Book Review: George Best – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Iain McCartney

In this instalment of the Fifty Defining Fixtures series, author Iain McCartney acknowledges, “there have been many books on the ‘Belfast Boy’…but while telling the story of the player many believe to have been the ‘best ever’, they have merely skirted around many of the games when he laced up his boots, pulled on the jersey and caused havoc in opposition defences.” The author’s aim therefore in this edition is to focus instead on Best’s games rather than the off field dramas that came to impact his career and later life so dramatically. So, if readers are looking for a book detailing the wild-side and scandal that surrounded the life of George Best, then this isn’t the book for you.

As with the other books in this series, the content looks at games, with reports of the time from newspapers, club programmes and other written material, to provide the reader with an idea of the genius of one of the greatest players of all time.

McCartney has been somewhat creative with his interpretation of ‘Fifty Fixtures’ with some chapters including both legs of European ties and then for Best’s spells at Fulham and Hibernian, single chapters are used to summarise his brief time at the respective clubs. Of the 160 pages, 143 are dedicated to Best’s career at Manchester United and internationals with Northern Ireland from 1961 through to 1974 and quite rightly so, given that it will be those times for which the player should be remembered. In doing so, McCartney captures the highlights of Best as he emerged at Old Trafford, but also his decline as his career entered the early 1970s and issues off the field affected the player, and in parallel as the club from the red side of Manchester also went from European Champions to a relegation threatened First Division club.

These ‘Fifty Defining Fixtures’ books have a place in providing an outline and or indeed an introduction to the players and managers they feature to potential readers, and don’t in anyway pretend to be anything more than that. However, this edition suffered in a number of ways, firstly in that the number of typos was distracting, with errors such as the repeating of the same sentence (page 94) one of the most glaring. Secondly, it was good to see a number of images included in the book, but perhaps if they had been ordered chronologically it would have been beneficial and made more sense. Thirdly , whilst still on the topic of photographs, the author makes reference to a famous image of Best from the United fixture v Burnley at Old Trafford in 1965, yet it doesn’t feature in the book. Finally, McCartney is undoubtedly an expert on the Old Trafford club, having written a number of books about the Red Devils, but his insistence on referring to Best as simply ‘George’ even in the team line-up images, feels overfamiliar and adds nothing to the reading of the text.


(Amberley Publishing. October 2015. Paperback 160pp)


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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: Ryan Giggs – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Tony Matthews

The latest footballing figure to feature in the Fifty Defining Fixtures series from Amberley Publishing is ex-Manchester United and Wales legend Ryan Giggs.

These books are not intended as a full biographical analysis of a player or manager’s career, but rather an overview which the author illustrates through their choice of key games. And in that regard there is a place for this type of formulaic book, as long as they are done well.

However, in this case the result is a bit of a mixed bag. The Introduction including appearance statistics and awards provides a useful summary of Giggs’ career both as player and his management role at Manchester United.

There then follows the fifty games as selected by the author Tony Matthews. In amongst them are all those that you might expect, Giggs’ debuts for both club and country, significant wins and losses in various domestic and European competitions and that of his final appearance for the Red Devils in May 2014. Notes are produced for some of the fixtures detailed, something that would have been useful for all the games selected.

Given that Giggs played in 1,031 senior games for club and country trying to pick just fifty games is no easy task and many diehard Old Trafford fans will have their own ideas about the choices made by Matthews.

Where this edition lets itself down is with regard to the attention to detail. For instance, on page 12, the reader is told that, “as a schoolboy, Ryan also enjoyed a game of Rugby League and represented his school and starred for the Salford District XV.” Rugby League teams contain thirteen players, Rugby Union have fifteen. The book also contains a number of other typos which detract from enjoying the read.

In terms of the writing, the overuse of the exclamation mark is a problem throughout the book and there is also some strange language used. On one occasion Matthews describes a corner as a “flag-kick” and on another the first-half of a game as the “first session”.

Another detail which proved to be irksome was the inconsistency around the listing of the home and away teams correctly, with Manchester United sometimes listed first even though they were the visitors. It might possibly seem a small detail, but when added up with the other problems it just makes this edition from the series feel sloppily produced.

Ryan Giggs will forever be regarded as a Manchester United great, so it’s a pity that this book doesn’t live up to his reputation.


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