Book Review – Fast Forward: The Autobiography: The Hard Road to Football Success by Andrew Cole

When it comes to football, there are some players who remain, either through sporting posterity or perhaps through wilful self-promotion, front and centre in fans’ consciousness and other who fade, rightly or wrongly, into the background. For many Manchester United fans, I imagine Andrew Cole is forever etched in their memories, part of the historic 1999 treble-winning squad, but for all of that success, for neutral fans he is probably not as well-remembered as other players of that generation, team-mates like Scholes, Giggs and Keane, and even his strike partner Dwight Yorke. Yet, he remains the third-highest goalscorer, behind only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney, in Premier League history, with 187 goals, as well as being joint-top goalscorer with 34 goals in a 42-game Premier League season, and the first player to top both the Premier League goalscoring and assists charts in the same season. Add to this, a clean sweep of trophies, including five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, two Charity Shields, a League Cup and, of course, that iconic Champions League, as well as PFA Young Player of the year.

Whilst Andrew Cole’s records therefore clearly place him amongst the Premier League’s elites and deserve acclaim, he is not one for the fame and spotlight. A more introspective and private footballer, not one of the game’s flamboyant characters or over-the-top personalities, he explains in his autobiography how this was often interpreted as aloofness and arrogance, and this perhaps has contributed to him not always being centre-stage in discussions of the Premier League and footballing past. He is simply just not your flashy showman, hogging the limelight, not the open book of some of his peers, so it is fascinating to literally now open that book and get to know more about this often misunderstood and more private of men in his autobiography, Fast Forward.

In true autobiography fashion, the book takes the reader on a chronological journey of Cole’s life, giving an eye-opening portrait of a self-proclaimed naughty, difficult child. There is a real sense of the development of his character and personality in his younger years, flaws and all. And it is clear that while Cole was rebellious, stubborn, defiant, he was also determined, ambitious and steadfast – characteristics that would go on to shape his career, both for better and worse. For me, his reflections back on his life as an adolescent teenager at Lilleshall were unsettling and hopefully a far cry from experiences of young footballers today, but they were simply part of the culture and sport in that period.

Though he covers, too, his experiences at Arsenal and Newcastle, it is really with Man United that Cole is synonymous, and it is obvious in his reflections on this period and club in particular that this was the defining point not only in Cole’s career but in the shaping of his footballing education and beliefs. Everything that precedes and follows it is viewed in comparison; for this was the Manchester United under Alex Ferguson at the turn of the millennium that led the way in football on many fronts. His experiences that followed at Blackburn are only made all the more unfavourable given his United schooling, and the seven years that succeeded his six-year spell at the Theatre of Dreams are largely limited to brief summations, often of the difficult experiences and relationships that blighted his later years in football. Several big names – and some of those media-savvy personalities – don’t come out particularly favourably, but perhaps one of the more divisive figures in football, Roy Keane, emerges wholly agreeably – which may not go down well with the man himself, but serves to remind readers that we only see one side of these footballers. With Cole’s frankness about his professional relationships, and his headstrong approach, there is a sense of wondering whether this affected his career, both domestically and internationally, as accounts of his limited England days are also included.

When Cole hung up his boots in 2008, the fact that he is not one of those players who courted the media would have seemed to allow him to retire in relative peace, but his biggest challenge of his life then faced him off the pitch as he suffered kidney failure, leading to a transplant in 2017. Oftentimes, footballers can come to be seen as invincible, but Cole’s horrific health struggles, which he details frankly, are a reminder that footballers are human and vulnerable too.

As someone happy to step away from the spotlight after football, Andrew Cole in many ways has become something of the forgotten man of English football when his record should arguably guarantee his legacy, but his autobiography throws up a really interesting question about how personality and attitude are judged alongside ability. For me, what I remember of Cole is his goalscoring instinct, and his uncanny partnership with Dwight Yorke – in many ways, they were the archetypal strike partnership – but what this book makes clear is that football, and particularly legacy, is not only about what happens on the pitch, it is also, perhaps now more so than ever, shaped by the narratives and personalities that are constructed beyond it. Cole may not be the most gregarious or colourful of characters, he is more nuanced and complex, more human perhaps. He suffers and struggles like all of us, and his health battles make that all the more emphatic. But whatever his character, his personality, judged on the pitch, on his records, his trophies, Andrew Cole deserves his place alongside Shearer, Rooney et al, and that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Jade Craddock


(Hodder & Stoughton. November 2020. Hardback 336 pages)


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Book Review – The Arsenal Shirt: The Official History of the Iconic Gunners Jersey by James Elkin and Simon Shakeshaft

This is the second edition of this ‘coffee table book’ with the original edition released in November 2014 and titled The Arsenal Shirt: The History of the Iconic Gunners Jersey Told Through an Extraordinary Collection of Match Worn Shirts. As with then, the authors are James Elkin and Simon Shakeshaft, with much of the collection referenced in the first book seen and added to in this second edition, belonging to co-author James Elkin.

That first edition proved to be popular with both the book-buying public and the book industry itself, as it was nominated for ‘Best Illustrated book’ at the 2015 British Sports Book Awards. It is not hard to see why the first edition was nominated back then as in the 2020 update, the glorious glossy pages continue to be a feast for the eyes.

That first edition was 256 pages, and this second edition sees the book grow to 368 pages as it brings the home and away kits of the Gunners right up to date including those worn during the COVID impacted conclusion of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign, the delayed 2019/20 FA Cup Final and the start of the ‘Behind Closed Doors’ 2020/21 season. Through its pages it traces and brings to life the history of the club, with the first shirt illustrated being that worn in the 1927 FA Cup Final by Bob John. There then follows examples of the Gunners match worn shirts through the ages as league titles, domestic cups and European trophies have been won and lost. Beyond the story of the Gunners, the timeline provides readers with a visual guide to the changes to the playing jersey as football has become influenced and changed by new methods of manufacturing, as well as the commercialisation and globalisation of the modern game.

Initially clubs rarely changed the designs of their shirt and this is reflected in the book by the fact that the period from 1927 to 1965 (38 years) is covered by just 26 pages. The biggest period of change began in late 1970s when the replica kits market was kickstarted by the, at the time,  revolutionary manufacturer Admiral. Suddenly shirts were open to different design interpretations, with them becoming adorned by the makers logo and by 1987 clubs were all wearing sponsorship on their shirts – plain shirts with just a club badge, now confined to the history pages. The changes didn’t stop there though, as players names and squad numbers became the norm and then sleeve patches denoting the competition came to be standard on shirt sleeves. As 2020 has shown, the shirt has also become a vehicle for spreading awareness and supporting causes, as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Thank You NHS’  logos were added to shirts when the Premier League restarted to complete the 2019/20 season.

Whilst this book is very much visually based, the supporting text for each shirt is informative and there are a number of interesting chapters that detail some Arsenal specific topics, such as the introduction of the iconic white sleeve to the shirt, how down the years the Captain choose whether the sides played in long or short sleeved shirts and a tribute to those people who have served as the Club Kit Man. In addition, the reader can learn why competitions such as the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League all have different fonts for player names and numbers, and images of these are painstakingly recorded in the book. It is without doubt a wonderful piece of research in detailing the minor variations and rarities of Arsenal shirts, with for instance examples of jerseys worn on overseas tours, resplendent with players name and sponsors in different languages, which even the most ardent Gunners fan might not have been aware of until this book.

The game fans witness today may be as far removed from what the Victorians watched as you can get, but whatever happens to football in the future it is hoped that a team’s colours will always remain sacrosanct. This book shows how the shirt is a vital part of a club’s identity.


(Vision Sports Publishing. October 2020 [2nd edition]. Hardback 368 pages)


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Book Review: My Life in Red and White – My Autobiography by Arsene Wenger

For Arsenal fans and football scholars, the release of Arsene Wenger’s first ever autobiography, My Life in Red and White, signalled a much-anticipated event, a chance to hear from the man who stamped his mark on Arsenal and the Premier League, a man who divided opinion but unquestionably brought success, a man who was notoriously private and enigmatic away from the pitch, but who wore his heart on his sleeve during matches. But those hoping for a no-holds-barred confessional, with revelations about his players, opponents and fellow managers will be disappointed. Wenger is nothing if not a principled man – as Arsenal fans will attest, either positively citing his loyalty to the club or conversely bemoaning his stubbornness to see out his contract – so it should be no real surprise that instead of a sensationalised tell-all, the autobiography is as measured, moderate and considered as the man himself, with astute observations on his own childhood and entry into football and thoughtful reflections on management and the game.

From the prologue, it becomes clear that this isn’t going to be the usual football autobiography, there’s something of a literary quality to the writing, and apologies to any other footballers or managers out there, but there’s a sense of sophistication and depth that isn’t often found in the genre, but speaks integrally of Wenger’s character. Nicknamed the professor, the suitability of that moniker is evidenced immediately, in the emergence of a man who is a deep thinker, an intense and serious character, and a dignified and humble personality, and what emerges too as Wenger takes readers through his early years is both an idiosyncratic, ambitious young man amidst a modest farming community in Alsace and a dedicated, obsessive love of the game that sets him apart. These are characteristics that were to define Wenger’s career.

As too was the notion of philosophy. That Wenger was a visionary, revolutionary of the game is unquestionable. His first years in particular at Arsenal and in English football changed the course of both, and the book explores some of his key thoughts and ideas that underpinned his management, including his expectations of players, the psychology of the game and player management.

Although the autobiography does touch on individual seasons, games and players, somewhat by necessity – it would be impossible to cover every game in a career spanning three decades in management – the book offers rather much more of an overview of the main points in his career and his reflections on them. It is interesting to hear his take on the Emirates financial balancing act and perceptive words on Mesut Ozil, as well as a frank admission that one of the great regrets of his life (not his career, his life!) was not losing van Persie to Manchester United, Henry or Fabregas to Barcelona, but Ashley Cole to Chelsea. Meanwhile, his reflections on life after Arsenal are particularly poignant.

But, sadly, there is so much that is barely touched on or skipped over altogether, and not just the small stuff, but title wins and trophies are condensed into mere paragraphs, and clashes and disappointments, transfers and injury troubles are all largely missing. Of course, to distil such a long and significant career into 300-odd pages is something of an impossibility and it begs the question whether the book should have taken a different form – after all the Invincibles period could quite rightly command an entire book on its own. So, as it is, the autobiography does feel particularly condensed, but having said that, even in this abbreviated form, readers do get a great insight into, and a sense of, the man himself. Arsene Wenger emerges very much as the intense, contemplative, conscientious character that he was so often depicted as: someone who has dedicated his life to the sport, who lived and died by results and for whom football and Arsenal really did become the centre of his universe.

Much like Arsene himself, this book will divide opinion as, in many ways, it fundamentally encapsulates the perfect dichotomy of the man. Whether you love him or loathe him, this book will do little to change those views and simply serve to reinforce them. Wenger cynics and detractors will be quick to point out his stubbornness, his blinkeredness and his inflexibility, but fans will acknowledge Wenger’s qualities for what they are: determination, relentlessness and a single-minded pursuit of success.

(W&N. October 2020. Hardback 352 pages)

Jade Craddock


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1986/87 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final

Final programme cover

Wednesday 13 May 1987

Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens, Greece.

Attendance: 35,017

Ajax (1) 1 – 0 (0) 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig

[Ajax scorer: Van Basten 21’]

Ajax: Stanley Menzo, Sonny Silooy, Frank Verlaat Frank Rijkaard, Peter Boeve, Aron Winter, John van ‘t Schip, Jan Wouters, Marco van Basten (c), Arnold Muhren (Arnold Scholten 83’), Rob Witschge (Dennis Bergkamp 65’)                           

Unused Substitutes: Netherlands Erik de Haan (GK), Ronald Spelbos, Petri Tiainen

Manager: Johan Cruyff

I. FC Lokomotive Leipzig: René Müller, Ronald Kreer, Frank Baum (c), Matthias Lindner, Uwe Zötzsche, Uwe Bredow, Heiko Scholz, Matthias Liebers (Dieter Kühn 76′), Frank Edmond (Hans-Jörg Leitzke 55’), Hans Richter, Olaf Marschall

Unused Substitutes: Torsten Kracht, Wolfgang Altmann, Maik Kischko (GK).

Manager: Hans-Ulrich Thomale

Referee: Luigi Agnolin (Italy)


This was the 27th Final of the Cup Winners Cup and the third final (and last) to be played in Greece. The Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus hosted the 1970/71 contest and replay between Real Madrid and winners Chelsea, with the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki the venue for the controversial game between AC Milan, who lifted the trophy, and Leeds United in 1972/73.

The game was settled by a single first-half goal from Marco Van Basten after twenty-one minutes. It came from a move which started in their own half, with Frank Rijkaard carrying the ball forward. It was then whipped down the line after some short inter-play, with a cross that Van Basten met just on the edge to the six yard box to head across the despairing dive of Müller in the Leipzig goal. Overall, the game was not considered to be a classic.

The programme from the last Final in 1999 summarised the game under the following headline:

Ajax revive their traditions

The final is remembered because Marco van Basten took centre stage for the first time by scoring the winning goal. It was his sixth of the campaign and fellow striker Johnny Bosman, who missed the final contributed eight. Along with Frank Rijkaard, Jan Wouters, Aron Winter, Arnold Muhren, Johnny van’t Schip and Rob Witschge, they formed a team which coached by Johann Cruyff who was making his debut on the bench, lived up to the finest AFC Ajax traditions. A certain Dennis Bergkamp came on as a sixty-fifth minute substitute in the Athens final.

Their opponents were 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig, a solid if unimaginative team from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with an excellent goalkeeper in René Müller. They made unspectacular but solid progress, beating Glentoran FC of Northern Ireland 3-1 and, in the Second Round, raised a few eyebrows by eliminating SK Rapid Wien after extra-time. The draw gave them FC Sion in the quarter-finals, and they beat the Swiss 2-0. A curious semi-final against Girondins de Bordeaux produced two 1-0 away wins and victory for Lokomotiv in a penalty shoot-out.

The final in Athens was disappointing. Marco van Basten’s twenty-first minute header led the 35,000 fans to believe that the match would burst into life. But the East Germans spent the rest of the match confirming that they were durable and obstinate opposition capable of barring Ajax’s path to their goal but lacking the technical resources required for a come-back.

Two players from Ajax that night will be familiar to fans in England in Arnold Muhren and Dennis Bergkamp with both at very different stages of their career path. Muhren in this final was very much the senior-pro of the side. He had started his career at Dutch side FC Volendam in 1970/71, before signing on for Ajax where he won domestic honours as well as a European Cup in 1972/73. He stayed at the Amsterdam club until 1974, before transferring to FC Twente. After four years at the club, he moved to England to sign for Ipswich Town and became part of the side that won the UEFA Cup in 1980/81 beating ironically the Dutch side AZ Alkmaar 5-4 on aggregate. In 1982 he moved on again, this time to Manchester United and enjoyed success in picking up a FA Cup winners medal in the 1982/83 replay as United beat Brighton 4-0 in the replay. At the beginning of the 1985/86 season Muhren returned to Ajax and was instrumental in the club winning the KNVB (Dutch) Cup that season and the next and retiring from the game in 1989. On the international front he was part of the Netherlands side that won the 1988 European Championship In West Germany.

Whilst Muhren was in the back-end of his career, Dennis Bergkamp was only just starting. The 1986/97 campaign saw him made his senior debut for the club, culminating in a substitutes appearance in the Cup Winners Cup Final in Athens. Bergkamp became a legend at the club picking up domestic and European honours along the way and at by the time he left in 1993 for Inter Milan he had scored 122 goals in 239 matches for his hometown club. He had two season in Italy, securing a UEFA Cup winners medal in 1993/94 in a 2-0 aggregate win over Austria Salzburg. Bergkamp then became a Gunner in 1995 signing for Bruce Rioch’s Arsenal in a then record £2.5 million deal. The Dutchman was to stay at the club until he retired at the end of the 2005/06 season. During his time in London he won three Premier League titles, and three FA Cup triumphs (including a league and cup ‘double’ in 2001/02). As at Ajax he became a legend at Highbury and when the club moved to the Emirates Stadium, the first match played there was a testimonial for the Dutchman on 22 July 2006 between Arsenal and Ajax. Bergkamp played 79 times for the Netherland scoring 39 goals in an international career that spanned 1990 through to 2000.

2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 9 – Tuesday 03 September 2019: Glossop North End v Eccleshill United

Matchday programme cover

I have a friend who loves his non-league football, he’s an Emley fan and also follows West Ham as a result of the FA Cup tie between the two sides in January 1998. Although the Hammers won through, it was Emley who stole all the headlines. Anyhow, he had mentioned that he had always wanted to go and see Glossop North End which as it turns out is only a short trip from Huddersfield.

Glossop North End hold the record for being the smallest town to have had a top flight league club, when back at the turn of the 20th Century the club were bankrolled by Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, who later became chairman of Arsenal and the Hillmen still have connections to the Gunners to this day.

They were elected to the Football League in the Second Division for the 1898/99 season eventually finishing second and gaining promotion to the top-flight. The 1899/1900 season was their only season in the First Division and unfortunately, they finished bottom of the pile.

GNE 1899/1900 Season

They remained in the Second Division through to the start of the First World War, but Glossop were perennial strugglers. Just before the war in the 1913/14 season they a had club record attendance of 10,736 for an FA Cup Second Round match against Preston North End. At the end of the war Glossop applied for re-election to the Football League but failed and had to drop into the Lancashire Combination League.

They now ply their trade in the Northern Premier League and have been relatively successful in recent years winning a North West Counties League and cup ‘double’ in 2014/15. They also have made it to two FA Vase Final’s, in 2008/09 and 2014/15, where they were beaten by Whitley Bay 2 – 0 and North Shields 2 – 1, respectively.

This visit to the AMDEC Forklift Truck Stadium on a wet and windy evening was for an FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay, after the initial tie at Eccleshill United had ended 1-1. First impressions were of a hotchpotch stadium with the clubhouse behind one of the goals, with a covered terrace alongside, some covered terrace along the north side of the pitch and a seated stand on the south side.

The Hillmen kicked off into the wind and rain and Touhy hit a free-kick just over the bar in the early stages of the match which ebbed and flowed with entertainment at both ends of the pitch. The North End left back, Coulibaly looked particularly impressive with a number of strong runs down the wing but unfortunately lacked a final delivery that would count. Eccleshill hit the crossbar on the half hour but the keepers weren’t troubled throughout the first-half with Glossop looking the stronger side and the sides went in at the break 0-0.

The reality of the early FA Cup rounds

Despite looking the better side and having more of the ball the Hillmen were on the receiving end of the first goal. A free kick was swung in from the left and Irving had a free header to put it in the back of the net for the visitors. This sparked a reaction from Glossop. A long ball down the left was latched on to by the lively Mills who cut inside and sent a right foot curler into the top corner from just outside the corner of the area to level just after the hour mark. This lifted the urgency in the home team to go and search out a winner. A bit of pinball just outside the box finally saw the ball come to Limpishi who fired the ball in, a miss-hit from Maeico saw the ball roll to Tuohy who fired the ball into the roof of the net from six yards past the wrong footed keeper. Heads went down in the Eccleshill side, they had defended well for seventy-two minutes but were now on the back foot and 2-1 behind. North End upped the pressure for the final fifteen minutes, with Maeico hitting a rising shot just over the bar from twenty yards. In the dying minutes, the ball found its way to Limpishi on the right wing, he sat the defender down on his arse and sent the ball in to the near post to be flicked in by the substitute Fitto with virtually his first touch of the game.

A great competitive match in difficult conditions, but the small wet crowd were thoroughly entertained throughout the game.


Tuesday 03 September 2019

Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay

Glossop North End 3 (Mills 63’, Tuohy 72’, Fitto 89’) Eccleshill United 1 (Irving 51’)

Venue: AMDEC Forklift Truck Stadium

Attendance: 147

Glossop North End: Latham, Wilshaw, Coulibaly, Vinten, Hibbert, Holt (Limpiski 61’), Ekpolo, Tuohy, Coppin, Maeico (Mason 85’), Mills (Fitto 88’)

Unused Substitutes: Ellis, McClenaghan.

Eccleshill United: Emmerson, Marsh, Kaba, Sugden, Omolokum, Basi, Stor, Woodward Irving, Staunton Buchanan

Unused Substitutes: Stimpson, Moorhouse, Hargreaves, Kroma, Ndlovu, Lever, Taylor.


Steve Blighton


2019/20: An Incredible Journey. Match Day 8 – Saturday 31 August 2019: Scunthorpe United v Carlisle United

Matchday programme cover

The final Saturday in August sees me in Lincoln to visit my Mum for the weekend. Football wise, Sincil Bank, the home of Lincoln City is a ground I’ve been to umpteen times, in fact it is my second most visited stadium behind the Bridge. Just up the road from Lincoln is Scunthorpe, and the Sands Venue Stadium, (I have always known it as Glanford Park) the home of Scunthorpe United and it is the destination for my eighth match of this season. With Carlisle United the visitors it will be the second time in four days I have seen the Blues on the road – a hardcore Cumbrian fan!

I have a soft spot for Scunthorpe United. I’ve mentioned in earlier articles my dad’s trials at Chelsea and Arsenal, but whilst he was signed on for Arsenal, he was still in the Air Force and stationed in Lincolnshire. He signed part time terms with Scunthorpe United – I wish my dad had spoken more about his football career, too modest I suppose. I can’t find any evidence of him playing for the Iron but one of his stories was about the time he got called back to play full time for Arsenal, but he decided to stay in the Air Force as it paid better in those days. If he had played for Scunthorpe, he would have run out at the Old Showground, their previous home from 1860. As for Scunthorpe’s current ground (since 1988), it’s a nice touch, as with a number of new grounds, that its address is named after a former player, in this case Jack Brownsword, the Iron’s all-time appearance record holder, who played between 1947 and 1965 and would have been at the club the same time as my dad.

The Iron mascot – Scunny Bunny

Safely in my seat opposite from the main stand ahead of kick-off and with the teams warming up, the brilliantly named Iron mascot, Scunny Bunny, goes through its pre-match routine. Soon the teams are out with Scunthorpe in claret and light blue – apparently the design and colours are a tribute to when Sir Ian Botham played for the club – and Carlisle, who as in midweek, are in their change strip of, what their kit manufacturer Errea describe as After Eight – whatever has had happened to kit colours!

Iron pressure on the Carlisle goal

When the game gets underway, the Iron make the early running with good chances in the opening fifteen minutes. First, Yann Songo’o, has a header which is cleared off the line, and is quickly followed by a chance for Matthew Lund, but his shot ends up well over the bar. Abo Eisa then has a header which goes narrowly wide. Scunthorpe continue to dominate the first-half but can’t turn the pressure into goals, as decent chances come and go for George Miller, Andy Butler and Regan Slater. And as a result, at the break the game is goalless. The Iron were to rue their missed chances when on the hour mark, Ryan Loft, who had come on at the start of the second-half as a substitute for Carlisle finds himself with time and space to fire home at the near post. Scunthorpe though dig in and go in search of an equaliser but are susceptible to Carlisle on the counter-attack and are grateful to ‘keeper Rory Watson who is out quickly to thwart Harry McKirdy as he burst through midway through the second period. As the game goes on, Scunthorpe continue to push and think they have levelled from a Matty Lund goal-bound header, only for Adam Collin to produce a spectacular save. The Iron continue to hammer away at the visitors goal, but at the whistle it is the visitors Carlisle who take the points with a 1-0 win.


Saturday 31 August 2019

Sky Bet League Two

Scunthorpe United 0 Carlisle United 1 (Loft 60’)

Venue: Sands Venue Stadium

Attendance: 3,359

Scunthorpe United: Watson, Clarke, Lund, Songo’o, Butler (McGahey 63’), Gilliead (Colclough 73’), McArdle, Slater (McAtee 85’), Brown, Miller, Eisa

Unused Substitutes: Eastwood, van Veen, O’Malley, McAtee, Dawson.

Carlisle United: Collin, Elliott, Iredale, Carroll (Sagaf 56’), Thomas, Jones, McKirdy (Hope 79’), Webster, Bridge, Knight-Percival, Sorensen (Loft 45’)

Unused Substitutes: Gray, Mellish, Charters, Branthwaite.


Steve Blightom

Book Review: Clive Allen – Up Front with James Olley

A career in football is hard enough to achieve on your own, but when you are from a football family, then the pressure must be immense. For Clive Allen, that must have been monumental, with his father, Les, part of the Tottenham Hotspur’s team that did the ‘double’ in winning the First Division title and FA Cup in 1960/61, and a younger brother, Bradley and two cousins, Martin and Paul, who also went on to have professional careers in the game.

Clive though played for 17 years at home and abroad, scoring 49 goals in all competitions during the 1986/87 campaign and as a result claimed both the Professional Footballers’ Association Men’s Players’ Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, earned five senior caps for England and finished with a scoring ratio of a goal in every two games.

And in Up Front, the majority of the book looks at this journey from his professional playing days as a teenager at QPR, chronologically following his career, including his Million Pound transfer to Arsenal (where he failed to make a first-team appearance), taking in his time at Crystal Palace, a second spell at QPR, Spurs, Bordeaux, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham United, Millwall and Carlisle United. Also, included is his time coaching at Spurs and stepping in as caretaker manager at White Hart Lane in both 2007 and 2008, his media career and his single season as a kicker in American Football (NFL Europe) for the London Monarchs in 1997. As such these are fairly traditional biographical content, but make interesting reading, nonetheless, with some honest opinions of certain situations and characters he came across in his football life.

Indeed, the title Up Front seems an apt choice working as it does on two levels. Firstly reflecting Clive Allen’s playing position, leading the line as a forward, and secondly in the phrases definition of someone who is ‘up front’ in being, bold, honest, and frank.

These qualities come to the fore and where the book shows real insight is with respect to Allen’s relationship with his famous father Les. Indeed, the book begins and ends with the pair being presented to the Spurs faithful as part of the celebrations to mark the final fixture at the ‘old’ White Hart Lane and leaves the reader in no doubt as to the significance of Clive’s view of his father, “I’m grateful for his guidance but pained by his parenting.” This seems to pervade the book, with the regret and the damage their uneasy relationship has caused, always appearing to be there under the surface. Further, James Olley who worked with Allen on this book, is able to extract a real sense of the much-travelled ex-strikers character, a man who hated losing, typified by the bust-up Allen had with Arsene Wenger and which appears not to have been resolved to this day, and despite all his success, still wonders ‘what might have been’ if he had scored on his England debut. In some ways the book is an interesting for what it implies and doesn’t say, as that which it does.

(deCoubertin Books, October 2019. Hardcover 300pp)


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Book Review: Per Mertesacker – BFG, Big Friendly German, My Autobiography with Raphael Honigstein

This book was originally released in Germany in 2018 with the title, Weltmeister ohne talent: Mein leben, meine karriere (World champion without talent: My life, my career) and was released in the UK a year later by deCoubertin Books after translation by Ceylan Hussein. The UK version has a different cover and in fact a different title, Per Mertesacker – BFG, Big Friendly German, My Autobiography. Of course, this is a play on the title of Roald Dahl’s children’s favourite, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) and a nod to the Arsenal faithful who nicknamed Mertesacker, Big F***ing German, during his playing career at the Emirates.

Structure wise the book is broken down into five main chapters, with an introduction, acknowledgments and statistics & careers notes, completing this insightful look at the current Head of the Arsenal Academy.

From the off the reader is given a clue that this is not going to be a run-of-the-mill football autobiography, as Mertesacker details in the brief introduction (cunningly titled, The End) the struggles he had as a 15 year-old in the Hannover youth set-up with pain, that prevented him from playing and training. The closing sentence provides an interesting perspective on the young Mertesacker – “My dream of becoming a professional footballer hadn’t been destroyed: I never had it.”

There follows the four biggest chapters of the book which are organised into, Pattensen, which looks at his childhood, his parents and his pride of his hometown and his roots, Bundesliga, covering his playing career at Hannover 96 and Werder Bremen, Premier League, as Mertesacker moved to Arsenal in 2011 and Welmeister, focusing on his time with the German national team, culminating in winning a World Cup winners medal in 2014. The fifth chapter, The Beginning, neatly brings the reader up to date with Mertesacker in post at the Arsenal Academy and a reflective piece on his time as a young player, compared to that of the Academy players of today.

The logic of organising the chapters is evident, however, the lack of subdivision in them, and the occasions where the narrative drifts into a stream of consciousness on certain topics, can be a challenge to the reading experience. Additionally the separating of the playing career between club and country, whilst again logical, can leave tying the two together a little problematic.

Nevertheless, Honigstein manages to capture both the highlights of the 104 cap German international’s career, but also more interestingly a view into the character of Mertesacker. A player who suffered both physical issues which blighted and ultimately ended his career, and his mental issues in dealing with the stresses and strains of playing at the highest level and self-doubt of his abilities. Mertesacker comes across as a person who made the most of his talent, although possibly never getting fully the credit he deserved for his cultured playing style but was willing to explore various avenues to get the very best out of himself and those around him.

Mertesacker emerges as a thoughtful and thoroughly decent character and his description at the shock and subsequent attempts to understand the tragic suicide of fellow one-time club mate and international, Robert Enke, shows a real depth of compassion for a person he considered a friend and confidante, and which as a reader was a privilege to share.

A German legend for sure, but maybe with something of the English in his self-deprecating manner, as illustrated by the title of the German version of his autobiography and this quote emanating from the 2014 World Cup Final victory by Germany over Argentina, “Life isn’t always fair: Lionel Messi might never win the World Cup. Instead, he had to watch some blond beanpole, who should have stuck to swimming, leave the Maracanã with the trophy.”


(deCoubertin Books, September 2019. Hardcover 250pp)


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Magazine Review: Football Masters (Issue 2) edited by Andrew Palmer

Cover of Issue 2

Andrew Palmer went to his first football match at Cray Wanderers in 1965 aged 6 and saw his first professional match at the Valley, the home of Charlton Athletic, in 1968. After watching live football for over 50 years, he was also involved with football publishing Video/DVD for over 25 years. Palmer is a football man with the games running through his veins.

Having recuperated from a Heart Transplant, his passion for the planets most popular sport drove him to produce this digital magazine, Football Masters, which he hopes his audience will “enjoy, looking back at the time before the Premiership when football seemed to be much closer to the fans.”

With a number of publications on the streets dealing with a retro look at the game, some may question whether there is there room in the market for another. However, where this digital version works over a standard magazine, is that there are links within the stories to videos to bring the articles to life. So, in this edition links take the reader to see players such as Stan Bowles, Pele, Garrincha and Colin Bell in their prime as well as match action from 1969 Fairs Cup winners Newcastle United, the FA Cup winners of 1959, Nottingham Forest and Arsenal in the 1970s.

The content in this reviewed edition (No: 2), comes from a number of prominent bloggers and journalists with fifteen articles spread over its 52 pages. The highlights as a reader in this copy were the articles on Pele’s time in the USA, the Colin Bell feature and the guide to Football Magazines.

As with any magazine of this type, not all the articles hit the mark, but for those who want a reminder of the game before sponsored shirts, a time when live games didn’t fill every minute of your waking day and players would be seen down the local pub with fans, this will appeal.

If there is a negative, then it would be in relation to the proofreading of the content, which if more thorough, would have made for a tighter and cleaner read.

A free subscription can be obtained from the following site: www,

Book Review: The Queen of Cups: Part 2, by James Durose-Rayner

So that’s it. The final whistle. The trilogy that has brought readers, I Am Sam, itv seven and The Queen of Cups has concluded.

Throughout all the journey, author James Durose-Rayner has maintained a winning formula which has seen the fictional world of central character Lee Janes mix with the factual football world, focusing on Arsenal FC across the decades. In the first book, I Am Sam, Janes existed in a high-paced chaotic setting which was a whirlwind of dodgy deals and a revolving door of women. By the final part of the trilogy, Queen of Cups: Part 2, the central character has lost none of his roguish charm, but now occupies a more settled space both in his personal and business life, which is reflected in the tempo of the writing of both parts of the Queen of Cups.

This change in Janes can be put down to one person, whose influence grew as the trilogy continued – that being his wife Emily, known as ‘M’. Her influence though is not simply on her once-errant husband, but on all those that she meets. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the title of the final parts of the trilogy could be viewed as a reference and indeed a tribute to ‘M’, as a typical set of tarot cards gives the definition of the Queen of Cups as the following: she is nurturing, caring, compassionate and sensitive. She is a good wife and a loving mother as she is emotionally secure and can connect on an emotional level with others. No intuition is more powerful than that of the Queen of Cups – all traits displayed by the latest Mrs. Janes.

On the flip side however, if the reader was looking for an oblique football reference within the final part’s title, then it may be found in the featuring of the management years of Terry Neil at Highbury. The term ‘Cup Kings’ is one familiar to football fans down the years, so has Durose-Rayner inverted this to the Queen of Cups, pointing the finger at the Gunners who from three FA Cup Final and one European Cup Winners Cup Final during the Neil years, achieved victory just once, despite a wealth of talent such as Alan Hudson (who is wonderfully depicted), Malcolm MacDonald, Liam Brady, Graham Rix and Frank Stapleton.

And that has been one of the strengths of the trilogy in that the strands of reality and fiction engage the reader through different storylines. The personal lives and the emotional journeys of the main characters run comfortably alongside the well-researched insights into the events at Arsenal. The characters and the world they inhabit is all very believable, and for all the bloke-ish banter and humour, the reader also gets to see their vulnerability and sensitivity.

Like the central character Lee Janes, there is more to this trilogy than first meets the eye.