Book Review: Proud to be a Baggie – A pictorial history of West Bromwich Albion fans by Dean Walton

The 2017/18 season could not be described as one of the best for West Bromwich Albion (WBA). Not only did they suffer relegation from the Premier League whilst Black Country rivals Wolves leapfrogged them after being promoted, but Baggies legend Cyrille Regis unexpectedly passed away in January 2018.

Before he died Regis had provided the Foreword to Dean Walton’s Proud to be a Baggie, in which he said how playing for the Albion transformed his life and paid tribute to the fans who have followed the club at the Hawthorns down the years. They are apt sentiments for the book, since the focus is a photographic exploration of those who have watched WBA from the 1950s through to the 2010s.

The various images record the ups and downs and the triumph and the tears of the Albion faithful during that period, but also provide much more as they also tell the story of the changing face of football – from the black and white stills showing fans packed on terraces wearing flat caps in grounds long since demolished, to the colour images of Premier League Asia Trophy games in all seater stadiums in the Far East.

However, the real interest is with those moments in time from the era prior to the social media age, when taking pictures involved a camera and then waiting for them to be developed. Amongst these pre-camera phone days gems are a set of pictures from a snowy Anglo-Italian Cup tie in Brescia where just 196 brave souls witnessed Bob Taylor hit an eighty-seventh minute winner in December 1995.

There is some text which accompanies the images to give some background to the game and event featured which is helpful, but the decade by decade summaries provided are so brief that in order for them to be useful they would have to be expanded.

Of course, this book is aimed at Baggies fans, but anyone who follows their team will appreciate this collection, as the pictures of fans attending pre-season fixtures in far-flung and sometimes obscure places, as well as fancy dress outings, and those days of joy and despair are common to all in the football family.


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Book Review: Brian Clough – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Marcus Alton

In other books within this Amberley series the subject has either been a legendary player or a manager, but in this edition the focus is on Brian Clough who it could be argued is a rarity in having an extraordinary career in both areas of the game.

As a player Clough had an unbelievable strike rate playing for Middlesbrough and Sunderland, scoring 251 league goals from 274 games and also picked up two England caps, both in 1959. However, he had to retire following a serious knee injury sustained on Boxing Day 1962 and turned to management. Clough was in charge at Hartlepools United, Derby County, Leeds United, Brighton and Nottingham Forest, in a management career which stretched from 1965 to 1993, collecting most famously two European Cups in 1978/79 and 1979/80 with Forest.

Given this, author Marcus Alton acknowledges the mammoth task he had in bringing the book together: “It has certainly been a very tough task and this compilation contains by no means the only games that define his (Clough’s) playing and managerial career. But I hope you agree it focuses on some of the key matches…and at least, opens up debate.” And to be fair that is what is achieved by Alton. Within his selected fifty games, Alton manages to cover both Clough’s playing and management career taking in all the clubs he was at, even squeezing in games capturing his brief and unsuccessful stints at Elland Road and the Goldstone Ground.

In the style of the other books in the Amberley series, games are briefly covered using old match reports and analysis. This doesn’t provide the author with a great deal of scope to provide an in-depth exploration of Clough, but Alton still manages to convey some aspects of the antics and characteristics of ‘the best manager England never had’.

This series of books doesn’t pretend that the reader will find an in depth exploration of a player or manager, but is a starting point for wanting to find out more about the subject matter. Therefore, whilst the triumphs at Derby County and Nottingham Forest are detailed through a number of fixtures, this book isn’t one where you will find for instance a detailed analysis of the breakdown in the Taylor-Clough relationship or the health issues that he suffered during the back end of his management career at the City Ground.

If you know very little and or not read a great deal about ‘Cloughie’ this book is a useful starting point for an exploration of an incredible football figure.


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Book Review: David Beckham – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Steve Tongue

Another offering from Amberley books in their expanding football series, Fifty Defining Fixtures. This edition by Steve Tongue focuses on David Beckham.

Beckham has come to transcend the game of football where he initially made his name, but in the Introduction, Tongue is clear on the direction of this book; “the focus here is on Beckham the footballer and the most memorable of his 800-plus matches”, adding, “selecting fifty games is not easy and cannot be definitive.”

Where Tongue has succeeded with his selection of the games is that it does reflect Beckham’s England career and marks the incredible achievement of winning league titles in four different countries – England, Spain, USA and France.

So there are details of the games you expect to see – the iconic lob over Neil Sullivan against Wimbledon in 1996, the sending-off against Argentina in the World Cup in 1998, the 2001 performance against Greece and THAT free-kick at Old Trafford and redemption against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup – but also others less familiar, including a couple of games from Beckham’s youth career, a loan-spell at Preston and his time with LA Galaxy in the MLS.

Tongue does an excellent job in ensuring that both the highs and lows of Beckham’s career are captured and the author is not afraid to detail the opinions of journalists who believe the former England captain was a player of limited ability, and in so doing enables the book to present a balanced perspective.

In addition the author successfully ensures that despite the timespan covered in just fifty games, there is a flow and connection so that the reader can easily follow Beckham’s career. What helps is that Tongue puts each game in context, so that there is a wider appreciation of the significance of the fixtures detailed.

This is a useful addition to books on Beckham in the on-going debate as to the players place in football history.


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