Book Review: The O’Leary Years: Football’s Greatest Boom and Bust by Rocco Dean

Leeds United broke my heart.

I had been to my first game at the tender age of 8. We played Leicester City in the Texaco Cup. The legendary Peter Shilton was in goals for the visitors. But my eyes were on our goalmouth. I was transfixed by our keeper.

I started thereafter to go to games. It was different times, and nobody took me. I just went. I have no idea how many times I saw our keeper play but then, from October 1973, he was no longer there. Dave Stewart had played his last for Ayr United and signed for some other team. I was heartbroken.

Leeds United had stolen my idol.

Clearly, I recovered and went back but the personal stain and the joy of following a team, of any team lies at the heart of Rocco Dean’s The O’Leary Years. Here we are taken on a very personal journey from the emergence of a club living in the shadow of the legendary period – Don Revie – and the culture shock of disrespect – the Clough days – the misstep of a Scottish legend – Jock Stein’s tenure – and the cliché of being another “sleeping giant” to a promising land close to a title and a European Odyssey of achievement.

I think almost all of us have an opinion of Leeds United and in Scotland, especially, our view is littered with names from the past which make the emotions stir when we hear them. To read a fan’s account of a time when it looked like they had found a Messiah, had uncovered opportunities, here and in Europe and how these rollercoasters felt from a terrace, from their Kop is fascinating as a start.

But it needs to deliver.

Dean does. We begin with George Graham. Here is yet another Scot, not naturally associated with Leeds, but who has grit and determination writ large and who seemed to suit the doggedness of Leeds. But like many deluded Celts, he saw the bright lights of London town as a brighter prospect than giving a team with prospects their chance. What makes it a better read is having his mercenary ship jumping juxtaposed with the stories of camaraderie in queues for away game tickets that followed his treachery. Away games are different. The away fan may not be a completely different breed to the home fan, but they have a different perspective. Here Dean really shines as his ground hopping are drawn with a fan’s love of the game. Different grounds are to be treasured, not just for the away wins, but the respect to those supporters whose homes they are. But also Dean draws comparisons against his own matchday home experiences.

As Graham’s tenure comes to an end, we hear of the Academy graduates who should be ready for slowing bleeding into the first team. The future as created and prepared by the legendary Howard Wilkinson. One of Graham’s protegees, David O’Leary steps forward to take temporary charge of the First Team. Devastated by his leaving George Graham successor needed to bring something to the terraces. Dean took to him, like the Elland Road faithful, readily and heartily. He was instantly bringing excitement onto the pitch which was felt throughout the terracing. As a young man, Dean grew with his team and the progress of the club is excitingly told as O’Leary went from not wanting the job, through an Elland Road epiphany where they sang his name, to making the job, his own.

For those of us from afar, O’Leary became, not another tracksuit manager, but the manager who had a coat that looked like a duvet! We thought Leeds must have been constantly bitterly cold…

The warmth from terrace to dugout was to keep things ticking along as Europe was now a thing, and the faithful wanted it to be a big thing. The UEFA cup, the Champion’s League and progress in each was emerging as an expectation. Such expectations needed more than Academy graduates. It needed funded and Leeds began to spend.

Perhaps here the parallels with Glasgow Rangers began to emerge for me. As I read, I could hear the faith put in people who “knew” business.  They had spending, the likes of which fans could not contemplate but were content that they were competing with other bigger clubs in a transfer market that was becoming a basket case. Ordinary, run of the mill, decent professionals were commanding finance even their mobile numbers were dwarfed by. It brought limited success and a gloomy horizon.

Telling the story, Dean’s structure takes each season from 1998/99 to 2001/02 and describes them in some detail with significant matches as subheadings. At times I found that some of the summaries of games in between each of these significant fixtures a little less than satisfying as there were games I wanted to know more about – the equalling of Don Revie’s 7 wins in a row for example. But then the detail as a fan, which is the principal focus of Dean’s narrative, draws you back. This is not a history lesson, but the reflection of a fan of following their club, telling their story, in the context of the club’s history. As such it is fascinating, and I could find parallels with my own – far more modest – experiences. As a fan’s book, it is therefore highly recommended. It adds colour to the spectacle simply because it has a very strong handle on the experiences of football as personal experiences as a supporter who will live on beyond the covers.

And so the reminiscences flow, from Match of the Day in the ’90s, trying to get to the Baseball Ground before kick-off, the lack of instant news throughout the period of O’Leary’s reign, the names of players that came, they saw, and conquered Elland Road – Kewell, Viduka, Matteo, Hasselbaink, Ferdinand, Bowyer, Hopkin and many, many more, the emergence of Sky, Chairman Peter Ridsdale’s ambitions which Dean suggests “had no ceiling”, a UEFA Cup run, chasing a Champion’s League spot, a Champion’s League semi-final, mistimed Inter Toto application, how the cheekiness of a father can get you an away ticket or two, even from the boss, beating Besiktas 6-0, the influence of the Geezer’s Guide to Football, O’Leary’s nose job and the eventual disillusionment with the team as O’Leary crashed and the team burned in season 2001/02. He then proceeds a much smaller chapter to end the tale of the club as the crash was followed by the abyss.

Dean does not miss the negatives. The effects of the death of fans in Turkey* should never be forgotten. The way that some football clubs had fans who tried to take advantage of this event, goading Leeds fans by chanting at them in glee at the deaths of these fans is a stain against which we should all protest. The arrests and trials of Leeds players over a fight on a night out is covered but this is not a book with insight in the dressing room. The effect of one player giving evidence against another is explained and expressed from the distance afforded by a fan’s love of his club. It is not a fist and tell account. How that ended up being a significant factor in the club failing to make it to the elite in Europe is however more than somewhat mentioned.

Finally, the nature of O’Leary’s own literary attempts is seen as a great mistake as O’Leary’s relationships with everyone seemed to dive. The book he had published, covering his Leeds time, is not a precursor to Sky style documentaries following Guardiola, Arteta, Sunderland and the like. It was an odd thing to do, especially as he was still at Leeds. Its oddness is highlighted as the money spent on players begins to unravel. The quality of the squad begins to suffer, and the writing begins to be drafted onto an Elland Road wall.

Dean’s structure also tends to dwell on the setup, so the demise has less attention and focus. For an observer this is where you want to know more but for the fan that is the tragedy. The dropping interest, and the sparsity of detail mirrors the disillusionment felt by Dean towards the end. It is understandable and, again, as a testimony of a witness to the emotional effect of the experience this is a very good one. As a history of the club, it still adds significantly. The insight of a fan is equally important, if not more so, over a given time, to that of any player. Dean has given us a significant contribution to understanding why money in football should be cautiously welcomed. This is the story of how we ended up with a team top of the Premier League at the dawn of a new century and then out in a wilderness some twenty years later awaiting an Argentinian messiah and it is fascinating.

There were a couple of moments which served, for me, as indications of the thrust of the reasons as to why this tale needed to be told. Firstly,  as dean writes, “… what an extraordinary job our beloved manager had done… In his first two seasons in management, he had overcome the champions of Serbia, Russia, Belgium, Italy and Spain and got the better of legendary managers Alberto Zaccheroni, Sven-Goran Erikson and Fabio Capello.” And he did.

In the Leeds AGM of 2001, Peter Ridsdale, as reported by Dean, told fans, “I can assure everyone – shareholders and supporters alike – that your board are managing the club for sustained success, and that the club’s long term financial position is healthy.” It was not.

This is a supporter’s tale of how the Wilkinson master plan in draft never made it, and how fans endure much better.

*Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight were brutally murdered the night before the UEFA Cup semi-final second leg against Galatasaray in Turkey.

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2022. Hardcover: 256 pages)


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Book Review: You Can Do It: How to Find Your Voice and Make a Difference by Marcus Rashford (Written with Carl Anka)

Footballers are often referred to as role models and while a lot of footballers do try to serve this purpose, few really embrace and take full responsibility in the way that Marcus Rashford has. As well as his performances on the pitch, off it, in recent years he’s really stepped up, in particular with regard to his fight for free school meals. In addition, in 2021 he launched a book club aimed at children aged 8 to 12 as a means of developing literacy and a love of reading. As part of this project, last year saw him release his first book, You Are A Champion – an inspirational book to guide and educate young people to be the best they can be – and this year his first children’s novel, The Breakfast Club Adventures, was published. Not one to rest on his laurels, Rashford has followed up You Are A Champion with a second inspirational life guide for children and teens – You Can Do It.

Styled and designed in the same dynamic and engaging way as his first book, You Can Do It maintains, too, the positive, inspiring and motivational approach as it tackles really important themes, such as kindness, tolerance, acceptance, resilience and community. The book doesn’t shy away from difficult issues too, openly raising them and tackling them in ways that are relatable, wise and constructive. The sense of inclusivity is also really prominent and the way the book encourages positive dialogue around race, religion and gender is superb. So too are the book’s resounding messages, which really aim to bolster young people and foster positive characteristics. It is the type of book that has the power to really speak to young readers and to make a difference and having Marcus Rashford’s name behind it only serves as further inspiration.

Indeed, while a lot of footballers, and sports stars in general, opt to take the autobiography route when it comes to book deals, and there is often more than a hint of self-promotion to it all, it is refreshing and inspiring that Rashford, still a young man himself, has chosen to extend his genuine interest in, and fight for, young people by writing a book aimed specifically at them. There’s no ego or self-importance here; Rashford uses his voice and his power not to explore his own life but to help young people explore theirs. His role matters only in as much as he is reaching out and encouraging others. And how encouraging it is for young people to have an England and Manchester United star taking the time and interest in them, to feel a connection with and be understood by a footballing hero. It’s one thing parents, teachers and guardians trying to inspire young minds, but a bona fide superstar is quite another – I know who I’d be inclined to listen to as a football-mad youngster! And that Marcus Rashford has chosen to use his voice in this way is a real testament to him and his values. Wouldn’t it be great if other footballers, sports stars and celebrities took up the baton too?

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books – Main Market edition. July 2022. Paperback: 224 pages)


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Book Review – The Reality of the Dream: My unique journey from non-league to the Premier League by Malcolm Christie

At the back of Malcolm Christie’s biography titled The Reality of the Dream, is a table showing his appearances and goals from his youth and amateur career and his time in the semi-professional and professional game. Putting aside Christie’s scoring record as an amateur and youth player, what stands out is that as a professional from 1998 to 2009 – some 11 years – he only managed 132 starts and 51 appearances from the bench. Now it could be interpreted that at his three clubs, Derby County, Middlesbrough and Leeds United, the management team simply didn’t ‘fancy’ Christie and so his first team opportunities were limited. However, the reality is that his career was decimated by a series of debilitating injuries which meant Christie was more familiar with the treatment room than the dressing room and therefore unsurprisingly features large in this autobiography.

The book opens with two Forewords, one from Steve Round and the other from Steve McClaren who worked as assistant and manager, respectively, during Christie’s spells at Derby County and Middlesbrough. It also includes an Introduction from current England manager, Gareth Southgate, who was Middlesbrough skipper and then manager during Christie’s time at the Riverside Stadium. All as you would expect praising Christie’s character during his difficult playing career.

As readers we first hear Christie’s ‘voice’ in the Prologue, which details his goal at Old Trafford on May 2001 as Derby beat the Premier League Champions elect, a result which would see the Rams eventually hold onto their top-flight status. It is undoubtedly the highlight of Christie’s career, with him scoring against the club he supported since boyhood and its importance in Derby’s fight to avoid the drop, providing it with immense significance.

The story then opens with the first of 24 chapters as it goes back to Christie’s childhood, and his playing days at school, detailing how he came to support Manchester United, despite growing up in Lincolnshire. Although rejected by Peterborough United early on, Christie found his way into the professional game after a successful spell at non-league Nuneaton Borough, scoring 14 goals in 21 games. Jim Smith was the Derby County manager in 1998 and he signed the 19 year old Christie, who at the time besides his part-time football was working in Somerfield’s supermarket. Having not come through an Academy meant that Christie (as he admits in the book) wasn’t grounded and groomed in the same way as other young professionals and so wasn’t confident in this new environment and indeed his first experience as a substitute warming up at Anfield in the Premier League was an eye-opener for the teenage Christie.

1998/99 though saw Christie make his Premier League debut with two substitute appearances, first against Sheffield Wednesday on 30 January 1999 and then on 20 March 1999 against Leeds United. In the following season, 1999/2000, Derby started badly and by December had only three wins from seventeen games and were in one of the relegation spots. Christie too was struggling on a personal level after receiving a misguided Secret Santa gift from a fellow player, “I became even more self-conscious and retreated further into my shell…I spent too much energy trying to be the person I thought people wanted me to be, instead of being my normal self. As a result, my teammates never got to know the real me.” Nonetheless, on 15 January 2000, Christie made his first start for the Rams and scored twice as they beat Middlesbrough on their own patch 4-1. It saw him finish the campaign with six goals from ten starts as well as eleven appearances off the bench and earning him the Club’s Young Player of the Year award. This brought Christie to the attention of Howard Wilkinson who was then the England U21 manager, who had guided his team to the European Championships in the summer of 2000. Having flown out to Slovakia, Christie was not included in the final squad so returned to the UK. He then contracted viral meningitis and as would sadly happen on other occasions in later years, found his fitness hit by illness and injury.

Thankfully in this case, Christie’s absence from the first-time wasn’t a long one and he returned to duty in early September 2000 with Derby once again getting off to a poor start in their league campaign. However, it proved to be a memorable one as Christie finished as Derby’s league goals top scorer with 12, the Rams retained their Premier League status, and he scored his first England for the England U21s. However, what topped it off for Christie was becoming a sticker in the Panini Premier League album! It illustrates how much of a fan he was and retained a schoolboy enthusiasm even as a top-flight professional.

However, after dodging the bullet of relegation in two previous seasons and despite the addition of Fabrizio Ravanelli the club was relegated at the end of the 2001/02 campaign. Christie stayed at the Pride Park for the start of the following season but departed for then Premier league Middlesbrough on deadline day in January 2003 in a joint deal with Chris Riggott who was to have a significant impact on Christie’s career. At that time, Boro’ were a decent side under Steve McClaren with the like of Gareth Southgate, Croatian striker Alan Boksic and Brazilian superstar Juninho in the squad.

Whilst things on the pitch were good for Christie as he scored in his first start, he reflects that it was a period when his mental health was suffering to the extent that, “my anxiety levels had been increasing at an alarming rate since the 2002 Euros and by the time I joined Middlesbrough, I was no longer able to suppress it and I began to suffer with bouts of double vision.” Indeed, Christie is open throughout the book on his struggles acknowledging that stress wasn’t viewed by sport and indeed society back then as a real issue, which thankfully today is being addressed.

With the 2002/03 season at an end, Christie underwent surgery for a groin injury and removal of his tonsils which impacted his pre-season preparation. However, battling the physical tiredness and on-going mental issues, he started the season, scoring the winner in extra-time against Brighton in the League, a goal that would set Boro’ on their way to Wembley. For Christie though what happened next was to change things irrevocably.

“I will never forget the 4th November 2003. It was the day my life changed forever. It was the day my football career ended. It’s as simple as that.”

In a routine training session, Christie had his leg broken in a tackle with Chris Riggott who had joined Middlesbrough with Christie. Christie attached no blame then or in the book for what happened. He wasn’t out of plaster until February 2004 so was not part of the Boro’ squad which went on to win the League Cup. Christie like the other injured players were kept away from the squad on the day and it deeply hurt him. “Whilst the Boro’ players were celebrating in the dressing room…myself and the other cast-offs…were boarding a coach back to the airport, again missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.” His feelings were that strong that he did not attend a celebration dinner and had to be persuaded by manager Steve McClaren to be part of the bus-top parade to show off the trophy.

With the dawn of the new season and Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup, Christie was still struggling with is leg despite playing for the reserves and a sub appearance in Europe against Banik Ostrava. Eventually he had a CT scan which revealed his leg was still effectively broken and so required surgery. Christie pulls no punching in being critical of the treatment he received and the impact it had on his physical and mental health. He returned to action 15 months later in February 2005, scoring on his return at Portsmouth only to be injured in his next match with a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal, which required surgery.

2005/06 saw Middlesbrough back in the UEFA Cup and Christie back in pre-season training. However, once again the footballing gods were not on his side as operations were needed to deal with the rod in his leg which was causing knee problems and nerve problems in his feet. Even after coming through these and returning to training, injury struck again with a re-fractured foot. Whilst he sat on the side-lines, Boro’ reached the FA Cup Semi-Final and UEFA Cup Final, the most successful period of their history. By April 2006 Christie was back in action, and unlike the League Cup previously travelled as part of the squad to the UEFA Cup Final in Eindhoven.

The following season Steve McClaren left the Riverside Stadium to become England manager with Gareth Southgate coming in as Boro’ gaffer. Once again Christie suffered another injury, this time, torn ankle ligaments. Returning in November 2006 he scored against Aston Villa, a first goal in 21 months. In a stop start season, Christie started his final match for Boro’ in April 2007 playing a full ninety minutes for the first time in three and a half years. With his contract expiring in June 2007 his time on Teesside was over. As with some much of this book, Christie is honest about his mindset at the time, “leaving was the right thing for me and the club, I needed to get away from football for a bit…part of me had given up and I’d begun to fall out of love with the beautiful game.”

Without a club, Christie went on trial at Hull City in what provided to be another demoralising experience with him suffering some poor treatment by then Tigers manager Phil Brown. Burton Albion offered a contract which Christie turned down and was then given a lifeline trialling at Leeds United in January 2008. However, unbelievably in training Christie suffered a fractured spine which meant that he didn’t play a single game in 2007/08. In November 2008 he signed for Leeds and debuted against Northampton Town in the FA Cup. With Leeds manager Gary McAllister keen to sign Christie, he was then sacked and replaced by Simon Grayson. With his back problems persisting the final straw for Christie came in late January 2009 when after not being picked for a game against Peterborough United and an overhead outburst from Grayson, Christie walked away from football. Christie reflects on the moment saying, “my overriding emotion was one of pure relief. My injury problems had started way back in November 2003 and had dragged on through to January 2009…over five years of injury hell.”

The final chapter explores Christie’s life after his playing career, which saw him work in the motor industry until 2019 and find a more settled family life, reconnecting with his parents once more. Christie though rediscovered his love for the game through his boys, leading to him setting up his own Academy, Christie Coaching. As this review is written Christie has taken up a post at former club Middlesbrough as a Youth Development Phase Coach and one can hope that he translates the undoubtedly ability he had as a player to the youngsters under his charge.

The Reality of the Dream is an incredibly honest account. As readers we share the joy of his journey to being a Premier League player and scoring the winner against his boyhood club. However, equally it is not an easy read at times as you feel Christie’s anxiety, pain and torment as his career drifts away from the high of that goal at Old Trafford in May 2001 through the strength sapping injuries to the low of walking away from Elland Road in January 2009. Christie is open about his mental health struggles, and it is hoped that this book has been cathartic and part of the process in his healing process and his re-engagement with the game that he loves.

(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. June 2022. Paperback: 248 pages)


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Book Review – Cocker Hoop: The Biography of Les Cocker, Key Man for Ramsey and Revie by Robert Endeacott & Dave Cocker

Book cover.

The great Leeds United side of the late sixties and seventies and the England World Cup winning team of 1966 are remembered for the men that managed them, Don Revie and Sir Alf Ramsey respectively. But there is an individual that connects both, and whose name is not so familiar – that of Les Cocker. And whilst there are various books about Revie and Ramsey detailing their respective playing and managerial careers, the story of the assistant to both these giants of the English game is pretty much unknown.

That wrong has been righted with the publication of, Cocker Hoop: The Biography of Les Cocker, Key Man for Ramsey and Revie by Robert Endeacott & Dave Cocker. Endeacott is a well-known writer of a number of books, many about his beloved Leeds United, and co-authors this book with Les Cocker’s son Dave. Given then that one of the co-authors as a die-hard Leeds fans could be seen to be wearing white rose tinted glasses and the other co-author is the book subject’s son, some may question how dispassionate a book this can be.

Following a generous Foreword from ex-Leeds United player John Giles (as he signs himself in the book, rather than the Johnny familiar in his playing days) about his time working at the Elland Road club with Les Cocker, there follows an Introduction from Endeacott. Here, his distain for the film The Damned United is detailed given its portrayal of people and events, including Cocker. Now as a non-Leeds United fan and given my view that the film is deeply fictionalised for cinematic effect, I don’t have the same misgivings or deep rooted anger towards the film as many of the Elland Road faithful have. However, with Endeacott having expressed this, from this point on for me as a reader, there was a nagging feeling that the book felt like it had to come up with a justification to dispel the ‘fictional’ Cocker figure.

So who was the ‘real’ Les Cocker?

Readers are told his story in a traditional timeline, with the opening chapters looking at his childhood and family as the young Cocker grew up in Stockport, following his birth there in March 1924. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Cocker was too young to join up, but in 1941 was called up for National Service. In 1944 D-day 06 June, Les suffered a head wound which saw his returned to England to recover. Like many men of the time, we discover that he didn’t like to talk about his wartime experiences and in understated fashion referred to his injury as, “just a graze” indicative of a stoic nature.

With the war over, we discover that Cocker had a professional playing career, beginning in 1945 and finishing in 1958 as a forward with local side Stockport County and then Accrington Stanley. Probably the most significant part of his transfer and which was to ultimately create his future career was the agreement that Accrington would pay for his FA coaching courses and Treatment of Injuries course.

What is engaging and works to provide real insight into Cocker are the interviews that Endeacott provides within the book. One such and relating to Cocker’s time at Accrington as a player, is with the ex-Lancashire and England player and until recently Sky Cricket Commentator, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd. Accrington born Lloyd speaks with affection about Cocker the player, “he was a marauding centre-forward, I mean fearless, all action, all effort…yeah, he was a dirty bugger but a really nice bloke.” This interview forms part of Chapter 2, taking Cocker’s story up to the point of him accepting his first coaching role at Luton Town in 1959.

Chapter 3 sees him make the move to Leeds United in July 1960 who along with Cocker’s previous employer, Luton Town had been relegated from the First Division at the end of the 1959/60 campaign. In another of Endeacott’s insightful interviews, former Leeds player Gerry Francis, provides an early assessment of Cocker’s impact at Elland Road. “Les was a very good coach and trainer…he was also very strict. If you did not train as hard as he thought you could, Les would be tough on you.” Leeds though struggled in the 1960/61 season and in March 1961, Don Revie took up the reins at the club as Player/Manager, keeping the Elland Road club out of the ignominy of relegation to the then Third Division.

Meanwhile Les was starting on a path to connection with the England national team set-up, becoming trainer to the Under 23 side in November 1961. The remainder of the chapter takes readers through to the 1963/64 season, when Leeds won the Second Division title to return to the top-flight of English football, with John Giles highlighting that Cocker’s skills didn’t simply extend to coaching, with Les also taking “care of the medical side of things for the players too, in the afternoons. Les was a huge contributor to the success of the club.”

1965 FA Cup Final programme.

Chapter 4 sees Leeds start to make their make on the English game with a first appearance in the 1964/65 FA Cup Final, although ultimately losing 2-1 to Liverpool. There is also a telling story offering another view to the alternative as Cocker as just a tough trainer. In a Under 23 friendly in Vienna, Alan Ball was sent off with Les providing a consoling arm to the distraught player. England senior manager Sir Alf Ramsey noted this as “it showed that he (Cocker) would influence, for the better, the player’s future conduct” and was no doubt part of Ramsey’s decision to promote Cocker to trainer of the senior England squad and therefore a key part of the 1966 World Cup preparations.

The lead up and the tournament in 1966 dominate Chapter 5, with an excellent interview with the Three Lions right-back of the time, George Cohen, providing a great inside view of the England set-up and Cocker’s contribution during that historic time. Once again readers get to see another part of Cocker’s range of skills, with Cohen stating, “he (Cocker) knew what an individual needed, he was very good that way, spotting areas that a player might need to work on.”

Chapter 6 1967 to 1970 – Leeds’ time and turn for glory?, centres on the Elland Road club finally bringing major silverware to LS11, with the League Cup, First Division title and Inter Cities Fairs Cup adorning the trophy cabinet. It highlights Cocker’s contribution to success and how he understood the support that injured players needed in their rehabilitation during a period when Leeds were playing for a number of trophies at home and in Europe. The chapter also looks at England’s preparation for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and the unsuccessful defence of the Jules Rimet trophy.

Chapters 7 & 8 look at the period up to 1973, with Leeds picking up more silverware in the shape of the 1971/72 FA Cup but missing out on the First Division title as runners-up in 1970/71 and 1971/72. Cocker again continues as the no-nonsense and loyal assistant as part of Revie’s backroom staff. However, for the England national side dark clouds gather as they miss out on qualification for the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.

Programme from 1973/74 First Division title win.

1974 and past it? focuses on the period of change both from an England perspective and that at Elland Road. April 1974 saw Sir Alf Ramsey sacked, prompting all the backroom staff including Cocker stating they would resign in a show of loyalty to the ex-England boss. However, Ramsey whilst appreciating the gesture, talked them all out of the course of action. Indeed throughout the book, the FA is not seen in a good light, with the institution in one incident more concerned with looking after the FA Council members than those on the frontline. Leeds went onto win the 1973/74 First Division championship and with it, put Don Revie in a position as favourite to take the England job. Interestingly, the book details how Cocker “urged him (Revie) not take it as it was the worst international squad Les had known in his career; there were too many ‘ordinary’ players around.” Despite Revie’s recommendation of John Giles as the new manager, the board went with Brian Clough, and in doing so, Cocker left to take up a role as Assistant England Manager.

Chapter 10 looks at the three years for Les in the England senior camp. It shows how the world of club and international football differ with the lack of regular contact that was enjoyed at Leeds not able to be replicated for England, and as Endeacott reflects, “recreating such wonderful alchemy was a romantic but implausible idea at international level.” With Revie unable to work his magic for the Three Lions and the FA it seems working behind the scenes to bring in another manager, he resigned in in 1977 taking up a role as the manager of the United Arab Emirates national team. Cocker the ever-loyal assistant joined his ‘gaffer’ in Dubai.

The final chapter, The UAE and then ‘Donny’, sees Cocker complete the two-years of his contract in the Middle East, leaving Revie to stay on and later manager Emirati clubs, Al-Nasr and Al-Ahly. Cocker returned to England as assistant to Billy Bremner at Fourth Division Doncaster Rovers, “working there voluntarily, being paid only for his travel expenses.” There is another well conducted interview from Endeacott, with Glynn Snodin who was at Rovers at the time (and later went on to play for Leeds), explaining that Cocker’s enthusiasm and input was the same whatever the level of the game, “if you needed help, Les was always there for you. He’d tell you things but ask you things as well, he wanted your opinion, he wasn’t just about ordering you about.” Tragically, Les was to die suddenly of a heart attack, only 55 years old, on 04 October 1979, a shocking loss to his family and the world of football.

Co-authors Robert Endeacott and Dave Cocker have provided a wonderful tribute to Les Cocker in this book, with Endeacott’s insightful interviews and knowledge of Leeds United combining with Cocker’s family anecdotes and stories of the time. It shows Les Cocker as a talented individual, whether as a coach, assistant manager or trainer, loyal, hardworking, wanting nothing more than to make players and the team the best they could be. A great read for the Elland Road faithful, but also for anyone wanting to get a view of football from the 1960s and 1970s.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. July 2022. Hardcover: 256 pages)


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Book Review: Island Hopping – the football grounds of Lanzarote by Steven Penny

Whilst football fans looking for a Spanish football fix are often drawn to the mainland to watch the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Valencia, football and travel writer Steven Penny took a different path, by looking at the football scene on the volcanic island of Lanzarote during 2021/22.

The Island of Eternal Spring (as Lanzarote is known), is a Spanish island, located approximately 125 kilometres (80 miles) off the north coast of Africa, with its all year round sun attracting visitors from all over Europe since the 1980s. In terms of size of the island in UK terms, think the Isle of Man times four, with Lanzarote measuring approximately 37 miles (60 km) long by 12 miles (20km).

Given the size of the island and the fact that with a lack of grass due to the volcanic soil, you’d be forgiven for thinking that football pitches and stadiums would be scarce. However, in Island Hopping – the football grounds of Lanzarote, the author shows that it is a location with more than its fair share of teams and venues.

The main part of the book provides a colourful guide to the various clubs on the island with useful information showing a location map of the venue, ground address, entry price, club badge and home shirt as well as a number of images of the venue itself. The grounds themselves won’t win any awards for design, as many have a templated feel, with an artificial pitch, sometimes with a running track, and generally just one main stand. However, the dramatic volcanic backdrop of the island makes up for that in many cases.

What is also included and very useful to anyone unfamiliar with the Spanish pyramid, is that Penny provides a brief guide to the where the 17 Lanzarote clubs play their football in 2022/23 additionally adding colour coding to show the level. So readers are shown, taking La Liga as Level 1 (i.e. the league Barcelona and Real Madrid play in), the islands two current highest ranked teams, are UD Lanzarote and CD Union Sur Yaiza, who play at Level 5 in the Tercera División (with 18 Groups – Lanzarote and Union Sur Yaiza plating in the Canary Island Group). Penny though doesn’t just detail those grounds in use and like any good journalist seeks out other grounds and those no longer in use, providing an extensive record of facilities on the island.

This well research bulk of the book is supplemented by a short piece on Penny’s journey round the island as he attended a number of games, a brief history of football on Lanzarote, and a major high in UD Lanzarote’s footballing history when on 27 November 2001, they hosted Real Madrid in the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey), with Madrid winning 3-1 with Luís Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Steve McManaman all appearing at some point in the game. There is also a brief noting of abbreviations used in the club names, and this reader was please to learn what the prefixes often used in Spanish team names, such as CD, CF and UD mean.

It’s a cracking guide for anyone visiting the island or indeed with an interest in Spanish football.

Lanzarote – sun, sea and…….soccer. Who would have guessed!


(Publisher: Penny for your Sports Publications. July 2022. Paperback: 120 pages)


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Book Review – Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup by Graeme Strachan

Scottish teams have a tough time in European competition. It is not just the games in which they may struggle which are challenging but also the humour plumbed when Christmas comes and the best present a fan could have, would be a European tie in January.

It is doubled when you might not be a supporter of either Celtic or Rangers. Celtic may have the proud boast of being the very first British team to win the European Cup and Rangers five years later managed to add the second Scottish European triumph, but the 80s brought Aberdeen and Dundee United to that Eurovision of their achievements, though only the Dons would win a cup.

Ironically, Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams by Graeme Strachan, which could be the subtitle for any Scottish League campaign, tells the story not of Dundee United but their near neighbours. A team which shares the same city and the same road as United, Dundee, were once, the team most people believed would win the European Cup and be the very first Scottish team to so do. It is a compelling tale.

This is the story of 1962/63 when the champions of Scotland, Dundee, took on the might of Europe. It was, of course, a simper time, when it was only the champions of each country who competed. It made it much smaller as a competition too. It was also, according to Strachan when, “young boys played football in the streets and parks of Dundee.” Those of us of a certain age can all remember then. What is less well remembered is that before there was Bill, there was Bob and Bob managed a European run before his well-considered older sibling. Bob Shankly, was the manager at Dundee who gave us, according to Bob Crampsey, “the best pure footballing team produced in Scotland since the war.” This is their story.

Strachan recaps for us the story of the run in to the title in 1962 and it does well to remember a time when Rangers or Celtic had their dominance regularly challenged. It includes a cameo appearance by a young St. Johnstone striker by the name of Ferguson, Alex, and such cameos are regular features in Strachan’s tale. So too is the humility of Shankly – having won the title, he was next seen mowing his lawn!

Strachan then outlines an interesting pre-season in the USA. Long held as a soccer/footballing desert but here the champions of Scotland get trans-Atlantic travel under their belts early. Dundee was a team, not just bound by their own, soon to be whispered, mythology but included one name from the Famous Five at Hibernian, another great Scottish side long forgotten and much missed, Gordon Smith. Despite the pedigree Dundee had, not all were convinced that Dundee would manage much abroad, and the Weekly News scathingly opined at the beginning of the season and their campaign, “European Cup? Well, all the best anyway!”

It gives Strachan a fantastic backdrop as he starts with the first round, epic encounter with Cologne. Dundee managed such a margin of victory in the first leg, that the second leg became a formality, and there was suddenly a frenzy of interest in all things European and Dundonian. Strachan draws in what was happening in the world of the time but also the city of Dundee – it is an additionally welcome backdrop. From descriptions of the city being redrawn, the civic vandalism which has been condemned not only by those with the benefit of hindsight, but of natives like Brian Cox, the actor, we hear of the heart being ripped from a city. Whilst aerodromes and bridges were being built, JFK was declaring a man would be put on the moon and Arbroath miniature railway enthusiast, Mathew Kerr was running his mini link. It was a heady time and Strachan mixes both with respect. He never seeks to diminish one nor over complicate the other.

The sixties were an obvious time of change and Dundee’s exploits were part of that hope for the future. The more pressing future was the defence of their title in Scotland and that was not going to plan – all eyes could concentrate on Europe for glory.

Following their defeat of the German champions, they then got paired with the Portuguese champions, the swashbuckling Sporting Lisbon. Having dethroned Benfica domestically, Sporting Lisbon was a formidable opponent. But there was trouble at mill with some players unhappy at the level of involvement they were having in the team and Shankly was called upon to show deft management skills. They had to be pretty acute as this was a time when there were no substitutes and squad size beyond the 11 on the pitch included another 11 in reserve who were literally playing, in the reserves. Keeping all happy was a nightmare. It was also a time when internationals happened, there was no pause for anyone to work, rest then play again. You could lose good players and still have to fulfil your usual league fixtures.

But where Strachan is at his best is describing the effect of dedication to your team from within their support. – the likes of Peter Cabrelli, son of an Italian exile and proud Dundonian fish and chip owner who played for both United and Dundee – as well as Dundee Juventus – but had Dens Park firmly in his heart and on a mural behind the frying pans. These stories make an appearance as part of the narrative and not as an academic exercise meaning we are still careering towards the next game but now have the emotions of the Dundee support in our minds.

Alan Gilzean (Credit: Collect)

Once the Sorting Lisbon tie was out the way, including Alan Gilzean getting his second hat-trick in the competition, things began to get serious. They were in the last eight alongside AC Milan, Dukla Prague, defending champions Benfica, Feyenoord, Stade de Reims, Galatasaray and Anderlecht. Strachan may be describing times before the dominance of Real Madrid, but we are in heady times.

Dundee was not alone in Europe as recognised by Strachan as Jock Stein’s Dunfermline Athletic and Glasgow Rangers were also deeply involved in their campaigns. But as Lawrence of Arabia was in the cinemas and the Bay of Pigs receded as a threat to global security and Dundee schoolkids got to grips with European geography, Dundee was ready to face a Quarter Final of the European Cup against Anderlecht.

It was also one of the coldest winters in living memory. People were able to walk across the frozen Tay – Alec O’Brien and Ian Smith became the very first people to walk across a frozen River Tay since 1898 – and players could have been forgiven for thinking they too could have walked on water. The build up to the two legs are described in detail including some United supporters, and players, who in a show of solidarity turned up to wish their rivals well in the next phase of their adventure. The city of Jute, Jam and Journalism was in thrall.

Anderlecht were despatched.

And then they were in a Semi-Final. Strachan’s ability to draw the detail of the games is good and as well as the crosses, the free kicks and the goals we get how at each and every stage, players were praised – especially Ian Ure – described by the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme as “the greatest centre-half in the world today.” Belief was turning into expectation.

The Semi-Final was against AC Milan. A successful result would lead to Wembley where the Final was going to be held. There was a frenzy of support and confidence and people believed that the future Liverpool’s legendary manager’s older brother, Bob Shankly was the man who would get their men to a historic Final. Strachan manages to bring such enthusiasm to the page as you know, there has never been a focus on these European marauders rather than the Lisbon Lions, so you know how it ends, but you are compelled to stay long enough in the story to see if it is quite how you imagined it.

We get the build up to the games against Milan with a wide variety of views and witnesses quoted who believed that THIS Semi-Final was going to provide the eventual winners – Dundee was 50% of that contest! In a prescient tale of mudslinging football, the derby game beforehand as played in a Scottish quagmire, on a pitch that ended up more on the player’s jerseys than remained on their ground. As a platform for the greatest game of their careers in the best competition for clubs, this was not premium preparation. There were also injuries after a long season which included to Bobby Cox, Hugh Robertson and future Scotland manager, Craig Brown.

The first leg was where the tie was won – in Milan. The towering enthusiasm and the unbelievable run was not to continue much further. Dundee could have given much more had they not had a 12th man on the pitch determined to penalise them constantly whilst giving the Italians opportunity to behave as they wished. Milan had 15 free kicks granted in the first 15 minutes! The statistics continue as Tommy Gallacher in The Courier reported, “some of the referee’s decisions were ridiculous.” Condemnation came from all sides – former referees, the players themselves and supporters who had a list of grievances after the game but in the end, the first leg left a mountain for the Dundee team to climb if they wanted to make their, and by now, our dreams come true.

It was a notable return leg for Dens Park, as Milan’s players with film star looks, according to The Bard of Dundee, Michael Marra – an 11 year old schoolkid at the time – as they watched Milan Catenaccio into the Final. The 10 Dundee men who finished the second leg were far more sporting than many of their European opponents. As they trudged off it left an indelible mark on the city. It had been a season that Tottenham won the European Cup Winners Cup, Giovanni Trapattoni graced the Dens Park pitch and in Dundee, for a while, there was the hope. Such hope had been killed by a referee, perhaps, who was later banned for accepting gifts from Milan prior to the Semi-Final. It was a time of change as tactically aware coaches, like Jock Stein and Willie Waddell, then of the Pars and Killie were beginning to change the game and Dundee finished a weak defence of the league in the glow of their European brilliance. Strachan draws out the effect on a city, the supporters and the future of Scottish football. It is a compelling read and one well worth making a visit to remind yourself at some point that, times were different, and it was the hope that sustained you more than killed you.

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2022. Hardcover: 352 pages)


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Book Review – Black and Whites Stripes: The Greatest Collection of Newcastle United Matchworn shirts by Gavin Haigh

About the Author:

Gavin Haigh’s life as a passionate Newcastle United FC (NUFC) shirt collector began as a seven-year-old in June 1976 with a trip with his mother to Stan Seymour’s sports shop in the centre of Newcastle. He attended his first match in October 1976, standing on the Gallowgate, became a Milburn Stand season-ticket holder in 1992 and continues to attend every home match, his love and commitment to the club never wavering. Gavin’s knowledge of the history of the club and their shirts is second to none, his NUFC shirt collection currently standing at close to 1,000, of which 275 are matchworn shirts.


Back in October 2021 Conker Editions released 101 Manchester City Matchworn Shirts: The Players – The Matches – The Stories Behind the Shirts by Mark McCarthy. Now ten months on another book in the same vein has been released featuring this time the collection of Newcastle United shirts owned by Gavin Haigh.

As with most Conker Editions offerings this is A5 in size and like the Manchester City shirt book, with double-page colour spreads afforded to each of the matchworn jerseys. This allows a page dedicated to the image of the shirt, with the other offering a brief description and other images. This detail varies and can include information about the season, match or the individual who wore the shirt as well as some facts about the shirt manufacturer and in some cases, the technical claims made about the garment – an example being, ‘this is the ultimate ergonomic fit to maximise and individual’s performance in competition and ensure sportswear doesn’t hinder their output.’ Well, what can you say to that!

For this reader there were a couple of details that stuck in the mind whilst reading this book. Firstly, it was a surprise to see that Admiral provided shirts for Newcastle in the early 1970s prior to their legendary logo being present on many kits. Secondly, about ASICS the company who first made the Magpies shirts in 1993/94. The Japanese company was founded in 1949 and started out manufacturing basketball shoes. What this reader didn’t know was that the company name is an acronym coming from the Latin proverb, ‘anima sana in corpore sano’ translated as ‘pray for a sound mind in a sound body’.

Within the 208 pages, Haigh whittles down his 275 matchworn shirts to 101 for the book and the jerseys range from a silky materialled top which was used for floodlit matches between 1957 to 1959 to that from the 2021/22 Premier League season worn by Ryan Fraser. As you would expect there are shirts worn by many of the legends that have played in the famous black and white stripes, such as Bob Moncur, Gazza, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley, Pavel Srnicek, Les Ferdinand, Shay Given, Gary Speed and of course Alan Shearer.

As with the Manchester City book, the selection is dominated by shirts from the 1980s onwards, reflecting both the modern trend for new shirts being released year on year and the revolving door of sponsors that now adorn the front of shirts.

No doubt fans from St. James’ Park will pore over each and every shirt, each providing memories of their own, for neutrals (and perhaps indeed for collectors themselves) the interest lies in those rare and quirky shirts which have a story to tell. As a result amongst the pages of the book there is an unused and unnumbered spare long-sleeved shirts from the 1976 League Cup Final, an unused Aertex shirt from the Club’s 1983 Asian tour, various special shirts from testimonial games and a reminder of the recent global pandemic with a 2019/20 shirt which has the NHS logo on the sleeve and also the players name replaced with ‘Black Lives Matter.’

Not to be forgotten, goalkeepers are represented within the book, with shirts that range from a classic plain green jersey from 1980-1982 worn by the likes of Steve Hardwick and Kevin Carr, a 1989/90 blue striped affair worn by the much-travelled custodian, John Burridge, a technicolour ‘broken glass’ ASICS classic worn by Pavel ‘is a Geordie’ Srnicek, all the way through to the luminous colours favoured by modern day No:1’s such as Martin Dubravka.

This is a another great addition to the growing list of titles about football kits and shirts in particular, which is undoubtedly aimed at Magpies supporters, but will appeal to anyone interested in shirts and their continually evolving history.

(Publisher: Conker Editions Ltd. August 2022. Paperback: 208 pages)


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Book Review – Please Don’t Take Me Home: A Lovestory with Fulham Football Club by Simone Abitante

With global coverage of the English Premier League, and the reach of social media, you are just as likely to see fans wearing the colours of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and United in the bars of Beijing, New York, Sydney and Tokyo, as you would back in London, Liverpool and Manchester. Given the effort that these Clubs put into attracting overseas fans, i.e. with trips to play in friendlies and tournaments abroad, it was a pleasant surprise to read Please Don’t Take Me Home: A Lovestory with Fulham Football Club, a story of an Italian who has come to love the club from Craven Cottage – who despite recent years in the Premier League, cannot be considered one of the ‘big hitters’ in English football.

Simone Abitante like many Italians is football crazy. Born in November 1975, he first attended games in the 1980s watching his local team, Vicenza, graduating to his first season ticket at the club in 1991. Around that time Abitante was exposed to the English First Division and its clubs as they transitioned into the Premier League. Abitante’s hometown side I Biancorossi, won the Italian Cup in 1996/97 which meant that the club entered the European Cup Winners Cup the following season. Incredibly the little known team from North East Italy reached the Semi-Final and were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Chelsea – so beginning Abitante’s dislike for Fulham’s West London rivals from Stamford Bridge.

He initially came to London in November 2000 and was looking for a team to support. He read in the Metro newspaper about Fulham then in the Football League First Division (now the Championship) who ran away with the title to gain promotion to the Premier League.

From here the book details events from that point to the end of the 2019/20 season as Fulham beat Brentford 2-1 in the Championship Play-off Final with COVID ensuring it was played at an empty Wembley Stadium.

It very much has the feel of a diary format as Abitante travels to and from London as his work and personal situation changes. Like any diary, it is written with passion and honesty, whether about the good times or the bad. From a football perspective, the reader gets to feel Abitante’s joy at attending his first game at the Cottage and on each occasion as he takes friend and family to the ground by the Thames. The Italian’s support coincides with Fulham’s longest stretch in the Premier League (2001/02 to 2013/14), a European trophy (UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2002) and reaching the UEFA Europa League Final in 2009/10 and in the last few season, the yo-yo existence as the club bounces between the Premier League and the Championship.

With Abitante moving around Europe as his jobs change, and in the years when Fulham are playing in the Championship, he has at times a battle to watch and get information via the internet about The Whites, something  readers who have been in the same situation can sympathise with. However, his passion for the club remains steadfast, whether Abitante is attending games at the Cottage or hundreds of miles away, and that comes across to the reader in his writing.

As well as his love for Fulham and football, you can add, family and friends to those things most dear to Abitante’s heart. And he talks with real love about his relationships with those close to him, none more so than two friends, Umberto Scomparin and Giampaolo Bonato, who died tragically young and to whom this book is dedicated.

The book closes with Fulham beating Brentford at an empty Wembley Stadium due to the Global pandemic and Abitante dreaming of returning to the Cottage to see the club back in the Premier League. What he also manages to capture is the strangeness of the time that COVID created and there is something haunting about his return to Italy in May 2020:

Bergamo’s airport is almost empty. I’ve never seen it like this. I’m used to a crowded and bust terminal while this time you could hear the echo of your voice if you screamed. Also the flight is so unusual, just a few masked passengers. Surreal, this is the word.

 Thankfully, the world has returned to some sort of reality, whilst Fulham continue with the ‘normaility’ of being relegated once more from the Championship, only to return again for the 2022/23 season. One can only hope that Abitante will once again get back to the Cottage to see The Whites once more in the top flight of English football.


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. March 2022. Hardcover: 224 pages)


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Book Review – The Armistice Day Killing: The Death of Tommy Ball and the Life of the Man Who Shot Him by Colin Brown.

MOST SERIOUS football enthusiasts, whether Aston Villa fans or not, are broadly aware of the story of Thomas Edger ‘Tommy’ Ball, a former coal miner, born in 1900 and signed from colliery football by Aston Villa in February.

Ball holds the dubious distinction of being, in November 1923, the only active British professional football player deemed in law to have been murdered.

So begins the introduction to Colin Brown’s book, The Armistice Day Killing: The Death of Tommy Ball and the Life of the Man Who Shot Him. Now I have watched, played, and read a great many books about football over the last 50 years, but it was slightly disconcerting to realise that I had not been aware of Tommy Ball’s story, however on the other hand was intrigued to learn about the Villa players fate.

Villa fan Brown’s intention is to re-examine through extensive research as much about the case, and the main protagonists as possible. So whilst there is detail about Ball growing up and his football career up until his fatal shooting, the books focus is very much on building up a picture of George Stagg, a decorated veteran and ex-policeman, who was convicted of Ball’s killing, as well as a thorough review of the evidence and events leading to the tragic day, and additionally the court hearings, trial and events post the sentencing of Stagg.

It is if you like a modern day retrial in book form, with the reader playing the part of the jury, whilst Brown operates as both prosecution and defence in trying to present both sides of the argument. And just as jury service requires, for anyone that has done it, this book needs to have your full attention, as Brown presents and reviews the witness testaments of the time, finding the inconsistencies in them but whilst attempting to bring some balanced perspective without trying to influence the reader too much.

What Brown comes to illustrate is that there seemed to be some haste with the way in which Stagg was sentenced, given that trying to firmly establish the events of the night, even now cannot be conclusively drawn. Stagg was sentenced to the gallows but following the intervention of the country’s first Labour Home Secretary this was changed to a life sentence. He spent two years in Parkhurst from 1924 to 1926 but spent the majority of his life in Broadmoor the high-security psychiatric hospital up to June 1963, passing away in 1966, aged 87 in Highcroft Hospital.

There is very much a sense of this case not being as clear-cut as events came to pass at the time, and indeed this reader was left with an overriding feeling of sadness at the loss of Ball, a talented player, who had been touted as a possible future England international and for Stagg who having been branded a murderer, spent nearly 40 years locked away as a lunatic in an asylum.

Murder? Manslaughter? Not guilty? You the reader decide.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2022. Hardcover: 288 pages)


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Sales of the book are supporting acorns a Children’s Hospice charity.

Book Review: Tarts, Trams and Tuk Tuks – A Lisbon Football Weekend by Steven Penny

Groundhopping: a hobby that involves attending matches at as many different stadiums or grounds as possible. Participants are known as Groundhoppers.

In my early days of watching football back in the 1970s, I wasn’t aware that Groundhopping was a ‘thing’ so I’m grateful to the site forum for the following which is partially reproduced below and helps to provide some background to its origins.

“So how did this slightly eccentric hobby develop and grow? Back in the 1950s and earlier there is no evidence that Groundhopping existed. Football fans tended to be loyal to one club or one city. In Edinburgh, for example, many people would watch both Hearts and Hibs at home at a time when both produced sparkling football and enjoyed success. Travelling support for away games tended to be small in number.

From the 1960s onwards, as car ownership became more widespread, more fans were likely to travel to away games. The developing motorway system meant that travel, either by car or supporters bus, was quicker and easier. Without realising it many football fans began to pick up ‘ticks’.

By the 1970s a few real enthusiasts were emerging who were the proto-hoppers, travelling far and wide both within and beyond the UK to visit new grounds. In 1964 a letter appeared in the ‘Football League Review’ magazine, from a Bristol City fan, suggesting that a special tie be produced for those who had seen football on all 92 Football League grounds.

This idea coalesced into the formation of the 92 Club in 1978. At that time the membership of the Football League was fairly stable. Clubs only dropped out through the re-election process so, having “done the 92” it was straightforward to keep it up to date.”

This has continued to develop down the years with websites, apps and publications all dedicated to Groundhopping, with certain leagues now creating special weekends of games so that Groundhoppers can attend, such as that for the North West Counties Football League in March 2022

Companies too have got in on the act, with offering football breaks alongside their highly successful magazine. Tarts, Trams and Tuk Tuks by Steven Penny centres on one of Football Weekends trips that took place in February 2022 in and around the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, with Penny and his son, attending five games in their four-night break.

This consisted of two Primeira Liga (Portugal’s Premier League) fixtures, Belenenses v Paco Ferreira and Benfica v Vitoria Guimaraes, two Liga 3 (Portugal’s third level – i.e. League One in England) games, Alverca v Torreense and Amora v Caldas as well as a Liga Revelacao U23 (an U23 league competition) Play-off fixture between Estoril and Leixoes.

Penny takes readers through the break in diary form on a day-to-day basis, with the events of each day detailed, whether this be attending games or taking in some sightseeing. Despite its small number of pages, this is a useful read for those yet to embark on a trip watching the game abroad at whatever level and who maybe considering a football weekend away. In addition to Penny’s descriptions and brief (and interesting history) about the clubs he visited, it well served by various photographs from the trip and additionally there is a useful Appendix which provides information for those looking to visit the Lisbon area. A more than useful guide which offers a personal viewpoint in addition to information available on-line.

(Publisher: Penny for your Sports Publications. July 2022. Paperback: 58 pages)


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