FEVER PITCH by Nick Hornby

For many people watching football is mere entertainment, to some it’s more like a ritual; but to others, its highs and lows provide a narrative to life itself.

But, for Nick Hornby, his devotion to the game has provided one of few constants in a life where the meaningful things – like growing up, leaving home and forming relationships, both parental and romantic – have rarely been as simple or as uncomplicated as his love for Arsenal.

Brimming with wit and honesty, Fever Pitch, catches perfectly what it really means to be a football fan – and in doing so, what it means to be a man. It sits side by side with the very finest football classics of the last twenty five years, from The Damned United by David Peace to A Life Too Short by Ronald Reng, but it is ultimately a book that defies categorization and can be enjoyed by all.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner 1992.

Read our review here: Book Review: F (footballbookreviews.com)

(First published 1992. Publisher: Penguin Classics. August 2012. Paperback: 256 pages)

Book Review – Glove Story 2: Another book for every goalkeeper, past and present by Rob Stokes, Derek Hammond & Gary Silke

In November 2017, the team of Stokes, Hammond and Silke unleashed, Glove Story: The Number 1 book for every goalkeeper, past and present, which turned out to be a great success. That book and this enormously enjoyable second helping are inspired by the incredible collection of goalkeeping memorabilia from Rob Stokes, who was a more than useful No: 1 for Waterlooville (334 appearances between 1989 and 1998), and the creative duo of Derek Hammond and Gary Silke, authors of the hugely successful Got, Not, Got series of books.

As with the first book, this is a feast on the eyes, with the superb graphics once more of illustrator Doug Nash and page after page of images that set the fingers tingling in anticipation of the next glove, shirt or other ‘keeper related ephemera.

Some of the article titles reappear in Glove Story 2, with Legends on the line giving a second airing with ten new custodians, including Pat Jennings, Sepp Maier, Neville Southall and the goalkeepers equivalent of the panto-baddie Toni Schumacher. Memorable Saves from the first tome is replaced with Memorable Goalkeeping Moments, stretching back from 1956 with Bert Trautmann playing with a broken neck in the FA Cup Final to 1999 and Jimmy Glass scoring in the dying minutes to save Carlisle United from being relegated from the Football League.

Invariably this is a nostalgic book based on Stokes’ quite incredible collection. However, one of my personal favourites from Glove Story 2 is actually probably the most modern entry. On Page 171 is an image of the water bottle that Jordan Pickford had in the 2018 World Cup in Russia for the game against Columbia. Nothing extraordinary about that you might say, however, the bottle has written on it analysis of the Columbians players and the way they took penalties. England even had a contingency if the bottle was removed, with England Goalkeeping coach explaining, “we also had backup information written on Jordan’s towel – a trick we learned from the England women’s hockey team.” An absolute gem of a story.

As a reader and retired member of the ‘Goalkeepers’ Union’, this book brought memories flooding back of my time between the sticks, and longingly reminiscing about my first pair of Ulhsport gloves, blue and black adidas goalkeeping shirt and matching shorts and socks, all bought with my first wage. This is a book that I know I will revisit a number of times as I gaze fondly at gloves and shirts I once donned and it will no doubt have the same effect on anyone who has guarded the net as the last line of defence.

Having served my time between the sticks down the years, it seems appropriate to finish with a quote from the book which defines those of us who have taken on this specialist and not always appreciated role. “The ‘keeper is a reckless extrovert, a cautious outsider, a spoilsport acrobat masochist with a Maradona Complex. And big gloves.”

Note: As with the first instalment, this book is written in support of the Willow Foundation, a charity set up by ex-Arsenal and Scotland International, Bob Wilson, which provides Special Days for seriously ill young adults. More information can be found on their website: www.willowfoundation.org.uk

(Conker Editions Ltd. October 2020. Paperback 180 pages)


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Book Review: First Football Histories – The Arsenal FC Story by Mark Rasdall

The First Football Histories books are part of the output of The Football Ground Ltd company, which also includes the website www.thefootballground.com

Founder Mark Rasdall’s aim is that the books, “tell the key football stories, including brief geographies of the places concerned, as well as major, global historical events that were taking place at the same time.” At the heart of this, is his ambition to tackle the issue of getting youngsters to read, especially boys, who historically shun the written word.

In terms of the website, Rasdall’s vision is that the history based books, hook in with the website so that the breaking news of today becomes tomorrows history.

The Arsenal FC Story is the first of the history series and is due to be followed by an edition on Chelsea FC. The book on the Gunners doesn’t set out to tell a detailed game-by-game, season-by-season, review of Arsenal to the present day, but rather looks at the significant characters and moments in the history of the club. The key football story combined with geographical and historical information detailed in ‘Programme Notes’ and ‘Did you Know?’ provides the book with a pick-up, put-down feel, so that it can be read in manageable chunks.

Rasdall’s book has an educational aim, however, it lacks the illustrations and visuals in terms of graphs, and charts to provide the required pictorial engagement. Further, whilst Rasdall has a clear idea in terms of the branding in relation to the cover of the book (‘The Football Ground – History in the making’), perhaps even making the Arsenal edition red and white rather than black and white might have lifted the look of the book.

On the surface these might seem criticisms, but having corresponded with the author/founder, his responses to the initial review observations threw up some interesting points about the world of self-publishing. In general writers opt to go down that route for financial reasons, which can then impact on the final product.

Rasdall accepted that he would have liked to have more graphics within the book, but encountered technical problems. In terms of the book cover, he reasoned that on creating a branded series of books, he avoided the risk and problems that can occur further down the line in what is such a litigious marketplace, if football clubs of today want to flex their legal muscle. The reality is that it is not an easy path for those choosing to self-publish.

However, Rasdall has to be commended for the overall the concept of the site and the links to the Arsenal book (and those to come). What is evident is that he is a football fan at heart and that his vision to educate others through his books and website is a genuine and admirable one.

Note: A second book was published in October 2017 focusing on Chelsea FC

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Book Review: I Am Sam by James Durose-Rayner

I Am Sam is the opening book of a trilogy by James Durose-Rayner. This opening instalment introduces the reader to a central character with a love of Arsenal FC, the looks of David Beckham and a personal life more convoluted than Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy.

The book operates in both a fictional and factual context, with the main characters, the fictional creations, set against the factual backdrop of Arsenal during the 2013/14 season and the career of onetime Arsenal player Jon Sammels.

Durose-Rayner brings these together using the premise of a sports-media company that the central character and business partner Sooty own and run. Charged with creating a documentary for the 2014 World Cup, their research leads them to take up another thread, that of Jon Sammels (Sammy) who was at Highbury from 1963 until 1971.

For the most part the story is told through the central character and the first person narrative, although this in interspersed with chapters from Eddie Mardell, a journalist who becomes involved in the Sammy documentary.

In terms of the timeline, it is dominated by a chronological path, however, this is broken up by flashbacks to Sammy’s period at the Gunners and the football world of his time. This enables the reader to become familiar with the England team at the 1970 World Cup, the Arsenal side that won the Fairs Cup the same year and the Double winning side of 1971 and its subsequent breakup, including the departure of Sammels to Leicester City.

Running parallel to the football plotline is that of the central character and his private life, which can only be described as complicated – and even that would be an understatement. Durose-Rayner uses both blokeish language and humour to convey and navigate the chaotic nature of these relationships, but still is also able to present some emotional depth to the man in the middle of it all. Indeed the world that is created has some wonderfully constructed and totally believable cameos such as the café owner Fosis and his regulars.

Undoubtedly the book has a great tempo which allied with the two strong plotlines makes it both engaging and absorbing and subsequently difficult to put down. A great addition to the football fiction genre.


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The Gooners Quiz Book: 1,000 Questions on the North London Giants by Chris Cowlin

Will you do the Gooners proud as you display an impressive knowledge of your favourite club, Arsenal, or will you instead prove yourself to be a complete goon, as you trip over your own feet in search of the answers to the 1,000 cunning questions in this quiz book?

Covering every aspect of the club’s history from players to managers and from national to international competitions since its foundation over a century ago, and with a fitting foreword by former Scotland and Arsenal goalkeeping legend and TV presenter, Bob Wilson, this book will challenge Gooners fans of all ages as well as providing fascinating facts and figures both to enthral and to trigger fond memories and ardent discussions.