Book Review: Alfie Jones and the Missing Link by David Fuller

This is the third instalment in the series following on from, Alfie Jones and a change of fortune and Alfie Jones and a test of character.

It finds Alfie going to watch his first ‘live’ game at Kingsway United. His excitement and enjoyment of the occasion is disturbed though when arch-rival Jasper Johnson appears on the pitch at half-time. Jasper has become part of the Kingsway United Academy team and Alfie is more than curious as to how his nemesis has come to be selected amongst this select group of players.

Alfie sets out to discover how this has happened and the mystery deepens when the fortune teller, Madam Zola, leaves him with a business card. The solving of this puzzle provides the main thread for the book and it is an engaging storyline which not only looks at youth football, but the professional game.

As with the previous two books, author David Fuller uses his background as football coach to provide a story which has fair play, teamwork, honesty and integrity at the heart of it. His use of introducing descriptions of the training drills and game skills is a good little device in getting across to readers these hints and tips in a fun way.

This book will undoubtedly appeal to children interested in football, but has a strong plot and engaging characters that will ensure it will be enjoyed by a wider audience. Once more the combination of mystery, magic and football is another winning one for David Fuller and Alfie Jones.

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Book Review: Come Sunday by George Nelson

Background and concept

Every four years sixteen European nations compete for the Henri Delaunay (European Championship) trophy. During the summer of 2012, photographer George Nelson set out to visit a number of London venues, (bars, restaurants, clubs and churches), screening Euro 2012 matches. His aim was to ‘follow’ every team with its London residing supporters and capture each experience in pictures.

There were only two self-imposed restrictions. One was a minimum of one venue to each participating nation and the second was the omission of England supporters, bringing down the number of locations to fifteen. The latter was a conceptual choice, as the gathering of immigrant collectives lay at the hub of this venture. The Euro 2012 project also serves as a demonstration of the London’s uniquely diverse make-up, locates several subtleties in cultural variation, yet more than hints at a universality in our relationship with ‘the beautiful game’.

From this vast palette, George settled on a single location in which to centre his book and the first Tatum Special publication. ‘Come Sunday’ hones in on the Italian Euro 2012 experience. On three Sundays* that summer Italian supporters gathered at C’asa Italiana – a penalty kick away from their Basilica-style Church, St Peter’s – as Clerkenwell reclaimed its ‘Little Italy’ status.

*       10 June 2012, Group C, Italy 1 – 1 Spain

24 June 2012, Quarter-Final, Italy 0 – 0 England (Italy won pens 4-2)

          01 July 2012, Final, Italy 0 – 4 Spain



In December 2013 Monte Fresco died at the age of 77. It’s a name that many people won’t recognise, although undoubtedly many will remember his work. Monte was an English sports photographer, and one of his most famous images was that of Vinnie Jones ‘tackling’ a young Paul Gascoigne.

Despite the fact that our screens are awash with football from all over the world, photographs which capture a moment, an emotion or are breath-taking, challenging or beautiful, will always have a place in ‘the people’s game’.

George Nelson in ‘Come Sunday’ has looked to focus on the fans rather than the action on the pitch. Nelson shared three games with the Italian fans, including those which saw, qualification from Group C, the drama of a penalty win over England and the disappointment of defeat in the Euro 2012 Final to Spain.

The book consists of thirty images which capture this journey. Nelson succeeds in conveying the emotion and drama of both victory and defeat, without an image of any of the games. Instead the ‘high and lows’ are conveyed through the expressions and body language of those gathered in Clerkenwell.

Nelson is successful in capturing more than just the football, in that the essence of family and community is evident, as the pictures portray the old and the young, men and women, all united in supporting ‘their team’.

One of the other themes which emerge from this collection is the idea of football as a religion. Not only are the images captured on a Sunday (the traditional day of rest), but the location is linked to the local Catholic church.

The great thing with the images is that you can initially focus on the central figures, but then also can revisit the pictures and understand what is going on in the background, so getting a feel for the context. For instance, the last image in ‘Come Sunday’ shows a mother, coat in hand, ready to take her children home. On the screen in the room, Spanish striker Fernando Torres celebrates victory in the Final as he takes his own child on a lap of honour.

It is a small tome, but is a collection of pictures you’ll want to look at again and interpret for yourself.

 * * * * * * * * *

For more information about George Nelson and to buy ‘Come Sunday’, follow this link

Book Review: Penalties by Luis Adriano

penaltiesHomophobia, blackmail, disability, mental health, racism, gambling, cheating, paedophilia, drink and drugs.

Oh, and murder and football.

In Luis Adriano’s self-published crime novel we experience, as you might imagine from the list above, a dramatic 12 hours in the lives of the key players and staff of a football team on the verge of promotion to the Premier League.

Football though is only a backdrop.

Starting in the last minutes of Lyttleton Albion’s Championship Play-off Final, we are privy to the personal thoughts of those directly involved in the drama. Few of these thoughts relate solely to football and allow the author to introduce, amongst other topics; racism, mental health and homophobia to the story, contrasting starkly with the way that the real-life football world has barely raised an eyebrow to these issues.

It’s not short of footballing and social stereotypes, but the format of this imaginative tale is effective and engaging; in the penalty shoot-out we hear only the thoughts of Albion’s young keeper and those of his team’s respective penalty-takers with snatches of match commentary giving us the outcome of each tense penalty kick. From then on we are with the players and staff, and some family members, on the journey back to Lyttleton’s ground for the post-match party which is as intriguing as the penalty shoot-out and where a number of events unfold that decide the fate of the principal characters.

It is a noble attempt by the author to address so many topics: they are important ones that are rarely considered for long in the football world and they come thick and fast here because of the novel’s time-scale but, because of this, you feel that many of them have been ticked off a checklist rather than investigated in any way.

The novel needed a keener proof-read and the author’s eagerness to squeeze superfluous words or references into many sentences makes reading them akin to trudging through a muddy football pitch at times; you’re ready to take a step into the next sentence but you’re still trying to lift your feet out of the current one.

A screenplay of this could provide the basis of an entertaining TV drama but it lacks the atmosphere and the quality of prose of great football fiction. However I enjoyed the sentiment and the story very much.

So much so that I’d forgotten about the dead body until the last few pages.

(Note: The review above relates to the ebook version. A paperback version was released in February 2015)


Paul Gowland


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Book Review – Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football by Richard Sanders

What a strange main title it seems for a book about football, until you read what it is referring to (page 78)! The subtitled part takes rather longer to develop, naturally, since that is the central theme and Sanders does take a while to get into his stride, mainly because he is detailing the growth of football in the British public schools.

The narrative then becomes very good indeed as Sanders builds the argument that football was actually rescued from the public schools and finally appropriated by the working man. Only then was it in a position to become the national game, although the public-school educated elite continued to hold back the game in any way they could, mostly through the shameful favouring of so-called amateurs (i.e. them, the ruling class) over the unspeakable professionals (i.e. us, the rest).

Although the book is centred on football, it is arguing a larger case – the unfairness of the class structure – and, although it is clear where the author’s sympathies lie, he does it well and with a fair degree of objectivity.

Eventually, the whole title is fully explained and, as such, makes the wider claim that the men from public schools, once they’d stopped playing with themselves and each other, went on to spawn the child that is modern football. In this strange, Freudian reading, the mother, then is the working class.

It is a good book though, full of fascinating detail and it is scrupulously researched. Sanders has expertly synthesised a wide range of source material and put it into a narrative that only loses its authority and cogency on the odd occasions when it wanders off football into general theorising about society.

It is not a light read but is packed with interest and broken into logical chapters, each introduced by an apt quotation and with thoughtful and sometimes thought-provoking headings such as ‘A Most Unfeminine Exhibition’. Sanders cares about the humanity of the people involved, too. This comes across most clearly in his profile of Billy Meredith, shown in many guises and over many years.

Sanders is particularly adept at charting the conflicts and power struggles that shaped the game we now know; the public school ‘amateur’ versus the working class professional, the rise and rise of the F.A., the triumph of the club directors over player power, the difficulties faced by women who wanted to take up the sport in a hostile Victorian era. His reasoning is persuasive since, after all, a football match is a form of conflict.

His final chapter, ‘Football at War’, is the most impressive one, neatly summarising what has gone before and focusing on an extract from J.B. Priestley’s The Good Companions which so neatly encapsulates why football became the national game for the working man.

I suppose you could read the final chapter and skip all the rest but, if you did, you would miss so much.


Graeme Garvey



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Book Review: A Footballer’s Christmas Carol by David Fuller


It’s Christmas Eve and the hugely rich and successful footballer Jacob Anderson has had yet another enjoyable day making life as miserable as it can possibly be for his much put upon personal assistant Norris Sculley.

However, upon settling down in front of his gigantic television screen later that evening, it soon becomes clear that Jacob’s night is about to take an unsettling turn for the worse.

Visions from the past, present and future cause Jacob to take stock of his life and question whether money, cars and mansions really are as important as he thinks they are.


David Fuller (author of the excellent Alfie Jones series of books) has come up with a Christmas treat on Kindle.

It is a modern twist on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, with the Scrooge character replaced by a modern day multi-millionaire footballer, Jacob Anderson.

For those familiar with the Dickens classic, Fuller provides a twenty first setting for the story, which has all the engagement and heart-warming appeal of the Victorian original.

Ghosts, football and Christmas – what more can you want from a festive story!


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Book Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had by Tom Maxwell

When England manager Roy Hodgson recently suggested that he would be monitoring the progress of Manchester United’s Belgian youngster Adnan Januzaj, the issue of international player eligibility was once more in the news.

Nowadays in this country, supporters are used to seeing players born in different countries turning out for England whether it is football, cricket, rugby league or rugby union. However, the rules governing eligibility have not always been as they are now and this issue is central to the latest book by Tom Maxwell, ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had’.

In 1938, George and Lizzie Baker were living in New York and on 11 April that year their first child Gerry Austin Baker was born. However, when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the family returned to England to settle in Liverpool, where in July 1940, Joseph Henry Baker was born. Merseyside wasn’t to remain home for long, as the Germans blitzed the port area of Liverpool. Six weeks after Joe was born, Lizzie took the young boys to Wishaw near Motherwell and this was where the family settled and grew up.

Both boys were talented young players and in 1955 Gerry made his debut for Chelsea in the Southern Professional Floodlit Cup. In the same year, Joe played for Scotland Schoolboys playing against England and Wales. However, from this point the path the brothers journeyed on was not as might have been predicted.

Joe was never to pull on the blue shirt of Scotland after 1955 and instead because of the place of his birth, it was ruled he could only play international football for England. So it was that Joe went on to make 5 appearances (scoring 4 goals) for the Under 23s and gained 8 full caps (scoring 3 goals). Indeed Joe played in the opening England game in January 1966, although ultimately he was destined not to be part of the World Cup squad.

In terms of his club career, Joe was widely regarded wherever he played. He started his professional career with Hibernian and in four seasons, amassed 141 goals. This lead to a single season stint at Torino, where he was seriously injured in a car crash, in which Dennis Law was also involved. Baker returned to England and had an impressive four season stay at Arsenal where Joe scored 100 goals. However, partway through his last season at Highbury (1965/66) he moved onto Nottingham Forest and stayed at the City Ground until 1968/69. His tally of 49 goals might not have been as prolific as his returns at his other clubs, but Joe became something of a cult figure down by the Trent. With Joe approaching his 30th birthday he moved to Sunderland for the 1969/70 season as his career started to wind down. The following season he returned to Scotland and Hibernian, finally retiring from playing in 1973/74 after a two season stint at Raith Rovers. Joe’s record makes incredible reading, as from 615 club appearances he scored 372 goals – an outstanding return.

Brother Gerry never settled at Chelsea and returned to Motherwell. However, he found opportunities difficult to come by and he moved to St. Mirren scoring an impressive 66 goals in 81 games. His exploits attracted clubs in England and Gerry had a two season spell at Manchester City before returning to Scotland and Hibernian in 1961/62, just as Joe left the club. However in 1963/64, Gerry left Easter Road and once more moved ‘south of the border’ to help Ipswich Town gain promotion from Division Two, enjoying a productive spell at Portman Road, before moving to Coventry City. It was whilst at the Sky Blues that Gerry gained international honours for the USA. He played in 7 games for the land of his birth, scoring twice and was part of the side that fell short of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Gerry ended his professional career at Brentford in the 1969/70 season before playing for Margate (as player-manager), Nuneaton Borough, Bedworth United and Worcester City. Gerry’s club career saw him score a highly impressive 201 goals from 409 games.

Writer Tom Maxwell tells the story of their respective remarkable careers in an engaging and intimate way. The excellent research and quotes from the brothers and players of the era, means this book is a personal yet interesting insight into football during the 1950s and 60s both in Scotland and England.

But for the eligibility rules of the late 1950s, Scotland would have had a very different international forward line.

Between them, 1,024 appearances, 573 goals – ‘the Fabulous Baker Boys’ indeed.


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Book Review: Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol. 2 edited by Paul Brown

Back in September 2012, Paul Brown published his first anthology of Victorian Football writing and its success (and also that of The Victorian Football Miscellany), has ensured the recent issuing of a second volume of journalism from the 19th century.

The book is comprised of twenty one articles which date wise range from 1862 through to 1899. Contained within are pieces which include match reports such as the first FA Cup held in 1872 between Wanderers and Royal Engineers and a later Final from 1883 when Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians 2-1 “…a watershed result – the previously dominant public school old boys’ never won the cup again…” as well as an 1862 game between Sheffield and Hallam.

In addition there are a number of articles which look at how the game was expanding and which when read now, are thought-provoking to see in a modern context. For instance the piece written by England cricket and football international C. B. Fry, explores the sports in 1895 and their respective position and relationship. It makes interesting reading especially when set against the modern era of football (in the guise of the Premier League) and the recent rise of the England cricket team. Another article which makes for debate is that concerning the furore associated with the 1881 England v Scotland “…match by women in Edinburgh…” which was described as a game “…of the most primitive order…”; 132 years later the BBC has in recent weeks shown live two of England women’s World Cup qualifiers – what would a time travelling Victorian football journalist have made of it! Another significant extract is titled The Association Game that is taken from the “…influential 1887 text ‘Athletics and Football’…” by Sir Montague Shearman which looks at such areas as the development of tactics.

However, the writing is not all of a serious or heavy nature and there is a good helping of Victorian humour and the bizarre. In the comedy corner are two articles, the first A Little Game of Football from the Sporting Gazette of December 1864, with the second from Chums (October 1893) entitled the Trials and Troubles of a Football Secretary. As for the strange, the anthology presents the reader with reports of a contest between Sheffield Players and Zulus, held to raise funds for the families of those killed in the Anglo-Zulu War and an article from 1899 detailing a game between Clowns and Elephants (yes, you’ve not misread that).

As with Volume 1, this collection of Victorian writing provides the reader with a unique range of ‘food for thought’. The article which was my standout was that from R.G. Graham titled The Early History of the Football Association from 1899. The interest for me lay in the early rules which reflect the games early derivation from rugby and the clubs (many of which no longer exist), who were then members of the Football Association. It’s football gentlemen, but not as we know it…


Book Review: Orientation by Adam Michie

Just as the game of football has changed down the years in terms of tactics, formations and rules, so has the experience of those attending it; the fan.

In the Prologue to Orientation, Adam Michie recalls being taken by his father to Upton Park in February 1989, in a pre-Premier League, pre-Sky Sports, First Division encounter between West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers that ended 0-0. Football in England at that time was about to hit the buffers with hooliganism at its height and the tragedy of Hillsborough months away. The subsequent recommendations of the Taylor Report and the birth of the Premier League changed the sport in this country irrevocably. Michie continued with visits to Upton Park with his grandad, but yearned for the experience of going to games, “…with people I knew, my friends, sharing the experience…” He took up supporting Spurs in 1991 so that he could go to games at White Hart Lane with his schoolboy mates. However, as ticket prices rocketed and his friends took up supporting some of the other ‘big’ clubs in London and further afield, Michie drifted away from attending games and became one of the games “…sofa supporters…”

Whilst Michie acknowledges that he bought into the Sky vision and wall-to-wall coverage, he counters that “…behind the façade of glitz and glamour is a sport that seems to have lost its way…” So despite a season at White Hart Lane that could offer Champions League Football and all the foreign array of talent that the Premier League boasted, Michie decided with a group of friends to try and “…rediscover what it was that first made him fall in love with football…” by buying a season ticket at Leyton Orient for the 2010/11 campaign.

Following the Prologue, Michie details from August 2010 through to May 2011 in diary format, the events in following the O’s. He was blessed with a good season which saw Orient maintain a Play-Off challenge and a heroic run in the FA Cup which was only halted after a replay against Arsenal in the Fifth Round. The club was also in the news as West Ham made their bid to move into the Olympic Stadium, right on the doorstep of Brisbane Road. Whilst the content is dominated by details regarding the groups’ visits to watch the Orient in League One and the cup competitions, Michie also give the reader an insight into his personal life, so that there is an appreciation of the author away from football. The style throughout is eminently readable, loaded with a good dose of humour and observation.

The book closes with an Epilogue written in January 2012, as Michie reflects on the experience of the 2010/11 season. To state here what he concludes would be to spoil the book. So instead, get yourself copy, whether Leyton Orient fan, Spurs fans, indeed whatever club or level you watch your football at.

Orientation: A persons’ basic attitude, beliefs, or feelings; a person’s emotional or intellectual position in respect of a particular topic, circumstance, etc.

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Book Review: Paradise Road by Stephen O’Donnell

Some reviews are easier to do than others in that you know exactly how you feel about a book and therefore can easily articulate that. The more difficult ones are those where you are still, even a few days after finishing the book, unsure as to the impression left by the pages you have just digested.

Therefore it is case of back to basics and seeing where it leads. The book itself is 245 pages long and divided into three parts, titled The Rangers End (consisting of five chapters), The Jungle (seven chapters) and The Celtic End (seven chapters). The majority of the book is narrated in the first-person (complete with Glaswegian accent) by the central character Kevin McGarry, with the story taking place in and around Scotland’s largest city. In addition there are chapters set in the Czech Republic and London where the reader is introduced to Peter Fitzpatrick and Patrick.

So far so good? Okay, then this is where the problems start in my looking to review and analyse the book. For instance, take the title, Paradise Road. ‘Paradise’ is an affectionate description of Celtic Park as used by the clubs fans. So is the title and therefore the book merely about the craic week-in, week-out watching The Hoops? Is it in fact a journey of discovery by Kevin of a new horizon or nirvana away from his life as a joiner in Glasgow and Scotland? Is it coincidental or homage by the writer that Paradise Road is also the title of a Czech film drama from the 1930s? Perhaps it is all or none of the above?

The pondering continues…why has O’Donnell divided the book into three parts and why the particular headings? Is it a vision of ground on ‘derby’ day with the respective Rangers and Celtic Ends? What is to be made of the title of Part Two, The Jungle, the term used for the old North terracing at Celtic Park. Are these literal references, or is there another meaning? Does for instance, The Rangers End, relate to the recent demise of the club from Ibrox? Is The Jungle a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life as experienced by Kevin and his pals? Does The Celtic End relate to Kevin changing the way he supports the club and therefore the impact on his life going forward? Is this complete over-analysis on my part?

So breathe, clear the head.

Putting aside these questions, what is unavoidable as a reader is the clarity and range of themes that the book covers. Just taking football as a backdrop, O’Donnell explores the ritual of going to the match and the camaraderie (and bravado) it instils and how this has changed over the years; just as the game itself has with intrusive and sometimes meaningless 24/7 media coverage, foreign players, inflated wages, all-seater stadiums and the idea of clubs as brands. What we also get though is a glimpse of football in Glasgow in terms of the Rangers/Celtic rivalry and the sectarianism and bigotry associated with it. The author goes further in portraying what it is to be part of the Catholic community in the city, but how that identify (and indeed that of Celtic as a club) is a force that unites those wherever they find themselves in the world. Away from the football, O’Donnell focuses on the world of the working-class male, whether that be in Glasgow, London or Prague and their habits and attitudes as they ‘work, rest and play’.

So how does it leave me feeling? Well, it is essentially a good read and O’Donnell has created very believable and credible characters and situations. There is plenty of banter that football fans and lads on a night out will recognise, but there is also the serious side as Kevin McGarry attempts to make sense of the world around him in terms of his job, his family, his prospects and what might have been (through dream sequences) of his life as a Celtic player.

Returning to questions to be answered, the ending of the book is open to interpretation. Maybe this isn’t the end of the road just yet…

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Book Review: Keep the Faith by Daniel Tait

“Keep the Faith” is the personal reflections of Dan Tait in supporting his team over the last twenty years. His story starts back in 1992, when the nine year old York-born Tait ignored the lure of the shiny new Premier League and the ‘big’ clubs, to support his local team York City. It was to prove a fantastic first season following The Minstermen, as the team gained promotion from the ‘old’ Fourth Division via a Play-off win at Wembley against Crewe. Just as the book begins on a positive note, so does it end in this manner, with York retaining their League status on the last day of the 2012/13 season.

So you might think that the events all seems positive and pretty unremarkable, and therefore where’s the story? Well if Horrible Histories published a book on the last twenty years of York City Football Club, then it would look a lot like “Keep the Faith”. Yes, Tait’s first season on the terraces at Bootham Crescent started well and indeed 1993/94 nearly saw a second successive Play-off Final, but what followed up to 2012/13 is a series of seasons which had some gruesome lows before the highs that emerged in York’s last two league campaigns. Tait details the activities on and off the pitch in a pragmatic manner, but with the gallows humour that supporting your team brings. On the surface Tait offers his opinions on the players, managers and board which saw the club continue to haunt the bottom two rungs of the Football League and the disastrous period which saw Chairman Douglas Craig hand the reigns to John Batchelor and nearly put the club out of existence. Worse was to follow in 2003/04 when after 75 years of League football, City were relegated to the Conference. The Minstermen then endured an eight year exile, until the Conference Final Play-off win over Luton Town in 2011/12, secured League status once more.

It is in the part of the book which relates to the years in the Conference that the sub-text to the book emerges. Relegation from the Football League to the Conference has proved to be a significant factor in the declining fortunes of a number of clubs such as Scarborough, Chester, Halifax Town and Darlington in recent years, which necessitated ‘new’ versions of these teams having to start their journey back to the Football League lower down the football pyramid. As mentioned earlier, Tait expresses his opinions and reflections in a reasoned manner through the book, but his frustrations at life in the Conference are evident in his descriptions as he follows York around the Conference circuit. Most telling of all is his expression of relief at winning the Play-off Final when Tait exclaims, “…eight long, painful years in the most tin pot of tin pot leagues…” On the surface this may seem to be disrespectful, but should be taken in context in that it is a statement of sheer joy, very much of the moment at Wembley on the day, allied with the belief and perception that his team is a Football League team with a long history.

“Keep the Faith” is a record of what it is like to follow a team in the lower echelons of the Football League, reflecting the reality of survival and the battle to avoid relegation to the Conference. It is a fans perspective on the ups and downs of football on a different planet from those who inhabit the world of “Super Sunday” and “Monday Night Football” Ultimately, Tait has captured an incredible twenty year period at Bootham Crescent in a very readable and accessible way, and which would be a good addition to the shelf of any football supporter, York fans or not. So as the 2013/14 season begins football fan will dream of what is to come and once more continue to “Keep the Faith”.


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