Book Review: Queen of Cups: Part 1: by James Durose-Rayner

Queen of Cups is the final instalment of the trilogy that includes, I Am Sam and itv7 and differs from the first two books is that it is in two parts.

As with I Am Sam and itv7, Queen of Cups is a mix of the fictional word of central character Lee Janes and a factual exploration of aspects of the history of Arsenal FC. This time the focus is on the years of ex-England and Wolves player Billy Wright and his difficult period as manager at Highbury (1962-1966) and that of Terry Neil who was in the hot-seat for the Gunners from 1976 to 1983. Woven into the story of the Neil era are tales of unrest, politics and poor management as players such as Alan Ball, Liam Brady, Alan Hudson and Malcolm MacDonald came and went from the Marble Halls of N5. However, the author also looks to touch on other football topics, so that for instance the continuing problems at Blackpool FC between fans and owner has an airing.

Away from the football, Lee Janes’ businesses in the form of the itv7 channel, studios and music company continue to be successful and this story is told through chapters from the central character, longtime best friend Sooty and one of the television staff Abi. What these chapters also do is further delve into the past of Lee, his wife Emily, ex-wife Jeanette and Sooty, providing more glimpses into their backstory, giving the reader a more complete picture of what makes the central protagonists tick and its impact on their present-day life.

Indeed, the slowly more considered and reflective storytelling within Queen of Cups reveals the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the main characters that is only hinted at within I Am Sam and itv7. This allows the reader, as in the earlier parts of the trilogy, to fully engage with both the cast and plot-lines.

If Queen of Cups was a match you were watching, you would be more than happy with the opening period and the entertainment so far, but now having returned to your seat in the stands after the break, it’s time for the second-half and you just can’t wait to see how it turns out.


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Book Review: itv seven by James Durose-Rayner

itv seven is the second part of a trilogy which began with I Am Sam.

This second book picks up after the first, with central character Lee Janes taking on life in his own unique way, with his new wife Emily and new baby Sammy. Joining the roller-coater narrative are many of the characters from book one, so that the reader can easily slip once again into the world that Durose-Rayner creates.

As with I Am Sam, itv seven operates in both a fictional and factual context, with the main characters, the fictional creations, set against a factual backdrop – that of Arsenal FC during the 2014/15 season.

In the first book, the author also brings in the ‘real’ world through the documentaries made on ex-Arsenal player Jon Sammels, England in the 1970 World Cup and the Munich Air Disaster. This device is used again as there is a focus on Arsenal, in looking at the 1958/59 and 1972/73 seasons and a documentary focusing on the parallels between them, when the club threw away chances of achieving the league and cup ‘double’. There are also other football-lines such as the betting scandal surrounding Sheffield Wednesday in the 1960s. As a football fan, part of me wants more of that history and analysis, but the writing is clever in that the other plotlines are so compelling that you are caught up in the tempo and desire to find out what happens next in the fictional world of the book.

The story is told through Lee Janes and his ex-wife Jeanette, with chapters roughly split between the two. This enables the reader to see certain storylines from both Lee and his ex-wife’s viewpoint. Interestingly, it also provides an opportunity for Jeanette to reflect on her life with her ex-husband and it starts to fill in some of the background that was explored in the first book.

As with I Am Sam, itv seven has a great tempo, emotional depth and no little humour, which allied with strong plotlines makes it both engaging and absorbing and subsequently difficult to put down. The author also writes in a very visual style which could easily translate to the mediums of television and/or film.

It is a winning formula that Durose-Rayner has established and therefore readers should eagerly anticipate the final part of the trilogy, Queen of Cups.


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2015/16: Capital One Cup Fourth Round – Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal

For my last Capital One Cup game at Fulham talk was of how it felt unlike a match-day with a trek across London during rush-hour to witness a game in a ground less than half full.

This certainly couldn’t be levelled at the fixture I attended tonight as I took my place amongst a full to bursting Hillsborough for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal.

The Owls had reached this stage after a First Round 4-1 win over Mansfield Town, a Second Round 1-0 victory Oxford United and a giant-killing 2-1 win away at Newcastle United. Given their European commitments Arsenal only entered the competition in the Third Round and had beaten North London rivals Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane.

Sheffield station was buzzing, with fans arriving from London mingling with the Wednesday faithful into the damp South Yorkshire night and as a result the trams making the short journey out to the ground were packed.

Wednesday fans were in a confident mood as their team had made a good start to their Championship campaign and “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday” rang out loudly as the trams rattled their way to the Leppings Lane stop.

There was a hint of fog in the night sky which swirled in the Hillsborough floodlights and added to the feeling that it might be a night to remember. A quick beer was had and then it was into the Kop, with the crowd, noise and anticipation levels building nicely.

The Owls made just two changes from their last outing at Rotherham, with goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith replacing Keiren Westwood and winger Jeremy Helan coming in for the ineligible Fernando Forestieri. Arsenal had some familiar names in their 18 man squad for the evening, but had six players who didn’t appear in the programme team listings – Glen Kamara, Alex Iwobi, Ismael Bennacer, Krystian Bielik, Matt Macey and Ben Sheaf.

By kick-off the crowd was pumped and ready to give the Londoners a loud and intimidating South Yorkshire welcome.

Arsenal had plenty of possession from the off but were forced into a change after five minutes when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted for Theo Walcott. The Gunners were then hit with another injury blow on nineteen minutes when Walcott had to depart, to be replaced by 17 year old Ismael Bennacer.

Despite seeing plenty of the ball, Olivier Giroud was not troubling the Wednesday defence and the home side took heart from this.

Then on twenty seven minutes the ground erupted as The Owls went ahead. Barry Bannan played the ball to Daniel Pudil on the left and the Czech full back squared the ball to Ross Wallace. The Scot running onto the cross struck his shot into the bottom corner with Petr Cech rooted to the spot.

With the crowd behind them Wednesday started to rampage forward and were unlucky not double their advantage when Wallace curled a free-kick just over. However, the home team weren’t to be denied long and five minutes before the break had a second goal.

Lucas Joao ran at the Arsenal left flank before cutting in and forcing a save from Cech. From the resulting corner an unmarked Joao cleanly headed in with Cech once again flat-footed.

008Hillsborough was delirious at the half-time whistle with discussions at the break centring on the fact that surely this was a lead that Wednesday couldn’t throw away.

They needn’t have worried as with six minutes of the restart Wednesday had a third goal. From a free-kick, Bannan fired it to the right where Tom Lees volleyed in a centre which Sam Hutchinson bundled over the line from close range.

The game was up for the Gunners and they should have been 4-0 down when an unmarked Joao headed wide from just eight yards out. As Wednesday eased off, Arsenal for the first time in the evening created a couple of chances. First Per Mertesacker headed against the bar from inside the six yard box and then Joel Campbell volleyed just wide from the right, but it was not to be for the Gunners.

It had indeed been a night to remember for the Wednesday faithful and it was a noisy journey back into the city centre with the jubilant Owl hordes. This had been an evening of atmosphere and passion and even the defeated Arsenal fans must have felt they had been part of something special.

Postscript: It was only after reflecting on the games that I’ve attended so far that a strange link became apparent. The four games so far all have a link to Fulham’s journey to the 1974/75 FA Cup Final.

First Round: Carlisle United v Chesterfield. Carlisle were beaten 1-0 by Fulham in the FA Cup Sixth Round at Brunton Park.

Second Round: Hull City v Rochdale. Fulham played Hull in the Third Round and went through 1-0 in the 2nd Replay at Filbert Street.

Third Round: Fulham v Stoke City. The link is about Fulham and the Cup run.

Fourth Round: Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal. Wednesday’s ground, Hillsborough, was the venue for the Semi-Final game between Fulham and Birmingham City.

Book Review: The Arsenal…and Other Poems by Mark Hamilton

Football and poetry are not usually comfortable bedfellows and other than Dannie Abse’s heartfelt poem about his beloved Cardiff City, The Game, it is difficult to recall any serious treatment of our national sport.

Of course in times of high emotion, successes and tragedies, people send poetry to the local papers, but it tends to be trite, or doggerel along the lines of, We play in red, they play in blue. They scored one, we scored two. After initial trepidation, The Arsenal…and Other Poems, however, proved to be far better and the author Mark Hamilton handles well the thoughts and feelings of the typical fan, yet also has plenty to interest the lover of poetry.

Appropriately for the clichéd game of two halves, the collection deals in the first section with Arsenal – a group of fourteen poems meant to represent the team plus three subs. The titles of these appears odd though as Arsenal VI would only have resonance for classics scholars or Romans. The second section of the Other Poems is more wide-ranging and it is fair to say more poetic and varied.

The Arsenal section is very personal dealing chronologically with successes and failures, although it is easy for any genuine football supporter to identify with the elation and despair that following a club causes. In his introduction the author admits that defeat has prompted more poems and in the section I make the record W3 D2 L10 (Arsenal VII details two defeats), which does seem to confirm the view that happiness writes white.

Centrally he handles honestly the ambivalence of a fan switching from the team, beautifully described as being, forged like artists weightless moments of pure quick grace, to fans baying, come on you fucking wankers. We’ve all been there.

On a deeper level, Hamilton cannot decide whether supporting a team is a proxy for your life, or we make our own sun, our own rain. Ultimately he is unable to decide – which probably mirrors what most fans feel – as does the eternal fundamental question of why do we put ourselves through it?

Being very subject specific, i.e.  Arsenal, no doubt this is where the main appeal will lie, but there is plenty for other fans to identify with. I must admit though that I found the, nine years without a trophy, lament a bit rich, for the poor souls only finished in the top 4 every year and subsequently the Champions League too during that period.

The second half, Other Poems, is more varied and Hamilton’s talents as a poet are shown to better effect. His use of metaphor is striking at times and one feels this is real poetry rather than a mere vehicle for him to articulate his feelings for his club.

Three of the poems deal with sport and the one on snooker provides an excellent range of comparisons through such phrases as, field marshals of the baize, all of which pay tribute to the players’ skill.

In Let’s play darts! Hamilton realises the artificiality of the game, but also appreciates the skill culminating in the powerful line, so comedy explodes itself into meaning and pantomime players become great.

The final clutch of poems concern topics traditional to poetry such as the everyday beauty of the world and our relationship to it, dealing sensitively with a simple delight in nature.

My favourite is Bishop’s Stortford, Herts, whose football team remarkably had to play in Conference North for two seasons against the likes of Barrow, Harrogate and Guiseley – a lot of travelling there then.

This collection is certainly a different take on the usual football offering. Indeed the writer is a skilful poet who shows, especially in the second part, a love of language and an eye for detail which I found enjoyable.

The obvious appeal is to an Arsenal fan, but if other readers can show some tolerance there is plenty to be enjoyed. There is a saying that, intelligent writers need intelligent readers, and in terms of sales it will be interesting to see how many worthy Gooners there are out there.

Final score: 1-0 to the Ars-en-al


Ken Gambles



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Book Review – Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen by Stewart Taylor

Paul Vaessen was at Arsenal Football Club from 1977/78 until 1982/83. During those six seasons he started in just 27 games first team games, with 14 additional appearances from the bench, scoring 9 goals.

The trouble with those statistics is that viewed on they own they don’t tell the story of Paul Vaessen’s career. Lost within his limited time at Highbury, there is one substitute appearance and one goal that standout.

On 23 April 1980 Arsenal played Juventus at the Stadio Comunale in the second leg of the European Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final. The Gunners had drawn 1-1 with the Italian side at Highbury and knew that they had to go and win at a ground where no British team had previously won in order to go through to the Final.

With 75 minutes gone, the nineteen-year-old Vaessen came on for David Price with the game still level at 0-0. With just two minutes remaining in the game, Graham Rix broke down the wing and delivered a looping cross which the Arsenal substitute Vaessen headed in. The goal was so late in the game that Juventus had no time to get an equaliser. Arsenal had won the game 2-1 on aggregate and Vaessen was the hero.

Unfortunately for the youngster that was to prove the highpoint of his short career.

That goal is captured on the cover of the hardback version of the book in three frames, which as they are repeated through the second and third iteration of the image, fade – a visual metaphor for Vaessen’s rapid disappearance from the game.

The fact is that just two years after that magical night in Turin, Vaessen was forced to retire due to knees injuries and died aged just 39 from a drugs overdose.

A truly tragic story.

Through this book – which was deservedly nominated for the long-list of the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year – Stewart Taylor sympathetically tells the story of Paul Vaessen’s moment of glory and his subsequent sad decline.

Taylor is able to tell the story through extensive interviews with Vaessen’s family, friends and former teammates and provides an honest picture of the former Gunner. This ‘worts and all’ account shows that Vaessen struggled with drug addiction for much of his life, and led to a less than glamourous lifestyle in which he became involved in crime in order to feed his habit.

Any death in such circumstances is a sad thing and the tragedy for those left behind is compassionately captured by Taylor. Paul Vaessen’s death left two children without a father, a brother faced with the loss of his sibling and battling drug addiction himself and parents without one of their boys, forever wondering if there was anything they could have done differently that might have saved their son.

The pain of Paul Vaessen’s death is best summed by his mum Maureen.

“He wasn’t a bad boy. He took a knock in life – his early retirement – and he couldn’t get over it.”

“When he came home that last Christmas he turned up with this silly hat on…I keep that hat on my bedpost. I hold it every night. I can smell his hair. I tell him I love him, that I miss him. I say, ‘You silly bastard Paul. You silly bastard.’”


Note: A paperback version was released by Pitch Publishing in 2018.


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Book Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had by Tom Maxwell

When England manager Roy Hodgson recently suggested that he would be monitoring the progress of Manchester United’s Belgian youngster Adnan Januzaj, the issue of international player eligibility was once more in the news.

Nowadays in this country, supporters are used to seeing players born in different countries turning out for England whether it is football, cricket, rugby league or rugby union. However, the rules governing eligibility have not always been as they are now and this issue is central to the latest book by Tom Maxwell, ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had’.

In 1938, George and Lizzie Baker were living in New York and on 11 April that year their first child Gerry Austin Baker was born. However, when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the family returned to England to settle in Liverpool, where in July 1940, Joseph Henry Baker was born. Merseyside wasn’t to remain home for long, as the Germans blitzed the port area of Liverpool. Six weeks after Joe was born, Lizzie took the young boys to Wishaw near Motherwell and this was where the family settled and grew up.

Both boys were talented young players and in 1955 Gerry made his debut for Chelsea in the Southern Professional Floodlit Cup. In the same year, Joe played for Scotland Schoolboys playing against England and Wales. However, from this point the path the brothers journeyed on was not as might have been predicted.

Joe was never to pull on the blue shirt of Scotland after 1955 and instead because of the place of his birth, it was ruled he could only play international football for England. So it was that Joe went on to make 5 appearances (scoring 4 goals) for the Under 23s and gained 8 full caps (scoring 3 goals). Indeed Joe played in the opening England game in January 1966, although ultimately he was destined not to be part of the World Cup squad.

In terms of his club career, Joe was widely regarded wherever he played. He started his professional career with Hibernian and in four seasons, amassed 141 goals. This lead to a single season stint at Torino, where he was seriously injured in a car crash, in which Dennis Law was also involved. Baker returned to England and had an impressive four season stay at Arsenal where Joe scored 100 goals. However, partway through his last season at Highbury (1965/66) he moved onto Nottingham Forest and stayed at the City Ground until 1968/69. His tally of 49 goals might not have been as prolific as his returns at his other clubs, but Joe became something of a cult figure down by the Trent. With Joe approaching his 30th birthday he moved to Sunderland for the 1969/70 season as his career started to wind down. The following season he returned to Scotland and Hibernian, finally retiring from playing in 1973/74 after a two season stint at Raith Rovers. Joe’s record makes incredible reading, as from 615 club appearances he scored 372 goals – an outstanding return.

Brother Gerry never settled at Chelsea and returned to Motherwell. However, he found opportunities difficult to come by and he moved to St. Mirren scoring an impressive 66 goals in 81 games. His exploits attracted clubs in England and Gerry had a two season spell at Manchester City before returning to Scotland and Hibernian in 1961/62, just as Joe left the club. However in 1963/64, Gerry left Easter Road and once more moved ‘south of the border’ to help Ipswich Town gain promotion from Division Two, enjoying a productive spell at Portman Road, before moving to Coventry City. It was whilst at the Sky Blues that Gerry gained international honours for the USA. He played in 7 games for the land of his birth, scoring twice and was part of the side that fell short of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Gerry ended his professional career at Brentford in the 1969/70 season before playing for Margate (as player-manager), Nuneaton Borough, Bedworth United and Worcester City. Gerry’s club career saw him score a highly impressive 201 goals from 409 games.

Writer Tom Maxwell tells the story of their respective remarkable careers in an engaging and intimate way. The excellent research and quotes from the brothers and players of the era, means this book is a personal yet interesting insight into football during the 1950s and 60s both in Scotland and England.

But for the eligibility rules of the late 1950s, Scotland would have had a very different international forward line.

Between them, 1,024 appearances, 573 goals – ‘the Fabulous Baker Boys’ indeed.


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Book Review: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

With the end of the 1991/92 season, the format of football in England shifted seismically; Leeds United were the last Football League Division One Champions and in 1992/93 the FA Premier League was born, to change forever the soccer landscape in this country. 1992 also saw the release of Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, which transformed the way football literature was viewed to become a seminal work in sports writing.

The book in structure is divided into three section, 1968 – 1975, 1976 – 1986 and 1986 – 1992, with a brief Introduction. Within each section, Hornby highlights certain fixtures to detail the relationship between his life and what he sees as the intrinsic links with football, rather than a ‘match-report’ format. Hornby is clear in the introduction to the book as to his reasons for writing Fever Pitch, detailing that it “…is an attempt to gain some kind of angle on my obsession…also, in part, an exploration of some of the meanings that football seems to contain for many of us…about being a fan…”

When first reading this book twenty years ago, it was a revelation to read something that I could relate to in terms of the passion, fanaticism and obsession with ‘my’ team. Hornby had captured the enthusiasm of going to your first game and how it hooks you in, continuing the story through adolescence to adulthood and the ‘highs and lows’ that occurred both in supporting your team and the angst associated with growing-up. The book had a ‘current’ feel to it as it was written and published with a backdrop in which the English game was still recovering and coming to terms with the fallout from the (then) recent events of Heysel, the Bradford City fire and Hillsborough.

Reading Fever Pitch again at the end of the 2012/13 season, Hornby’s Arsenal find themselves at the Emirates Stadium in a league that is a global brand, with a team where English players are in the minority and the days of epic FA Cup ties requiring numerous replays, are a thing of the past. This change in the football landscape over the last twenty years perhaps explains why for me reading the book second-time around, the focus fell more upon Hornby’s emotional journey through depression and his personal story than the footballing context. That said, Fever Pitch is still a hugely influential read in football literature, but given the shift that has occurred in the English game and its implications for clubs and all those involved in the sport, including fans, the time is surely ripe for a second football offering from the author. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be a Fever Pitch 2 as Hornby has said that the success of the original altered forever his relationship with the club, in that he could no longer write from the perspective of the fan. Therefore, Fever Pitch should be appreciated for the classic it is and will continue to be in the future.


Book Review: Thierry Henry – Lonely at the Top: A Biography by Philippe Auclair

Where do you start with this review? In finishing reading this book and reflecting on the experience, my views and thoughts have been many and varied, which has subsequently made the task of writing a critique a difficult one. So let’s start with some basics.

The author Philippe Auclair is a freelance journalist who has worked as the United Kingdom correspondent for the French magazine, France Football and broadcaster at RMC Radio for a number of years. Auclair has also written, Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King, which won the 2010 British Sports Book Award for Best Football Book. This second book is an unauthorised biography, but as Auclair says in the Acknowledgements, “…Thierry Henry himself, who was aware of my project…from the start, made no attempt to interfere with it or impair my research…I’m grateful to him for that…”

In terms of the book itself, it is set over 337 pages, but contains none of the glossy pages of pictures that accompany most of the autobiographies and biographies published today. Instead, there are simply a series of black and white images which adorn the page at the start of end new chapter and act as an introduction and lead into each section of the book. It may seem a stupid thing to say but this biography is all about the words and the sparse images act merely to compliment the text. For the most part the book follows a chronological path from Henry’s birth in Les Ulis (a suburb of Paris), through his youth football career, and his international and club appearances up to his loan spell at Arsenal in early 2012.

As for the title of the book, “Lonely at the Top”, this is open to interpretation. It could refer to the playing position of Henry, and the question of whether his transformation from wide player to centre-forward was successful. Or it is saying that Henry was a lonely figure by choice at having only a small group of trusted people through his career? In truth there is an element of both as Auclair seeks to find answers to both of these conundrums.

All clear so far? So why has this book proved a difficult one to review? Part of it lies in the fact that Auclair hasn’t written a run of the mill biography which blindly goes from season to season in a sycophantic ‘the boy done good’ manner. This is a book which has been incredibly well researched and has a gravitas that at times reads like a University dissertation as Auclair seeks to answer questions about Henry, Arsenal and the French national team. Along the way the reader comes to learn about the dominating figure that was Henry’s father (Tony) and the incident that broke that bond, when a proposed move from Monaco to Real Madrid went very badly wrong. Unsurprisingly, Auclair points to the pressure and influence of Tony on his son and the ‘Real fiasco’ as having a lasting impact on Henry.

What lies at the centre of this book is a view of Henry from both sides of the channel and which seems to present two very different animals. Auclair is able to do this because of his French roots on the one hand and as an Arsenal supporter living in London on the other. Therefore it may be that English readers (whether Gunners fans or not), will be perplexed by their view of Titi, the record breaking hero of Highbury and The Emirates, compared with that of a fallen idol in his homeland whose international career can now never be separated from “The Hand of Gaul” incident against the Republic of Ireland which sealed Les Bleus qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

Indeed, Auclair uses the book to explore the French national team through Henry’s involvement in various World Cup and European Championship tournaments. The World Cup triumph of 1998 and the European Championship win in 2000 are analysed as the stock of Henry and the national team reached its peak and gave rise to the “…black-blanc-beur…” (black-white-arab), vision of French society as represented by its football team. However, this dream is slowly dismantled starting with the Group exit in Japan/Korea at the 2002 World Cup and is completely shattered by the players strike in the embarrassing exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Auclair makes a case for ending the book with that disastrous campaign in South Africa, but in a Postscript that takes in Henry’s move to the New York Bull’s in 2011 and a cameo at Arsenal at the beginning of 2012, there is a positive ending. Incredibly for a book that is written so well and is all about the words, the ‘last-word’ is actually achieved by an image. Just check out page 331…


Book Review: Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? by Anthony Clavane

When I was growing up, the football book market was pretty much restricted to lazy and often ‘ghosted’ biographies, where ‘the boys done good’ mentality was about as incisive as it got. Thankfully, as the early 1990’s emerged this changed, with books such as “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby paving the way for a better expression of the fan experience and the beautiful game in a wider context. Following in this vein Anthony Clavane wrote the Award winning “Promised Land: A Northern Love Story, which tells the tale of the rise and fall of Leeds United, intertwined with that of the City of Leeds and of the Jewish community.

Clavane has returned in 2012 with a new book “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?”. The premise of this work is the exploration of, “…the role of Jews in English football’s transformation from a working-class pursuit played in the crumbling arenas to a global entertainment industry…” Clavane does so by looking at the stories of eleven key figures (although many others are detailed in the book), through three stages which illustrate the integration of Jews into English society. The eleven central characters are made up of players, fans, entrepreneurs and administrators, in a line-up that includes, Louis Bookman, Leslie Goldberg, Willy Meisl, Morris Keston, Harry Zussman, Mark Lazarus, David Pleat, Avi Cohen, David Dein, Roman Abramovich and David Bernstein. The three stages, which Clavane uses to show these pioneers influence and the journey of integration, are “the First Age”, “the Golden Age” and “the New Age”. In simple terms, the First Age relates to a period when, “…anti-Semitism was part of the public discourse…”, whilst the Golden Age was one of “…two parallel universes – the Jewish and the English, the Yiddisher world and the football world…”, and a time when Jews “…began to ride high on a wave of post-war social mobility…” Finally, in the New Age, “…the Jews finally become British…” completing “…the epic Anglo-Jewish journey from ghetto outsiders to football insiders…”

The various stories are well researched and bring to life early Jewish figures in football such as Louis Bookman, a “…Lithuanian-Jewish-Irishman…”, who left behind his Jewish family to play for Bradford City and WBA before the First World War and Luton Town and Port Vale after it. This all-round sportsman also played for Ireland at international level in football and cricket, and was an early example of a Jew who defied the clichéd image of a people who were weak and bookish.

Throughout the pages of this book, the threat of anti-Semitism is unmistakeable as Clavane details how some Jews felt compelled to play down their faith to gain acceptance and in many cases even changed their surname to avert attention. It was also shocking to read of the way that major European clubs like Bayern Munich and Arsenal air-brushed out Jewish figures in their history. In the case of Arsenal, this is a baffling stance, given as Clavane details that The Gunners used to be the first port of call for Jews wanting their football fix, before their North London rivals Spurs became the team most associated with a Jewish fan-base.

Although the author makes a compelling case for the Jewish influence in the modern game, through “…Abramovich’s wealth and Bernstein’s power…” Clavane acknowledges that “…the conflict between the values of traditional Judaism and athletic competition has not disappeared…” Indeed, he admits that he feels “…guilty for enjoying the pointless spectacle of grown men running around like meshuga (crazy)…” to this day.

Anthony Clavane brings all his experience both from his teaching background and that of journalism to create this excellent book, which is as much about social-history as it is about football. As a reader I want to engage with something that challenges me, which makes me think and at the end of it ensures I come away having learnt something. This book ticks all those boxes.



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2011/12: FA Cup 5th Round

Saturday 18 February 2012 (12.00pm)

In forty years of watching football, the Fifth Round is the only round I’ve never watched a game in. From the Extra Preliminary Round to the Final, I’ve witnessed a fixture at every stage, but for some reason never the Fifth. Today I’ll not be breaking that duck and unless events somehow conspire that I get to see a replay, then the Fifth Round will have to wait until next season at least.

So what of this weekends fixtures? Well for a start, no Friday or Monday games. Five ties today and three tomorrow. Chelsea open proceedings at home to Birmingham City (12.30pm) and for me brings back memories of the time they met in the FA Cup back in 1975, when the Midlands club emerged 1-0 winners at Stamford Bridge. I saw Birmingham demolish Sheffield United in the last Round and on the strength of that and their recent good run I believe they will cause Chelsea problems today. Chelsea came through a difficult game at Loftus Road in the Fourth Round, but all is not right in SW6. I’m going to be bold and take Birmingham to cause an upset today and add to the woes at The Bridge in putting out Chelsea.

The 3.00pm kick-offs see Everton v Blackpool, Norwich City v Leicester City and Millwall v Bolton Wanderers, with Sunderland v Arsenal at 5.15pm. They are an interesting set of games, with numerous sub-plots. Everton have quietly gone about their business in the Cup this year, whist Blackpool are yet to lose a game in 2012. I think this one will go to a draw. For Millwall and Bolton the Cup today brings some respite from their respective poor league campaigns. With Wanderers in the Premier League relegation spots, will manager Coyle pick a weakened side for the visit to The Den? If he does The Lions will be waiting and I’m going for the Championship to upset the odds and make it through. For Norwich and Leicester they can give the tie today a real tilt as both are safe in the Premier League and Championship respectively. The Canaries for me will be to strong for The Foxes at Carrow Road and so will progress.

The last game of the day will see an Arsenal team fresh from a mauling in Milan, take on Sunderland who recently have enjoyed a resurgence under Martin O’Neill. The Sunderland boss will tell his team to forget about the 2-1 loss they suffered only last week to The Gunners and will hope to compound an awful week for Arsene Wenger by dumping Arsenal out of the Cup. Black Cats fans of a certain age will remember the 2-1 win against Arsenal in the Semi-Final in 1973 when Sunderland went on to lift the Cup after beating Leeds United in the Final. I’m going for Sunderland to take this one, as once more another season for The Gunners come to nothing.

Saturday 18 February 2012 (7.30pm)

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. No career as a tipster for me! Five games – only one prediction right. Well, things were looking good at Stamford Bridge, with Birmingham taking the lead on 20 minutes from David Murphy. When Colin Doyle kept out a Juan Mata penalty in the first half, it was looking as the teams went to the break that it was going to be City’s day. With a couple of substitutions in the second half, Chelsea got back in the game just after the hour mark when Daniel Sturridge levelled. The Londoners looked for a winner but instead had to settle for a replay at St Andrew’s. I had gone for a draw at Goodison and home wins for Millwall and Norwich in the 3.00pm games. All were wrong. Everton put the game out of reach of Blackpool within the opening six minutes as goals from Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi ensured the blue half of Merseyside made it through to the Quarter-Finals. At The Den, Bolton were also quick out of the blocks as Ryo Miyaichi put The Trotters ahead on four minutes. David Ngog scored just before the hour mark to put the tie beyond The Lions and the Premier League team went through. At Carrow Road there was an upset as Leicester City overcame Norwich. In a day of early Cup goals, The Foxes went ahead on five minutes with a Sean St Ledger header. However, The Canaries were level when Wes Hoolahan followed up his own penalty after Kasper Schmeichel had saved the initial spot-kick. Leicester weren’t to be denied though and David Nugent scored a stunning second to send City through. My only correct tip of the day saw Sunderland outplay an Arsenal team who looked liked they wished the season could finish now. Credit to The Black Cats who chased every cause and simply never allowed The Gunners to settle and won through a goal in each half from Kieran Richardson and an own-goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Tomorrow sees Crawley Town v Stoke City, Stevenage v Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool v Brighton. After today, I might as well toss a coin in terms of predictions. However, I’ll go for a draw at Crawley, and wins for Spurs and Liverpool. But don’t bet on it!

Sunday 19 February 2012 (7.30pm)

Another day, another set of pretty poor predictions! In the first of the three games today, despite being reduced to ten-men, Stoke had bits of luck at the right time to claim a 2-0 victory at Crawley. Things didn’t look so good for The Potters when on seventeen minutes Rory Delap was dismissed for a tackle which could have been called either way. Stoke battled away and were awarded a penalty just before half-time, for a nothing sort of challenge. Walters converted and the ten men of Stoke were ahead at the break. Just six minutes into the second half and Stoke were 2-0 ahead when a towering header from Peter Crouch broke Crawley hearts. The Potters controlled proceedings, but were lucky not to concede a penalty at the end of the game, when Danny Collin’s clearly handled on the line. Could a second Wembley appearance be looming for Stoke?

Stevenage and Tottenham were involved a real old ding-dong of a game which belied the final score-line of 0-0. Whilst there was not a great many shots on goal, it was an all-action Cup-tie. Spurs did have the ball in the net and were perhaps unfortunate that Scott Parker was on the goal-line as he deflected in Saha’s goal bound effort. That would have been harsh on Stevenage who served a replay.

The final game of the day and indeed of the round was a strange old affair. At half-time Liverpool were ahead 2-1 in a competitive first forty five minutes. Martin Skrtel had given The Reds the lead on five minutes, with Brighton level on seventeen minutes through Kazenga Lua Lua. Just before the break an own goal from Liam Bridcutt put Liverpool back in front. Four more goals and a missed penalty followed in the second-half as The Seagulls self-destructed. Andy Caroll made it 3-1 just before the hour mark, with Bridcutt getting his second own-goal and another own goal from Lewis Dunk to make it 5-1. Suarez had a penalty saved with ten minutes to go, but did score four minutes later to wrap up a 6-1 victory, ensuring both Merseyside clubs made it to the Quarter-Finals.

That just leaves the draw for the Quarter-Finals to wrap things up – and no, I’m not going to be making any more predictions!

 Quarter-Final draw:

Chelsea/Birmingham City v Leicester City

Everton v Sunderland

Liverpool v Stoke City

Stevenage/Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers