leagues and European competition for a long, long time. Kevin Stirling has brought 50 of their finest 90 minutes to print with a clear love for the club and for the people behind it.

As a club – aside from the 1980s and more of that later – there are plenty of cup triumphs and stories around their formation as well as more recent and more modest examples of their role at the pinnacle of Scottish football. As such there is a lot for a non-Aberdeen fan, like me, to relish. There are stories of yore including the Great Mystery scandal, their first Cup Final experience in front of a crowd of “at least” 146,433, a tour to South Africa in the 1930s by boat, their first cup final win in 1947 in front of a more modest 135,000, their engagement in the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Victory Cup and the USA Presidents Cup, the emergence of one Teddy Scott from Sunnybank, their first floodlit match in Leeds, their first championship in ’55 and then the troubles of ’56 before the start of two defining decades. The 1970s began with a Scottish Cup and the 1980s ended with one of the most successful spells in Aberdeen history thanks to two Alexs – Sir Alex Ferguson and Alex Smith – who in 1990 ended the decade as they began 20 years before – with a Scottish Cup win.

As a fan of another club, I was obviously interested to see how a couple of ex-players fared as managers, Sir Alex Ferguson I knew, but Ally MacLeod, who had a successful spell at the club in the mid-1970s before the ignominy of Argentina as boss of Scotland, is very well treated here. I was glad to see that there is a degree of affection for his time in a balanced manner. But it is not for that reason alone that I enjoyed the book.

The level of detail and the overview suggests that Kevin Stirling, author of many books on the club before this one could easily expand this from 50 matches to an official history of the club. His research is meticulous and especially during the early years it is well added to by the detail from interviews with former players from a variety of sources. Having to delve into an archive over a century ago is tough when delivering any history and news reports can be difficult to find. Here, there is a rich seem of interviews from more recent times which have been brought to the fore in the telling of these tales.

It may be noticeable that the stories stop in 2015, and 23 of the 50 are in the Ferguson/Smith eras – each one difficult to argue over their inclusion – as the time of European triumph in particular can feel like an albatross around the neck of any recent manager. Aberdeen, under Ferguson, is the only Scottish club to win two European Cups and their involvement in European has never come close to equalling that.

In choosing the 50 matches to be included, selection would have been a nightmare and favourites were probably jettisoned along the way. Within that criteria, context would be key but also greatest games need an element of excitement. Gothenburg may well be the pinnacle and Cup Finals and the clinching of championships the obvious choices but games where there is the finest comeback, the most runaway win, or the best example of how they play would be great; the rest are significant. On occasion, the telling of the game itself plays second fiddle to the context in which it was played, and you feel the significance is what made it great rather than the football played. I would have liked more of the roar of the crowd and the excitement of the bleak October rain as a backdrop to the game that made their season.

It is, however, a minor gripe, as this grips you. For an Aberdeen fan it will clearly grip them more than I, but it taught me a massive amount, not least that I should continue to be comforted that things were not always a two horse race and there may always be hope for us all – as long as it doesn’t kill is first!

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. March 2023. Hardcover: 288 pages)


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Book Review: The Homecoming: The Lionesses and Beyond (Football Shorts) by Jane Purdon

Football Shorts are a series of books created in a collaboration between award-winning journalist and author Ian Ridley’s own publishing company Floodlit Dreams and renowned sports book publisher, Pitch Publishing. Ridley details in the Notes and Acknowledgments of the first in the series, Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough, that the inspiration came about during lockdown and his desire for a short sporting read.

The intention is that there are to be three books in 2023, with the first, Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough by Ridley (January 2023), the second (reviewed here) The Homecoming: The Lionesses and Beyond, from Jane Purdon who has extensive experience in sports administration and football in particular, and finally from comedian and writer Andy Hamilton with Blue was the Colour due for release in September 2023.


The Homecoming as with Ian Ridley’s Pantomime Hero is a heartfelt and personal story and not a single word is wasted in the 160 pages.

And within the five chapters the story unfolds not only about Jane Purdon’s association and love for the beautiful game, but about the reclaiming of football in this country with the Lionesses triumph in the European Championship Finals of 2022 and her hopes going forward as we sit just a short time away from the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. A real past, present and future debate, reflection and journey.

The book opens on the eve of the European Final back in July 2022. Purdon finds herself on a bench near home to calm her mind as she tries to comprehend what the Lionesses had achieved in reaching a sold-out Wembley and the prospect of them lifting the title against Germany. As a reader you can feel the summer heat drift you into Purdon’s sub-conscious as she describes her early years in becoming a fan at Sunderland, her years at Cambridge University attempting to get women’s football off the ground and significant and subsequent career in sport. A journey which has seen Purdon become secretary of her beloved Sunderland and roles within major bodies such as the Premier League, UK Sport, Women in Football and most recently Premiership Rugby.

The opening chapter also contains an excerpt from an article Jane wrote for the football publication When Saturday Come in November 1992 which said:

The real issue is to get women’s football properly publicised, funded and appreciated. The England women’s team winning the European Championship – now that is not a fairytale, it could just happen.

Chapter two then jumps 30 years from that quote and is Purdon’s personal telling of the European Championship tournament taking readers through the group games and up to the last four clash for the Lionesses against Sweden. As a reader and somebody who was able to get to watch group games over in Rotherham and the Semi-Final in Sheffield between England and Sweden, the magic, the emotion and pure joy of that month is beautifully captured by Purdon. To be at Bramall Lane that night felt like a privilege and was as engaging, emotional and dramatic game as any I’ve had watching football in the last 50 years.

So with the Final now booked against Germany, Chapter three focuses on that crazy yet wonderful afternoon when the Lionesses achieved what the men’s team couldn’t a year earlier and claimed the title of European Champions. And whilst yes, this book is full of the emotion and celebration of that occasion, Purdon always has an eye throughout the book on making serious points. One such relates to the crowd and behaviour at that men’s Final and the disgraceful events prior to the game that shamed the game and the contrast with that for the women’s event. Further, the win wasn’t just for Head Coach Sarina Wiegman and her wonderful squad, it was about all those that had gone before as pioneers of the game and the reclaiming of football 100 years after The FA’s ban which stated: the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.

Chapter four focuses on the euphoria post-victory and includes the friendly against the USA, the powerhouses of Women’s football. However, it was played against a backdrop of anger and revulsion. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) had published an independent report which highlighted systematic abuse and sexual misconduct against players, with the finger pointing at those in charge for failure to have proper safeguarding and even more outrageously, seemingly turning a blind eye to the abuse.

The final chapter looks at the future of the women’s game and makes some significant points that whilst the Euros win has been hugely beneficial there are many issues out there. And that’s where this book is also a winner in raising these things. Take for instance the recent spate of ACL injuries that have seen players such as  Leah Williamson, Lionesses captain, miss out on the forthcoming World Cup – what has caused these, where is the research? Also, (and I was genuinely amazed) Purdon highlights the limited options for women’s football boots. And boots is where the story ends, as Purdon reclaims the game for herself buying her second ever pair after taking up playing again in September 2022.

As with the first book in the series, Jane Purdon has proved that ‘good things come in small packages’, with this second offering from Football Shorts, hitting the mark in being not only a joyous celebration of that balmy month in July 2022, but a genuine debate about the women’s game.

(Publisher: Football Shorts. May 2023. Paperback: 160 pages)


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Book Review: Jarrod Black – Chasing Pack: A football novel by Texi Smith

This is the fourth book from Texi Smith featuring his character, Jarrod Black, following on from Introducing Jarrod Black (book one), Jarrod Black – Hospital Pass (book two) and Jarrod Black – Guilty Party (book three) as well as his book about Jarrod’s sister, Anna Black – this girl can play.


Chasing Pack finds Jarrod about to start a new season with Darlington after clinching a Play-off win and promotion to League One, with the plotline of the betting syndicate and its chief Yannick Lefevre continuing from Guilty Party. However, as with any good writer, the author provides enough snippets of background information and character introductions for a new reader to pick-up this book in isolation.

As detailed in previous reviews, Jarrod Black and his adventures on the pitch are very much in the Roy of the Rovers vein and in Chasing Pack the author adds a James Bond-esque twist as Jarrod gets the opportunity to play action hero Harlowe Croft. This takes the setting of the majority of the book back to Australia from England and the chance for Jarrod to play in his homeland.

As with the bulk of the series, the book is made up of short sharp chapters (in this case 81), providing readers with quick-fire, fast paced action, in easy to digest bursts. As ever, Smith continues to display his knowledge of the game, this time focusing on the A-League in Australia, mixing fact and fiction to create an authentic feel to the game action and the life of a club and its players.

Interestingly in this book, Jarrod appears to be a tougher and perhaps more flirty character than in previous stories, with his language seemingly more ‘industrial’, perhaps reflecting his move into the movie world and the Harlowe Croft character.

Texi Smith has a winning formula with this series of books and Chasing Pack is as accessible and an enjoyable romp as the other Jarrod Black titles. Where will the next adventure take readers?

(Publisher: Popcorn Press. December 2022. Paperback: 302 pages)


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Book Review – Scotland 42 England 1: An Englishman’s Mazy Dribble Through Scottish Football by Mark Winter

I once went to see a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – where else would you get this quality of entertainment, nobody ever asked ever – where a guy told us the tale of how he got his Guinness World Record back – for managing to visit all of the London Underground stations in the shortest time. He spared us many of the gory details, but I was reminded obliquely of this when I started reading Scotland 42, England 1 by Mark Winter. Doing the 42, is a test which many have undertaken that means you must visit all 42 grounds in the Scottish Professional Football League. Having read this, it requires less gory detail and much patience – and some degree of financial investment. That would be true if you were living in Scotland when attempting it but Mark lives and works in Dover! No wonder it took him eight years – though he did manage to fit a wee pandemic in, in the middle of it. So fair play.

But this was never about setting any kind of record. This was never about trying to write a travelogue which would illuminate and demonstrate the beauty of 11 v 11, the tactics employed between the UEFA finalists and the playoff hopefuls. This was about something else. Sheer joy. Of the game. Of the pursuit of it. And of the people around it.

And here it is an absolute winner.

I will admit when I first got this, I delved into when Mark visited my team, my home ground to find out what I was doing at the time – in the MacDonald’s in Whitletts Road, Ayr, with my youngest daughter, an ardent Rangers fan, whilst my team was being humped by them 6-1! I was also interested to see if we had shared the same grounds on the same day when I had been at the same games reporting for Kicktalk – the Accies and the Morton games, I think. Once satisfied with trivia, I delved into this to spot some more and feel the depth of love Mark has for the subject matter. The whole book is just one long volume of pleasure from one chapter to the next.

Mark’s style of his writing, self-deprecating and never taking himself too seriously which, chimes with ordinary football fans – those who do not turn up at grounds with mortgage level fees for season tickets and where the corporate are treasured more than the individuals who pass a scarf from one generation to another.

So, a guy who supports “the other” DAFC – Dover Athletic – decides to visit all the grounds in Scotland whilst working to make ends meet. The project brings him into contact with many a “character” – from the guy who shows him the greatest view in football, in the centre circle of Dumbarton FC’s ground, to the officious official who would not take cash to let him see a Colts team, to a groundsman in Cliftonhill  who advised of much and many. There are also the fans who, like Mark, are there for their love of a game that is both a cruel mistress and a proper harlot.

And so, aside from the people who he met, and the grounds he tried and eventually got to see – Stirling Albion – this reads like more than a travelogue. The games are described but once you realise that the affection for the game comes from the event itself, you get to understand what having visits to Elgin and Stranraer mean and why Cove Bay disappoints as it has nothing of the expected exotic about it.

Mark is able to contextualise the place each ground has in each of the towns, and why that matters. We get much detail of the quality of the fare for eating and drinking which make a difference. There are descriptions of the hostels stayed in, the B&Bs enjoyed as our man who worked in a school manages to get to 42 grounds in 57 chapters – whatever he was working in a school for, it may not have been for maths – and we marvel not just at the dedication, but the number of times someone he knows from Dover turns up at grounds in the middle of Scotland he has visited – has Dover nothing to keep them back? Though it must be said that the story of Tom Donnelly (exported to Dover from Cowdenbeath) is worthy of further investigation.

There are many highlights, notwithstanding how to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Elgin, the closest thing to a vegetarian option in a Falkirk chippy being a white pudding, a pointless answer around a railway station in Coatbridge, the pathos of being, in Pathos (apologies) when finding out that Hibs had been relegated, the affection for them and Hearts, in a city where he loved spending time whilst witnessing the cut and thrust of Scottish football including Conor McGrandles’ double leg break.

Considering that there are times when we get insight into Mark having been to see a friendly between Fiorentina and Chelsea, when he supports neither, this has an air of being appreciative of the game and what is around it. Mark is a great raconteur, with great literary wit, a gregarious sort who can strike up a chat and a friendship over a beer – or several. Now retired, at least by the end of the book, this is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Scottish football books – why – because he sees ourselves as others see us. Scots often need outsiders to point out the bleeding obvious and in this tourists’ guide to going to football grounds, this has a very effective host in the driver’s seat. We should all shout shotgun and strap in for the ride.

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2023. Paperback: 320 pages)


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Book Review: You Have the Power: Find Your Strength and Believe You Can by Leah Williamson & Suzanne Wrack

If ever there was an inspirational role model for the current generation of children, Euros winning captain and Arsenal stalwart Leah Williamson fits the bill and then some. So the publication of her first book, You Have The Power, written with the recent Sports Book Award-winning Suzanne Wrack – an inspiration in her own field – is both fitting and vital.

On the pitch, Williamson has made a name for herself for being an exceptional footballer, a positive teammate and a calm leader, while off it, she is an articulate, thoughtful and empowering role model, and the defender brings all of this to a book which serves as a positive guide for children. Drawing on her own experiences, skills and learnings, Williamson offers valuable guidance, advice and inspiration to a generation – especially a generation of girls – that arguably has both greater opportunities but also greater, albeit different, challenges than generations before.

Williamson opens up on some of her own difficulties and issues, including her struggles being able to walk properly when younger, and her debilitating nerves that left her hating every second of the FA Cup Final she played against Chelsea in 2018. Indeed, the extent of her anxiety around the game is really (excuse the pun!) eye-opening, as she admits that it got so bad that it affected her vision. While Williamson has worked to overcome the issue, it is a powerful acknowledgement of the effect and challenge of anxiety in professional sport and the pressures at the top of the game, but also in life and sport in general, that will resonate with everyone who’s ever taken part in any kind of competition, be it a school sports day, a grassroots match, a swimming gala or a cup final. Crucially, Williamson helps to normalise the experience and demonstrate a way forward that many will find reassuring.

Her experience as a girl playing in a boys’ football team is also a powerful narrative, both a sad reminder of the state of play for many girls in the recent past and even the present for whom girls’ teams aren’t readily available and an inspiration for those girls. It’s just a shame that previous generations didn’t have this book to validate their own experiences in the same way. Similarly emotive are Williamson’s pertinent reflections on girls’ often uneasy relationship to physical education at school, as well as body confidence and puberty – topics that are often ignored but are hugely relevant and important in helping make sport an appealing and safe space for young women. And I love Williamson’s passion for the importance of exercise, encouraging readers to engage with sport of any kind. It’s a sad truth that a lot of girls still miss out, or give up, on sport because of physical, mental, social barriers and the like, so to have someone like Williamson encourage, advocate and demonstrate the benefits of an active life is really inspiring.

There is a similarity in style and tone to the advice books by Marcus Rashford (You Are A Champion/You Can Do It) but having Leah Williamson on the front of this book will certainly help reach a different audience, although both authors have ensured their books are utterly inclusive. As with Rashford’s books, there are key maxims and life lessons emphasised throughout, and I loved the fact that rather than just empty sayings Williamson expands on these messages so that when she talks, for instance, about not comparing yourself to others, she helpfully explains about individuals’ different developmental timelines, which gives the messaging greater clout. It is brilliant that this generation can learn from this wisdom – how I only wish I’d had access to such a book when I was younger, and many others will do too. Again, it serves to show just how important the Lionesses and their success last summer has been, and can continue to be, not just on a sporting platform, but a social and cultural platform, which is an even greater success.

One of the unfortunate happenstances of this book is that Williamson reflects on the ACL injuries of fellow players, only to have gone on since publication to suffer that season-changing injury herself, which will sadly rule her out of this summer’s World Cup. Having suffered a number of previous ankle injuries, as she explains in the book, here’s to Williamson, a genuine role model for this generation’s youngsters, once more coming back even stronger.

Jade Craddock

 (Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books; Main Market edition. March 2023. Paperback: 144 pages)


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Book Review: Lionesses: Gamechangers by Abdullah Abdullah

The Lionesses’ monumental crowning as European champions last summer has done much to change the whole landscape of football, not only on the pitch, but off it too. And one of the success stories emerging from their victory looks to be in the world of publishing. Historically, there has been something of a dearth of books about women’s football, despite there being a wealth of narratives out there. But, already, since last summer, there have been, amongst others, excellent autobiographies published by Alex Scott and Millie Farrow, children’s non-fiction from Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, and forthcoming non-fiction from Jane Purdon and Carrie Dunn. Amongst this groundswell of publishing passion, Abdullah Abdullah has offered a fitting contribution: Lionesses: Gamechangers.

With a background in football analysis and two books that focus on the tactical side of the women’s game (Olympique Lyonnais Feminin: Queens of Europe and Europe’s Next Powerhouse: The Evolution of Chelsea Under Emma Hayes), this time Abdullah sets his sights, as the title suggests, on the tactical details that have underpinned the Lionesses’ recent rise to European glory, beginning with a brief look at Phil Neville’s philosophy before a more in-depth assessment of Sarina Wiegman’s team.

As something of a relative novice when it comes to the world of tactical analysis, this wasn’t perhaps a natural read for me and, although there’s nothing overly taxing in the analysis, it does perhaps appeal to those with more of an analytic eye than ignorant old me. But whether your knowledge of the intricacies and minutiae of gameplay are limited, like me, to little more than the concept of ‘4-4-2’, it’s hard not to admire Abdullah’s research, focus and attention to detail. Given the emotion that surrounded the Lionesses’ success, what I found particularly fascinating was to see the team and the matches viewed through such a different lens, one that is purely pragmatic and technical, and it allows for a completely different perspective on their journey, bringing it back down to its footballing essence.

As well as breaking down individual games, the second half of the book takes a more thematic and individual approach, looking at specific players and positions within the England set-up, and personally I enjoyed this focus a lot. Analyses of Toone v Kirby and explorations of the full-back role felt really pertinent and I would have loved to have seen even more of this analysis, especially with the squad and emerging players who may be challenging for places to Australia and New Zealand this summer and beyond. While the book does point towards the imminent future, one of the obvious challenges of tackling such a time-sensitive issue is the risk of injuries and absences, which have been borne out with players like Williamson side-lined for the forthcoming World Cup and Mead and Bronze battling for fitness. The focus on Maya Le Tissier did begin to point towards the wider squad make-up, but it would have been nice for the examination to go even further and, whilst it’s impossible to predict injuries, looking beyond the main nucleus of players may have helped to ensure the book’s relevancy going forward. The graphics, too, do somewhat let the book down and, as a minimum, I felt colours may have helped enhance these, especially the heat maps.

But minor gripes aside, this is a book that must be praised for giving deserving focus to a deserving team. And this brings us back to the positive changes that we will hopefully continue to see across different sectors and communities as a result of the Lionesses’ success. Indeed, the idea of a book about the tactics of England’s women’s football team would most likely have been the stuff of fantasy even just twelve months ago, so to have such a work published and for the author to have chosen the subject as his focus is a sign of evolving times and the legacy that this inspirational team is making. It is exciting to see the range and scope of new books and writers that hopefully will now be given a platform as it’s clear that books like Abdullah Abdullah’s Lionesses: Gamechangers offer a unique contribution to the genre.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2023. Paperback: 256 pages)


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Book Review – Divided Cities: The World’s Most Passionate Single City Derbies by Kevin Pogorzelski

When the football fixtures are published each season, most supporters look for three keys things, firstly, their opening day fixture, secondly the last game of the campaign and of course their ‘derby’ fixtures. This idea of a ‘derby’ can mean different things to different clubs. This maybe because there is not another professional club in a particular city or town, or that even if there is, the teams have rarely crossed paths given they have historically played in different divisions.

Kevin Pogorzelski in Divided Cities focuses on eleven single city derbies, with all but two (the Old Firm and Merseyside version) from outside the United Kingdom. As a Liverpool fan, with a regular diet of Premier League football and virtually the same old teams season-in season-out, Pogorzelski yearned for something more and in the books Introduction outlines the premise behind it.

“I became convinced that there was something unmatched about rivalries within the same city, where the people and place live the conflicts daily, which stems from a variety of diverse differences.”

In the table below is a summary of the games he attended which all have a dedicated chapter:

Name Translation Teams Location Notes
Derby della Lanterna Derby of the Lantern Genoa & Sampdoria Genoa The Torre della Lanterna is  the ancient landmark and the main lighthouse for the city’s port.
Derby della Capitale Derby of the Capital Lazio & Roma Rome Rome is the Italian capital.
Derbi da Segunda Circular See Notes Benfica & Sporting Lisbon Lisbon The Segunda Circular is the road that separates the two stadiums.
The Old Firm Derby N/A Celtic & Rangers Glasgow Origin unclear. May derive from the two clubs’ initial match in which the commentators referred to the teams as “like two old, firm friends” or alternatively may stem from a satirical cartoon published in ‘The Scottish Referee’ sports newspaper prior to the 1904 Scottish Cup Final between the sides, depicting an elderly man with a sandwich board reading “Patronise The Old Firm: Rangers, Celtic Ltd” highlighting the mutual commercial benefits of their meetings.
The Budapest Derby N/A Ferencvaros & Ujpest Budapest Budapest is the capital of Hungary.
Clasico das Multidoes Classic of the Crowds Flamengo & Fluminense Rio de Janeiro Known also as Fla-Flu Derby.
Intercontinental Derby See Notes. Fenerbahce & Galatasaray Istanbul Fenerbahce and Galatasaray are two of the major Turkish teams from the Asian and the European parts of Istanbul respectively.
Superclasico Super Derby Boca Juniors & River Plate Buenos Aires From the Spanish usage of “clasico” to mean derby, with the prefix “super” used as the two clubs are the most popular and successful clubs in Argentine football.
The Eternal Derby N/A Crvena Zvezda & Partizan Belgrade Belgrade Thought to be from the phrase ‘Eternal Enemies’.
El Gran Derbi The Grand Derby Real Betis & Seville Seville Possibly due to the ‘biggest and grandest’ intensity on and off the pitch of the rivalry.
Merseyside Derby N/A Everton & Liverpool Liverpool Named after County that both clubs are within.

Each chapter provides a basic history and background to the rivalry, but is as the author states, “to add context to the stories” rather than be a detailed account or indeed record of the games down the years. Pogorzelski aims to provide readers with a true reflection (or as close as possible as an ‘outsider’ can be at these games) to the matchday experience of the local fan and this does provide for some very interesting encounters with Ultra groups across his travels and most especially his experience as a Liverpool fan at the Merseyside derby amongst the Everton faithful, where there was no language barriers as to the abuse and vitriol being handed out.

Unfortunately down the years and still to this day, the rivalries can spill into violence and whilst Pogorzelski in no way glorifies these events, is able to put across the hostility that often lies and bubbles just beneath the surface at the games, without generally being caught out amongst it. And it poses an interesting question as to whether a ‘sanitized’ environment for these encounters would have the same appeal? In England the debate rages as to the lack of atmosphere created by all-seater stadium and indeed whether the increase of the ‘football tourist’ or ‘neutral’ fan going to games abroad impacts the authenticity for the locals and the clubs identity, in the case of clubs such as St Pauli or 1. FC Union Berlin.

To a certain extent this book is a Groundhopper’s dream, taking in some of the finest cities and fixtures from Europe and South America. However, what it highlights is that these trips require incredible planning and organisation in terms of travel, more often than not deep pockets to afford the trip including tickets and some luck or indeed significant contacts in order to obtain the necessary supporter/fan memberships and tickets.

For many this book will be nearest they get to enjoying these encounters, but Divided Cities is nevertheless successful in portraying to readers the intensity of the matchday experience and what it means to those that attend these passionate derbies.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. March 2023. Paperback: 320 pages)


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Book Review – Bring Me the Sports Jacket of Arthur Montford: An Adventure Through Scottish Football by Aidan Smith

Over 46 chapters, journalist Aidan Smith, once a fanatic programme collector, then a dangerous obsessive, who is now under control without a restraining order, takes us through the wonderment of Scottish football in an episodic wandering of the mind which enriches the spirit. As a book it can be dipped in and out of so that you find that which attracts you most – any headline mention of MY team – and that which intrigues you more – anecdotes from a time you remember…

But this is far more than just a few wee stories flung together because the author is a seven-times winner in the Scottish Press Awards – though nobody says of what, could have been the raffle – but Smith cannot help himself from doing the research – though Davie Robb and the Princess of Monaco is still a startling mystery.

This is where I got particularly hooked on it. I was captured by the breadth, but Smith has also got the depth. This has anecdotes which include recent catch ups and informal interviews with people whose names I recognise as well as reports and stories of names I probably forgot but of whom I am happy to be reminded. It took me from the obscure like how former Ranger (Johannesburg) and Partick Thistle trialist (just the once, but once…) Bill Martin (who wrote the 1970 England World Cup anthem despite being from Govan – he also penned Puppet on a String for the Eurovision) got to the 1974 World Cup courtesy of Rod Stewart to the well-known like Archie Gemmill and that goal… Equally these have the authenticity of recent discussions Smith has had with both Martin and Gemmill: it makes the stories that bit better.

Smith writes with a distinctive flair – that he has not fallen over as his tongue is so embedded in his cheek, he must be lopsided when he walks is miraculous– and with that he manages to retain a lightness of touch throughout. His approach is to take some of the mysteries or weel kent myths and re-examine it to give us something more and so I am reminded of the wait for the results on a Saturday at five to five, which was never crackerjack, how Rick Wakeman ended up at Meadowbank, why some traffic wardens in the central belt asked Dougie Donnelly to move his terms of reference to Alloa, which Rangers (non-South African) player read War and Peace, why 11 Danes ended up in Greenock, how a nine goal fashionista ended up in the States whilst a nine goal embarrassed international goalie ended up acting in Australia, as well as the infamous Gullane Dunes, though I was unaware of their connection to Hearts!

It is a book filled with characters not least the author himself, who impressed with his chat up line which snared him his wife, as well as characters of the game like Haldane Y. Stewart, Tony Green and that man Montford himself. The title is a nod to the fact that of the two stalwarts of Scottish television, Montford always had the air of a bank manager giving you good news – even when it was a 4-0 drubbing. The other stalwart, Archie MacPherson, always seemed on the lookout for a goalmouth stramash or something to tie his hair down with in a wind; he was less authoritative, but equally distinctive.

As a smorgasbord it adds so much, and this makes the read that much better. If you are looking for a serious tome that delves into the reason why VAR should be challenged or how the offside rule has changed over the years, you are looking at the wrong book. But if you fancy an irreverent dribble through the stories of another time, down the wing of a fact that has been kept secret but is well known, watch cheeky keepie-uppies in front of World Cup holders whilst reliving the dream that turned into your own Argentina or the metaphorical goal through the legs of an English keeper – read on MacScruff….

But what I yearn for now is that book about Hibs … shouldn’t take as long as this one did, should it?

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Arena Sport. November 2022. Hardcover: 208 pages)


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Book Review: The Boy Who Saved Billy Bremner by Nicholas Dean

The successful Don Revie era at Leeds United has been the subject of many books down the years, with the debut novel from Nicholas Dean, The Boy Who Saved Billy Bremner, a new addition to the list.

In this offering the actual events of the 1973/74 First Division season and the Elland Road clubs tilt at the title provide a backdrop and one of the storylines within the book. And whilst the incredible run of 29 games unbeaten at the start of that campaign for Leeds is factually followed within the plot, the other football narrative, the engagement of central character, 14 year old Phillip Knott, with letters to real-life Leeds United captain Billy Bremner, is fictional.

With football very much a backdrop, readers are taken back to 1973 with the focus on the Knott family and their life in Coventry on a rundown housing estate. For people of a certain age, the descriptions of life and attitudes of the early 1970s will be a real trip down memory lane and Dean provides a convincing setting for his characters to inhabit.

Phillip is the central character, and has two siblings, an older sister and a younger brother, all with their own struggles in what is for the most part a challenging home environment. Their mother suffers from depression, which is not helped by her husband whose drinking bouts and violence are a constant dark threat waiting to explode at any moment. However, that is not to say that the book is all doom and gloom and there are moments for humour as well as tenderness and closeness within the Knott family and Phillip’s circle of friends.

The trials and tribulations of the family and Phillip himself, find their way into the letters to the Leeds skipper. And it is an interesting device used by Dean as it allows reflection on events both within the fictional life of the fanatical Leeds fan Phillip and that of Bremner and his Leeds United teammates as they embark on their unbeaten run.

With Leeds first defeat coming in their thirtieth league fixture at Stoke City, and their undefeated record gone, so the book similarly ends. There is a some resolution in the final pages but it left this reader wondering what comes next for Phillip and his family. Indeed is there a second helping continuing the story to come? However, this may be difficult given the struggles Dean had in getting this book to market.

The author was open in his interview with FBR about the struggles of getting his book published and feeling that there was no other option but to go down the independent route. As a result he was honest in accepting that this has resulted in the book, “lacking a professional touch and (containing) a few errors.” Unfortunately one of the curses of self-publication.

This book at 532 pages is a mammoth tome and but for a smaller font would undoubtedly have been pushing possibly 650 pages. The reality is that for all the wonderful detail and description contained within its pages, the professional services of a proof-reader and editor would clearly have benefited the text, especially in the reduction in the overuse of similes. However, this isn’t a criticism of the book but is a further example that independent writers can be victims of their own circumstances when not supported by a publisher and the services they commsnd.

Despite all this, there is much to admire about The Boy Who Saved Billy Bremner, and for this reader Dean has achieved what he set out to do in , “people liking the book”.

(Publisher: Independently published. July 2022. Paperback: 532 pages)


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Book Review – Walsall’s Greatest: Tony Richards and the Saddlers’ Glory Years by Gary Richards

The English football pyramid top four divisions is made up of 92 clubs, however, the way that the modern media goes on you’d think that the 20 Premier League clubs are the only ones that exist. Football history in true Orwellian 1984 style has been rewritten so that all that before 1992/93 has miraculously disappeared and is never spoken about.

Thankfully up and down the country, thousands still attend games in the Championship, League 1 and League 2 and further down the National League System to watch their teams and ensure that their community, history and stories continue to survive and thrive.

Books like Walsall’s Greatest: Tony Richards and the Saddlers’ Glory Years by Gary Richards also thankfully add to the titles on shelves bringing to life often untold tales of players and season’s from the past.

As the PR for the book tells readers, “at the end of the 1953/54 season, Walsall Football Club finished bottom of the Third Division South and applied for re-election to the Football League for a third successive year.” What followed was an incredible change of fortunes for the West Midlands club inspired by the goalscoring talents of Tony Richards and Colin Taylor under the management of Bill Moore, which saw the Saddlers rise to the heights of the old Second Division (now Championship) taking on the likes of Leeds United, Liverpool and Newcastle United.

One thing to get out of the way is that the book is written by Tony Richards’ son Gary, but despite this, the story is told in a totally professional and objective manner and there is no mawkish sentimentality to be found amongst the pages. And yes whilst his father (who was voted Walsall’s greatest ever player in 1998) is at the centre of the story, this book is a tribute to all the players and management that brought about the club’s most successful period.

Indeed the research that the author carries out to produce this great read is to be admired as evidenced within the extensive notes section of the book. Whilst the internet can be a great source of information, it is evident that good old-fashioned trawling of newspaper archives and the like has been undertaken by Richards.’ A labour of love in more than one way. What also lends an authentic voice of the period are the interviews with Walsall players such as Keith Ball, Ray Wiggin, Trevor Foster, Stan Bennett and Nick Atthey who played with Tony Richards and bring to life the realities of the game in the 1950s and 60s.

In terms of the timeline, the book follows a convention path looking at Tony Richard’s upbringing, his early youth career at Birmingham City and his army days before his move to Walsall for the 1954/55 season. It then follows through the various Saddlers campaigns to 1963 when after 334 games scoring 185 goals, he left for Port Vale (1963 to 1966) and finished his career in non-league with Nuneaton Borough (1966 to 1969) where despite injuries Richards’ continued his incredible scoring prowess.

Whilst the book focuses very much on the story of Walsall’s rise at that time, the author also provides readers with some interesting comparisons about football then and now, thereby challenging some of the assumptions and perceptions of the game back in the day.

Sadly Tony Richards passed away in March 2010 aged 75 after suffering with dementia. Tony Richards’ was famous for his aerial ability and headed goals, especially the now not often seen diving header. And in one of the closing chapters Gary makes a serious point about how that continuous heading combined with playing at the time with heavier balls, no substitutes, concussion protocols or data research, inevitably contributed to the illness that afflicted his father. It’s a sobering and thought provoking chapter in a book that is otherwise a celebration of the beautiful game – one that is of course a book that is aimed at Walsall fan’s but will undoubtedly have a wider reach for those wanting an insight into the game and it environment in the 1950s and early 60s.

(Publisher: ToneRedDays. April 2022. Paperback: 255 pages)


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