Book Review – When the Sky was Blue: The Inside Story of Coventry City’s Premier League Years by Rich Chamberlain

In the 1966/67 season Coventry City, then managed by Jimmy Hill, reached the top flight of the Football League for the first time in their history after winning the Second Division title, finishing a point ahead of Wolves. The Sky Blues stayed for 34 years amongst the English games elite and would be founder members of the inaugural Premier League in 1992/93. And that initial season of ‘a whole new ball game’ is the starting point for Coventry fan Rich Chamberlain’s look at the West Midlands Club time in the Premier League.

The book benefits from extensive interview with ex-players and management, so isn’t just a season by season trawl through every result. Rather, Chamberlain takes each manager’s reign as the focal point, with the interviews providing an honest and balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the various men who sat in the Highfield Road hotseat and some of the high-profile players who pulled on the sky blue shirt.

In the Premier League years (1992 to 2001), The Sky Blues had four managers, Bobby Gould (for a second stint having managed the Club in the early ‘80s), Phil Neal, Ron Atkinson and Gordon Strachan. Strachan’s stint was the longest, managing more games than the other three combined. What is evident is that all four had very different approaches to the job.

Programme from Coventry’s opening game in 1992/93

Leading Coventry into the Premier League era was Bobby Gould who the author describes as “unorthodox”, a man known for using his contacts to seek out gems from the lower leagues, but who bled “sky-blue blood.” Gould not only managed the Club on two occasions, but also played for The Sky Blues, scoring 40 goals in 82 games before moving to Arsenal.

Gould resigned in December 1983 with Phil Neal taking permanent charge after initially being appointed as caretaker. Whilst some players took to the ex-Liverpool player, many others didn’t with Chamberlain observing, “no doubt in part due to him (Neal) being a far less charismatic frontman than Gould” with ex-player Micky Quinn adding, “Phil was a very good coach but as a manager it’s about making decision, team selections. I don’t think he was a very good manager.” For all that Neal led Coventry to 11th at the end of the 1993/94 campaign – their highest finish in the Premier League. 1994/95 started well, but an eleven game run without a win from the end of November saw Neal sacked as The Sky Blues dropped in the relegation zone, with home gates dropping to around 12,000.

Incredibly after the dour Neal, came the larger-than-life character that was Ron Atkinson walking through the Highfield Road gates. Not only did his presence get fans flocking back to the terraces, but also as ex-Coventry player David Burrows highlighted, “He (Atkinson) attracted higher-profile players. Players didn’t go to Coventry for the money. Most of the players…took a pay cut to play for Ron.” Big Ron brought the razzamatazz and with it national media coverage. Despite all this Coventry were in a relegation dogfight, but a signing that would have a long-term impact on the Club came in March 1995 as Gordon Strachan moved from Leeds United as player and assistant manager. Not only did the Scot’s influence ensure Coventry stayed up but showed his attributes as a talented tactical coach.

Having preserved their Premier League status in 1994/95, hopes were high that 1995/96 campaign under the Atkinson/Strachan combo would not be another one of battling against the drop. However, it was to be another difficult season with their top-flight status only assured after a nervous final day eventually surviving on goal difference.

In November 1996, the Atkinson era ended, but as the author explains it wasn’t quite as simple as that. “The original story was that he (Atkinson) had agreed to move into a director-of-football-style role while Strachan took over as manager. However…not all the boardroom were on the same page with the story.” Ex-Chairman Bryan Richardson hoped that with Atkinson’s father very ill, the manager could be moved upstairs without a loss of face. The decision was somehow leaked and seemingly Big Ron was the last to know. Indeed Atkinson reflected that an incident with board member Geoffrey Robinson was behind it, “the week after I was moved upstairs. There was no directive at all, I didn’t have any directives from the Club.”

Programme from game that relegated The Sky Blues in 2001

Strachan would preside over the Club from 1996 until 2001 as be battled season-on-season to maintain Coventry’s top flight status. Chamberlain says of the Scots era, “He (Strachan) took with him a relegation on his CV that undoubtedly tarnishes his Coventry legacy, despite having been at the helm for some of the most exciting football the club had ever seen.” This was seen in players such as Darren Huckerby, Dion Dublin, Noel Whelan, Youssef Chippo, Mustapha Hadji, Robbie Keane, Gary McAllister and Craig Bellamy, all pulling on the sky blue jersey.

If fans thought back in 2001 that relegation was a minor blip, nothing prepared them for the years since which saw the Club sink to new lows. 2011/12 saw The Sky Blues relegated to League One and worse was to follow as in 2016/17 as they fell through the trapdoor into the basement division of the Football League. Off the pitch their beloved Highfield Road ground was left with residence at the then named Ricoh Arena in the 2005/06 campaign. This proved to be no smooth path, with major financial problems besetting the club, they found themselves having to play seasons at Northampton Town (2013/14) and Birmingham City (2019 to 21). Thankfully The Sky Blues have recovered in recent years, with a return to the Championship and residence back at the Coventry Building Society.

Coventry fans will hope that a return to the top flight is not too far away, but for now will have to make do with memories wonderfully recounted within Chamberlain’s book.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2023, Hardcover: 224 pages)


Buy the book here: When the Sky was Blue

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: LS65 (Eighties Leeds Series) by Billy Morris


Billy Morris was born in Leeds in 1966. He left Leeds in the late 1990s and has lived and worked in Europe and USA. He now lives mainly in South East Asia.

He wrote his first book Bournemouth 90 in 2021 and published the sequel, LS92, in 2022. The books form the Eighties Leeds series are dark, crime fiction set against the backdrop of a northern English city trying to reinvent itself, as its once famous football team emerges from a period in the doldrums to reclaim its position at the forefront of European football.

Morris’s third book Birdsong on Holbeck Moor is set during the tumultuous period at the end of the First World War. The Leeds Pals have been decimated at the Somme and the soldiers who survived return to find a city on the grip of a global pandemic, with food rationing, unemployment and a football team facing expulsion from the league due to financial irregularities during the war years. Throw in some corruption, inter-city gang wars and witchcraft and you have the makings of a gritty, Edwardian thriller.

LS65 Review

This fourth book from Billy Morris forms a third part of the Eighties Leeds series, and is a prequel set in 1965. The central focus is the back story of Alan Connolly, one of the main characters in Bournemouth 90 and opens with the teenager arriving in Leeds from Glasgow during the swinging sixties.

What Morris has established through his previous books is a winning formula. And as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Reassuringly in LS65 readers will find the usual heady mix of dark gritty menace, the underworld, and football set against a convincing background of the time – a culture of coffee bars and clubs, drugs and dance halls, Mods and their mopeds.

Once again the research is spot-on with great detail about the city of Leeds and places still familiar today, but reflecting also many that have long gone, yet synonymous with a city much changed since the sixties.

Additionally, what Morris also demonstrates is his ability to provide a full back story to his characters, that in this instance go a long way to understanding the Alan Connolly that features in Bournemouth 90.

There is also some homage or influence of David Peace’s writing, with the flashback sequences within LS65 reminding this reader of the style adopted in parts of The Damned Utd.

In Bournemouth 90 the football storyline was one of a pivotal moment as Leeds United regained their top division status, leading to them becoming Champions of England once more in 1991/92. In LS65 the football backdrop is once again an important moment in the Club’s history, with the Elland Road team, after only having been promoted the season before, missing out on the First Division title on goal average and then losing in the FA Cup Final 2-1 to Liverpool. However, despite those disappointments in 1965 it was the start of what was to be a Golden Era under Don Revie as Leeds United became one of the best sides in England and Europe.


(Publisher: Independently published. September 2023. Paperback: 217 pages)


Buy the book here: LS65

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: The Shirt Hunter: One Man’s Ceaseless Pursuit of Classic Football Kits by Perris Hatton

When I was first standing on the terraces of my beloved Fulham as a child, replica kits just weren’t a thing, but all this changed when Admiral came on the scene in the 1970s. With their bold designs and colours Admiral were the pioneers that led to the creation of the multi-million pound business in football kits that exists today.

The story of the Leicester based company is superbly told in another of Conkers Editions, fine stable of books, Get Shirty: The Rise & Fall of Admiral Sportswear and provides context for Perris Hatton’s The Shirt Hunter: One Man’s Ceaseless Pursuit of Classic Football Kits. Admiral not only provided the catalyst for the replica shirt market of today, but also could be said to have sparked the start of the collectables scene.

Fulham Osca remake 1981/82

One thing reading this book did was to look back at my own teams recent shirt history. Fulham, of recent years have been a Premier League club and is reflected in the fact that since 2013/14 have been with Adidas. Those of us though that remember the days of life in the lower echelons of the Football League will recall, that we had kits manufactured by companies such as Osca, Scoreline, DMF and Vandanel – companies mostly long since gone. Interestingly though, that whilst finding original replicas of those shirts will cost a small fortune, a retro market in remakes has taken place, so for Fulham for instance there are some great versions which pay homage to the Osca kits worn between 1981 and 1984.

Hatton is a major football shirt collector and dealer and uses all his knowledge and experience in the field to produce an interesting and entertaining book that will be a great read for anyone interested in football shirt memorabilia. Not only does he provides some hints and tips on buying, collecting and selling, but also various amusing anecdotes as he trawls the country for hidden treasures.

The largest part of the book, however, is given over to an A-Z of football kit manufacturers past and present, where you’ve find details and facts about the modern day big-guns of Adidas, Macron, Nike, Puma and Umbro, side-by-side with lesser known names lost since lost to polyester heaven – all as ever in true Conker Editions fashion, colourfully and lovingly illustrated.

(Publisher: Conker Editions Ltd. October 2023 Paperback: 184 pages)


Buy the book here: The Shirt Hunter

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: Blue was the Colour: A Tale of Tarnished Love (Football Shorts) by Andy Hamilton

Football Shorts are a series of books created in a collaboration between award-winning journalist and author Ian Ridley’s own publishing company Floodlit Dreams and renowned sports book publisher, Pitch Publishing. Ridley details in the Notes and Acknowledgments of the first in the series, Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough, that the inspiration came about during lockdown and his desire for a short sporting read.

The intention was that there would be three books in 2023, and this outstanding hat-trick of the written word has been achieved, with the first, Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough by Ridley, released in January 2023, the second The Homecoming: The Lionesses and Beyond, from Jane Purdon in May 2023 and finally from comedian and writer Andy Hamilton with Blue was the Colour: A Tale of Tarnished Love  out in September 2023.


What links all three of these wonderful books is that they are personal stories written with genuine passion for the ‘beautiful game’ and its past, present and future. All three writers are respected figures in their particular fields, but at the heart of their writing is the overwhelming ability to let readers know that they are football fans.

In the case of Andy Hamilton’s, Blue was the Colour, the book looks at his changing relationship with Chelsea and indeed the game from his childhood to adult life, with the subtitle, A Tale of Tarnished Love, more than a clue as to how this has changed down the years.

For those wondering about the title of the book, Blue was the Colour, it is a play on words taken from the title of the single that the Chelsea players released in 1972 called, Blue Is the Colour (although on my occasional visits to the Bridge I was more of a fan of Liquidator by The Harry J Allstars). And like the book sub-title, reinforces the idea of Hamilton’s reassessment of his feelings and connection to the Stamford Bridge club.

As you’d expect from a man of his writing talent, Hamilton’s reflections here are witty, thought provoking, yet balanced – filled with joy and at times sadness, as well as disappointment and regret – a bit like watching your team really.

He uses the device of two Chelsea v Newcastle United fixtures (62 years apart) to bookend his journey supporting the club as he grows from boyhood to manhood, with observations about changes in the game thrown in for good measure. And these two fixtures tell you much about how Hamilton’s feelings have changed, when he details:

The (first) match back in 1960 was the first game I ever saw. I was six and a half years old and I watched from the terraces in a state of all-consuming, heart-thumping, knee-jiggling, bladder-squeezing excitement and wonder.

I did not watch the second match. I only listened to the closing moments of the game on Radio 5 Live as I pottered around the kitchen trying to find some scissors.

This book is my attempt to map the distance between those two states of mind – from a world where Chelsea v Newcastle was, at that moment, the only thing that mattered ‘in the entire universe’ to one where it was less important than scissors.

Of course as Hamilton acknowledges, that has as much to do with him growing up as it has to do with the game as it is today.

The sport that he fell in love with still had players on the maximum wage of £20, with some still travelling to games on public transport and were still accessible and relatable to the working class fans who filled the grounds. Kick-offs were on a Saturday at 3pm and the FA Cup held pride of place of the football calendar. However, before you think this is maybe some sentimental less than subjective view of the game Hamilton first watched, he admits that the violence on the terraces, racism within the game and the poor conditions within stadiums were also a reality of football in his formative years.

So what has lessened his love for the game today? Well, as someone a little younger than Hamilton it is for reasons I completely understand. It feels like he is speaking for a generation of supporters who have no love for what the Premier League stands for and what the billionaire owners and Sky have done to the game. Also, getting a bashing – deservedly – are FIFA and VAR amongst other things.

Despite this, Hamilton hopes that in another 60 years there will be six year olds as giddy as he was back in 1960 excited at going to their first game in stadiums will be full and still played on a Saturday.

Now that’s a thought that shouldn’t leave us blue.

(Publisher: Football Shorts. September 2023. Paperback:? 184 pages)


Buy the book here: Blue was the Colour

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: The Little Book of Casuals – Football fashion from the 1980s by Scottie

Growing up in the 1970s the I-Spy books were something I collected. They covered all sorts of topics from the sights of London, various forms of transport, nature and science, to sports including football. The purpose was to spot the various objects listed within the book so ticking them off. In today’s high-tech, digital age, this concept wouldn’t excite many youngsters, but back then it passed as something both entertaining and educational.

What, you might ask, has this got to do with The Little Book of Casuals? Well, quite simply this 144 page book, measuring just 4 inches by 6 inches (no metric here for this old timer), reminded me of those childhood I-Spy books. However, the only problem being that you would need a time-machine to go through author Scottie’s journey from 1981 to 1986 ticking off the changing look of the Casuals during those years.

There will be those who turn their nose up at this offering, citing that the books featuring the Casuals scene is nothing but glorification and glamorisation of some of the worst years of football hooliganism in the UK and abroad. And yes whilst there are many books out there that do precisely that, that is not something that can be aimed at this latest release from the excellent Conker Editions stable.

Instead Scottie, based on his own experiences during the early part of the 1980s has put together a neat guide to the changing hair, clothes and footwear that became part of terrace culture during that time. The illustrations that accompany the text are wonderful in showing the constant switch to new brands and styles that swept through the ranks of any self-respecting Casual.

So be prepared for a trip down memory lane as tennis, golf and other sporting brands as well as established fashion names, that became de rigueur in and around the grounds of the Football League such as Fred Perry, Slazenger, Pringle, Lyle & Scott, Fila, Lacoste, Ellesse, Sergio Tacchini, Adidas, Kappa, Armani, Burberry and Benetton, are all detailed in glorious colour within the pages of this tiny gem.

And whilst you may think that every transition in the ‘clobber’ and the price tag they afforded provided the Casual with an appearance of coolness, think again as Scottie highlights some of the oddities of the period. Take for instance the 1982 phase of dungarees and fisherman’s jumper, the 1983 appearance of the Sherlock Holmes inspired deerstalker hat, or indeed the 1985 penchant for half-and-half ski hats.

The Casual scene is part of the history of the game in this country, which has a continued influence on what we see today. Some of the clothes and footwear of that period continue to be popular in a significant retro market with Adidas Gazelles or Samba and Fila Settanta polo part of many a wardrobe. And whilst Scottie’s book comes to a stop in 1986, the subsequent years have seen the fashion changes continue with various labels coming and going, although no longer on the terraces, but the safe standing and seats in the stadiums of the 21st Century.

(Publisher: Conker Editions Ltd. September 2023. Paperback: 144 pages)


Buy the book here: Casuals

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review – Scotland 42 England 1: An Englishman’s Mazy Dribble Through Scottish Football by Mark Winter

I once went to see a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – where else would you get this quality of entertainment, nobody ever asked ever – where a guy told us the tale of how he got his Guinness World Record back – for managing to visit all of the London Underground stations in the shortest time. He spared us many of the gory details, but I was reminded obliquely of this when I started reading Scotland 42, England 1 by Mark Winter. Doing the 42, is a test which many have undertaken that means you must visit all 42 grounds in the Scottish Professional Football League. Having read this, it requires less gory detail and much patience – and some degree of financial investment. That would be true if you were living in Scotland when attempting it but Mark lives and works in Dover! No wonder it took him eight years – though he did manage to fit a wee pandemic in, in the middle of it. So fair play.

But this was never about setting any kind of record. This was never about trying to write a travelogue which would illuminate and demonstrate the beauty of 11 v 11, the tactics employed between the UEFA finalists and the playoff hopefuls. This was about something else. Sheer joy. Of the game. Of the pursuit of it. And of the people around it.

And here it is an absolute winner.

I will admit when I first got this, I delved into when Mark visited my team, my home ground to find out what I was doing at the time – in the MacDonald’s in Whitletts Road, Ayr, with my youngest daughter, an ardent Rangers fan, whilst my team was being humped by them 6-1! I was also interested to see if we had shared the same grounds on the same day when I had been at the same games reporting for Kicktalk – the Accies and the Morton games, I think. Once satisfied with trivia, I delved into this to spot some more and feel the depth of love Mark has for the subject matter. The whole book is just one long volume of pleasure from one chapter to the next.

Mark’s style of his writing, self-deprecating and never taking himself too seriously which, chimes with ordinary football fans – those who do not turn up at grounds with mortgage level fees for season tickets and where the corporate are treasured more than the individuals who pass a scarf from one generation to another.

So, a guy who supports “the other” DAFC – Dover Athletic – decides to visit all the grounds in Scotland whilst working to make ends meet. The project brings him into contact with many a “character” – from the guy who shows him the greatest view in football, in the centre circle of Dumbarton FC’s ground, to the officious official who would not take cash to let him see a Colts team, to a groundsman in Cliftonhill  who advised of much and many. There are also the fans who, like Mark, are there for their love of a game that is both a cruel mistress and a proper harlot.

And so, aside from the people who he met, and the grounds he tried and eventually got to see – Stirling Albion – this reads like more than a travelogue. The games are described but once you realise that the affection for the game comes from the event itself, you get to understand what having visits to Elgin and Stranraer mean and why Cove Bay disappoints as it has nothing of the expected exotic about it.

Mark is able to contextualise the place each ground has in each of the towns, and why that matters. We get much detail of the quality of the fare for eating and drinking which make a difference. There are descriptions of the hostels stayed in, the B&Bs enjoyed as our man who worked in a school manages to get to 42 grounds in 57 chapters – whatever he was working in a school for, it may not have been for maths – and we marvel not just at the dedication, but the number of times someone he knows from Dover turns up at grounds in the middle of Scotland he has visited – has Dover nothing to keep them back? Though it must be said that the story of Tom Donnelly (exported to Dover from Cowdenbeath) is worthy of further investigation.

There are many highlights, notwithstanding how to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Elgin, the closest thing to a vegetarian option in a Falkirk chippy being a white pudding, a pointless answer around a railway station in Coatbridge, the pathos of being, in Pathos (apologies) when finding out that Hibs had been relegated, the affection for them and Hearts, in a city where he loved spending time whilst witnessing the cut and thrust of Scottish football including Conor McGrandles’ double leg break.

Considering that there are times when we get insight into Mark having been to see a friendly between Fiorentina and Chelsea, when he supports neither, this has an air of being appreciative of the game and what is around it. Mark is a great raconteur, with great literary wit, a gregarious sort who can strike up a chat and a friendship over a beer – or several. Now retired, at least by the end of the book, this is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Scottish football books – why – because he sees ourselves as others see us. Scots often need outsiders to point out the bleeding obvious and in this tourists’ guide to going to football grounds, this has a very effective host in the driver’s seat. We should all shout shotgun and strap in for the ride.

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2023. Paperback: 320 pages)


Buy the book here: Scotland 42 England 1

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review – Walsall’s Greatest: Tony Richards and the Saddlers’ Glory Years by Gary Richards

The English football pyramid top four divisions is made up of 92 clubs, however, the way that the modern media goes on you’d think that the 20 Premier League clubs are the only ones that exist. Football history in true Orwellian 1984 style has been rewritten so that all that before 1992/93 has miraculously disappeared and is never spoken about.

Thankfully up and down the country, thousands still attend games in the Championship, League 1 and League 2 and further down the National League System to watch their teams and ensure that their community, history and stories continue to survive and thrive.

Books like Walsall’s Greatest: Tony Richards and the Saddlers’ Glory Years by Gary Richards also thankfully add to the titles on shelves bringing to life often untold tales of players and season’s from the past.

As the PR for the book tells readers, “at the end of the 1953/54 season, Walsall Football Club finished bottom of the Third Division South and applied for re-election to the Football League for a third successive year.” What followed was an incredible change of fortunes for the West Midlands club inspired by the goalscoring talents of Tony Richards and Colin Taylor under the management of Bill Moore, which saw the Saddlers rise to the heights of the old Second Division (now Championship) taking on the likes of Leeds United, Liverpool and Newcastle United.

One thing to get out of the way is that the book is written by Tony Richards’ son Gary, but despite this, the story is told in a totally professional and objective manner and there is no mawkish sentimentality to be found amongst the pages. And yes whilst his father (who was voted Walsall’s greatest ever player in 1998) is at the centre of the story, this book is a tribute to all the players and management that brought about the club’s most successful period.

Indeed the research that the author carries out to produce this great read is to be admired as evidenced within the extensive notes section of the book. Whilst the internet can be a great source of information, it is evident that good old-fashioned trawling of newspaper archives and the like has been undertaken by Richards.’ A labour of love in more than one way. What also lends an authentic voice of the period are the interviews with Walsall players such as Keith Ball, Ray Wiggin, Trevor Foster, Stan Bennett and Nick Atthey who played with Tony Richards and bring to life the realities of the game in the 1950s and 60s.

In terms of the timeline, the book follows a convention path looking at Tony Richard’s upbringing, his early youth career at Birmingham City and his army days before his move to Walsall for the 1954/55 season. It then follows through the various Saddlers campaigns to 1963 when after 334 games scoring 185 goals, he left for Port Vale (1963 to 1966) and finished his career in non-league with Nuneaton Borough (1966 to 1969) where despite injuries Richards’ continued his incredible scoring prowess.

Whilst the book focuses very much on the story of Walsall’s rise at that time, the author also provides readers with some interesting comparisons about football then and now, thereby challenging some of the assumptions and perceptions of the game back in the day.

Sadly Tony Richards passed away in March 2010 aged 75 after suffering with dementia. Tony Richards’ was famous for his aerial ability and headed goals, especially the now not often seen diving header. And in one of the closing chapters Gary makes a serious point about how that continuous heading combined with playing at the time with heavier balls, no substitutes, concussion protocols or data research, inevitably contributed to the illness that afflicted his father. It’s a sobering and thought provoking chapter in a book that is otherwise a celebration of the beautiful game – one that is of course a book that is aimed at Walsall fan’s but will undoubtedly have a wider reach for those wanting an insight into the game and it environment in the 1950s and early 60s.

(Publisher: ToneRedDays. April 2022. Paperback: 255 pages)


Buy the book here:

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review – We Paid to Play: Reflection of playing football at school and local leagues by Kenneth McLauchlan

The synopsis on the back of the book informs potential readers that We Paid to Play: Reflection of playing football at school and local leagues, is both an “interesting…educated” and “fascinating read”. And if you make claims like that then you need to deliver.

Having set the bar so high, the reality for this reader was that it failed to meet those expectations. This mixture of Kenneth McLauchlan’s playing career from schoolboy to adulthood and his very general and fleeting observations on football, are sadly disappointing. The details and anecdotes about his experience as a player feel flat and lack engagement and in a number of places within the book there are some major factual errors.

Take for instance this sentence taken from page 49. “Liverpool had a successful club side with two good wingers in Phil Thompson and Ian Callaghan – though neither of them featured in the world cup after the first game.” Firstly McLaughlin has confused Phil Thompson who was a defender at Anfield between 1971 and 1984, with the Liverpool winger Peter Thompson who plied his trade between 1963 and 1973. Secondly, whilst Peter Thompson was in England’s 1966 provisional 28 man World Cup squad he was cut from the final 22. Thirdly, in the 1966 World Cup, Ian Callaghan only played in last group game against France and not in the opener v Uruguay. Lastly, the capitalisation is inconsistent throughout the book, and in the example on page 49, refers to the “world cup”. Unfortunately these are not the only errors and they are distracting to the reading experience. It leaves you wondering who did the proof reading for the book.

The fact is though that there is no joy in having to write such a review and indeed our intention is not to be disrespectful to either the author or publishers, but to provide an honest account from our reviewer to our readers and followers.

(Publisher: Olympia Publishers. June 2022. Paperback: 194 pages)


Buy the book here: We Paid to Play

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: Jordan Henderson: The Autobiography by Jordan Henderson

What makes a great football captain? Is it the best player in the team or the most consistent? The loudest voice or the best communicator? Someone who plays with their heart or their head? The person who leads by example on the pitch or off it? In truth, ideally it is a combination of all of these things, and more besides. Names like Tony Adams, Roy Keane, Wes Morgan, Vincent Kompany and Steven Gerrard often feature in discussions of the Premier League’s greatest captains. These are players who not only won trophies for their clubs but also led their teams physically and emotionally – they became, in a way, extensions of the badge. Tony Adams was Arsenal, Roy Keane was Manchester United, Wes Morgan was Leicester City. They were the figureheads for their clubs, undoubted leaders on the pitch with personas that matched. Each had his own style, his own challenges to face and each left an enviable footballing legacy. These are big boots to fill, but arguably Jordan Henderson has not only filled these boots but made them even bigger.

NHL Hall of Famer Joe Sakic said, ‘A… team needs a voice, not only in the community, but more importantly between the coaching staff and the players.’ Whilst the triptych remains – players, staff, community – the emphasis on community has grown in recent years, not least as a result of the pandemic. And Henderson’s voice has been at the forefront of bridging a link not only with Liverpool fans, or even football fans, but with wider society, through his work on the #PlayersTogether NHS initiative and fund. If there is one takeaway from Henderson’s recent autobiography, it is that he is quick to pass the plaudits around; like any great leader, he honours the work of others and downplays his own role. Yet Henderson was at the heart of football’s rallying for the NHS and, coupled with the incredible success under his captaincy at Liverpool, which has included the full gamut of top-tier trophies on offer – Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield, Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup – the former won for the first time in three decades for the Reds, the latter won for the first time ever – his is a legacy that carries exceptional significance not only on the pitch but beyond football, not only in Liverpool but nationwide.

In many ways, Henderson’s impressive leadership has made him not only a figurehead for his club but a figurehead for the football community and he’s a warm, likeable and modest one at that, as evidenced throughout the compelling autobiography. Indeed, had Henderson had his way, this book, rather than bearing his name, would have been titled With or Without Me. No, it’s not a homage to U2’s ‘With or Without You’ but rather an acknowledgement of Henderson’s belief that Liverpool’s success would have happened with, or more importantly without, him. This may come across as false modesty from some and I’m not sure there would be many other Premier League and Champions League winners who would be so quick to write off their influence, but from Henderson it’s a genuine marker of the man – his lack of pretension, his sense of humility and his respect for his peers. I suspect, though, that while Henderson believes the success could have happened without him, his teammates, fans and manager would vehemently argue the toss. After all, Henderson has been at the beating heart of Liverpool’s midfield (and even, when called up on, their defence) for over a decade. That’s an impressive enough feat at any team but to hold down that place in a side that has been repeatedly challenging for domestic and European honours speaks of just how integral and valued he is.

It is easy to forget too that Henderson and his career was in its relative infancy when he arrived at Anfield from Sunderland in 2011 and the task of making his mark and forcing his way into a Reds side looking to recreate Liverpool’s glory days would have daunted many. Henderson not only battled it out, but he turned around perceptions and then stepped up to fill perhaps the biggest void in recent Liverpool history when the iconic Steven Gerrard left. Henderson’s autobiography is testament to his determination, his endeavour and his responsibility. There’s also an incredible maturity, a willingness to accept his flaws and crucially work at them and to understand the importance of the team and to play his part.

There is much to enjoy in the book about life at Liverpool, the early days of Klopp’s reign, struggles with injury, memorable nights (for different reasons) in Kyiv and Madrid and that compelling first Premier League title in thirty years, but what defines Henderson are his values and his ethos. He speaks eloquently and honestly on everything from the pressures of social media and the challenges of criticism to racism, the failed Super League and the privileges of being a footballer. His words carry weight, as do his actions, and on and off the pitch he epitomises what it means to be a captain, what it means to be a leader, what it means to be a role model. With him, Liverpool have experienced one of their most successful periods in history – a coincidence, I think not. Without him, this would have been a very different story.

With or without him? I suspect Liverpool fans would say with him, 100%.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Michael Joseph. October 2022. Hardcover: 336 pages)


Buy the book here: Jordan Henderson

Book Review: Hutch, Hard Work and Belief: The Tommy Hutchison Story with Kevin Shannon

Old school.

If it is not tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, I have a heavy fancy it shall be on his gravestone.

Tommy Hutchison is old school. Given the subtitle of his book – Hard Work and Belief – it could be very little else. This is a biography grown out of love and that drips from every syllable on the pages. It has heart and it has soul. And the fact that in a modern world, we can often dismiss the values and views of those who have lived a life is dispelled in the final few chapters as former Scottish international and current Coventry City legend Hutchison, is shown to be a guy who wants to give back to the community in a way that many who are “old school” are believed to be incapable.

Starting from the Raws in Fife where his hard-working family brought Tommy up, this is exactly the type of rags to fame story which Scottish football does so well – the big three Shankly, Busby and Stein come to mind. But it is a lot more than that. The surprise, by the end of the book, is that this has not been ghost written by a journalist but by a fan. It’s what might be described as a vanity project but the one quality missing from the entire enterprise is vanity.

Of course, this means that much of the narrative is unchallenged, that it lacks some of the critical poise that a seasoned journalist may bring and there is a lack, at times, of the perspective of others when facts are presented as fact, but it is a tremendous read. That lack of context can be difficult as you are reading through a story which is not anchored in the events of its time. You can forget what else was happening in the world and without a journalistic attention to the detail much can be left unchallenged, however, this is a modest subject matter not given to hyperbole or boastfulness; they would never allow him away with oany o that in Dundonald efter aw.

And so, we begin in Fife, a kingdom not without its troubles but it certainly had quite a few hearts – though none of them lost to any in Midlothian. In the beauty of Dundonald a boy was born who was rubbish at football at school. That he became a Scottish international is one for the cliché comics but for us it is a revelation Hutchison uses in his teaching of other kids like himself as much as to show us all what such hard work and belief can bring. It was christened in the actions of his upbringing where the chimney sweep gets an honourable mention as much as does his father and mother. This is a boy who was gratefully raised by a village and of course we have the there was no… crime, anti-social behaviour etc tropes of the past and we were poor, but it was idyllic, until you read of his father’s troubles as a miner. His illness led to poverty and yes it was different then, but poverty is poverty. Hutchison may have struggled with the cost of a boot, but he never had his heart taken from him by a lack of support.

That schooling was not to be his master is a common enough theme for those whose intelligence is to be found at the end of your legs, but Hutchison does not forswear the needs of education. He trained and became a painter and decorator out of necessity – football was not a full time occupation for someone who started in the Juniors – and from the Bluebells, he went on an odyssey which is rich in experience and full of anecdotes. It is a rich tapestry which includes the “luck” of broken legs with the Wasps, the vagaries of managerial change at the seaside, the joys of promotion – premature or otherwise, the despair of relegation, working with legendary figures of the game like Bob Stokoe, a fairly unique barter system of ticket trading to make ends meet, and all of this, before he entered the field of play in a Scotland shirt.

Of course, there are many characters named along the way including one John Burridge who must have been very young when he appeared in Hutch’s career, as he appeared in a charity game in Edinburgh in the latter part of 2022 in his seventies!

Hutch’s transfer to Coventry City and elevation to the First Division meant he was in the shop window for the Scottish selectors. That is when I, as a young spectator became aware of him – the 1974 World Cup. It was the first World Cup of which I was aware. Scotland’s manager, Willie Ormond has always been cast as the gentile figure, not seen by many as a giant of the Scottish game despite being the only Scottish manager to get us to a World Cup and come home unbeaten – although still, by Tommy Docherty’s standards, home before the postcards. I read these chapters with great interest. The names around Hutch’s debut are legends themselves, McGrain, Dalglish, Jordan, Hay, the Lawman… But it is the detail both of the campaign to get to the World Cup and whilst they were there that was of huge interest. Penny pinching blazers who put an international squad up in a halls of residence for a World Cup final friendly, cockeyed commercial deals, a wholly forgettable World Cup song, and being unable to deal with recalcitrant rowers as well as one man who saw his stature greater than his height  – Billy Bremner – are all included, and I devoured them with eyes wide open.

Of revelations, there were none, but confirmations aplenty with an earnestness, a pride for wearing a jersey that meant so much to him and his wee boy self, which must have hurt when at the tender age of only 28, he had played his last for his country.

But then Manchester City came calling… Then eventually Burnley, the flirting with management that always seemed to involve flirting in one direction, and then Wales – Swansea City, where a man once his captain now became his manager and both had to deal with a chairman seemingly out of his depth and Merthyr Tydfil.

All are given to us with great glee especially when you could make sure the carpenter gave you the keys to the drinks room…

And so, of the man whose best international goal was in a Home International defeat, who took his steer as a captain from a Welshman rather than a Scot, his spat with Jimmy Hill, rollercoaster relationship with John Bond that began with a dip, why he may never be welcomed in Sunderland, his retail acumen or lack thereof, the final where he scored twice, for each team, the times he played for Manchester United and why, his foreign odysseys in Seattle and with Bulova involved injustice in New York and a trophy for Mr. Gentleman in Hong Kong. They are told with sufficient detail of the experience and a modesty in each accomplishment.

Then came retirement from playing and possibly the most surprising part of the whole book – his role as a Football Development Officer. The way that it is told, Hutch wanted nothing to do with the professional side of the game once the boots were hung up and the managerial merry go-round was firmly shut. I was and still am an Academy Director. You get your fair share of former professionals who still believe they are the epitome of what it means to be a professional footballer and that they are still, mentally, playing each Saturday at 3pm. Here is a Football Development Officer who just happens to be a former professional footballer. Hutch approached this task with the same professional attitude which saw him turn up in shirt and tie and train in the best of facilities because that is what was deserved. Hutch took on his new role with relish – and raised his own wages whilst doing it too. There is something of the son of the Raws here which shines through.

And so why should I be surprised? Throughout the anecdotes have dwelled upon chimney sweeps with an unfortunate streak, a man covered in snuff, a sage tea lady and a family who may never have pulled on the shirt of their country but whose heart burst with pride that their son did. It is the story of a man who lived a dream and knew it. His best role, father, husband, son, prepared him for his public one and with Kevin Shannon wielding the pen he has found a muse to tell the tale and tell it well. As he was once told when down in the dumps because he thought he did not belong at a trial, he was told, “Well ye must hae something otherwise ye wouldnae be here” – aye he did indeed and now we can all share in the reading of it. Oh, the wisdom of tea ladies…

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. October 2022. Hardcover: 320 pages)


Buy the book here: Hutch