Book Review: Bournemouth 90 by Billy Morris

Saturday 05 May 1990. Bournemouth v Leeds United. The final game of the season. Win and Leeds would return to the top flight of English football after an eight year absence. Lose and Sheffield United could pip their West Yorkshire rivals to promotion. What followed that Bank Holiday weekend on the south coast is remembered as one of triumph for the Elland Road club on the pitch, with Lee Chapman’s goal enough to earn a 1-0 victory, but which was marred by serious violence off it. And it is against this backdrop that this fictional novel takes its title.

Of the 190 pages of this engaging, gritty, fast-paced and at times brutal dark crime thriller, all but the final eight, are set between Monday 09 April 1990 and Sunday 06 May 1990. The significance of the dates are that the first sees the central character Neil Yardsley released from prison after three years as he returns to his home city of Leeds and the second is the day after the Bournemouth v Leeds fixture; very much the ‘morning after the night before’.

Whilst the match on the south coast is the culmination of the story in a football sense, it is also the setting as other plot-lines come to a head. Indeed, whilst football is featured with Neil’s return to his mates and the ritual of attending games back at Elland Road, Morris draws in a number of other themes such as family, belonging, loyalty and betrayal as Neil’s attempt to go straight are side-tracked as he becomes drawn into the dark side of the crime, gang and drug scene in the city.

The author was born in Leeds and so the language used (and which he explains in a preface, Accents, Dialects and Pronunciation) has an entirely authentic feel, as do his descriptions of the various pubs, bars and landmarks in the city from the 1990s. This extends to his description of the football casuals scene as fashion shifted from denim clad skinheads to flick-haired Pringle wearing gangs, all giving the novel a ‘real’ feel.

What also helps provide an authenticity is the short headlines at the beginning of some chapters that gives readers context to events of the time, whether that be describing the nervous form the Elland Road team were going through as the season reached its conclusion or events in Britain in a year that saw Margaret Thatcher eventually stand down as Prime Minister.

This is undoubtedly a fast paced unflinching read, with the 48 short-sharp chapters keeping readers engaged and driving them on through to its conclusion, with the final chapter six months on after the events in Bournemouth providing one final twist.

(Publisher: Independent. August 2021. Paperback: 191 pages)


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Book Review: It Shouldn’t Happen to a Manager – How to survive the world’s hardest job by Harry Redknapp

Since his stint in the Australian jungle on I’m a Celebrity last year, Harry Redknapp has fast become the nation’s favourite former football manager (unless, of course, you’re a Southampton fan – in which case however many critters Harry ate or dingo dollars he won, he’s probably still not on your Christmas card list). Whatever your thoughts on him, there’s no doubt that he’s certainly a character both on the touchline and off it, and if anyone has a story or two to tell from his footballing career, it’s Harry Redknapp.

Published in 2016, when he was better known as a football manager (still managing Jordan before going on to manage Birmingham City in 2017) rather than a ‘showbiz’ celebrity, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Manager (one of several books to have been published by Harry Redknapp and the most recent aside from his 2019 The World According to Harry) shares some of Harry’s stories from over five decades in football and his views on everything from agents to scouting to the modern obsession with sports science and stats. And, without doubt, there’s a sense in which Harry is one of the old guard of managers who belong to another era when footballers thought nothing of a post-match meal of fish and chips (and a pre-match pint or two), when managers could bawl players out without the threat of them storming off or calling in their agent, and when clubs couldn’t afford to put teams up in hotels for away matches let alone fly them by private jet.

Football has, inevitably, evolved and in lots of ways for the better, but Harry’s simple, common-sense attitude rings true on a number of fronts, not least in his insistence on the need to see a player live to judge them. Videos and stats can show you so much, but there’s nothing that compares to watching a player on a muddy pitch on a cold December day in England to see if they can hack it, as many fans will attest. Similarly, Harry’s concerns about the way that technology can get in the way of team spirit seems to be a simple but accurate truth. Whereas coach journeys, he says, used to be a great opportunity for players to bond, nowadays most players put their headphones on and don’t talk to anyone. He offers a perceptive point, too, about the amount of injuries in the modern game compared with earlier eras, despite the rise of sport science. Whilst he acknowledges the modern game is perhaps faster and more intense, he also points out the physicality of bygone eras, in which players kicked lumps out of each other on pitches that were more like dirt tracks than carpets.

Though in many ways Harry seems to be a product of a different time, in some ways he’s a timeless manager, not least in the emphasis he placed on player management and a holistic approach to understanding and managing individuals. Again, though, simplicity seems to be the key – as in the way he built his “tactics” on getting the ball to the best player! Although, I’m not entirely sure how successful this approach would be in motivating players who clearly know they’re not top dog – but it seemed to work at Bournemouth, Tottenham and Portsmouth. Harry also claims that the gap between divisions isn’t as wide as people think – whilst the quality may be noticeable between teams and leagues, there are individual players who are capable of playing higher up the football pyramid but have got stuck at a certain level. Similarly, Redknapp asserts there are players at top teams who struggle when dropping down the leagues. He seems to advocate the fact that there is a degree of luck, of being in the right place at the right time, on which footballers’ careers are made or broken. And, in much of what he says, Redknapp seems to hit the nail on the head.

In all, this is a really easy and enjoyable read from one of football’s last real characters. It sheds light on life as a football player and manager and the changing face of both. It also holds football’s past up against its present, highlighting the differences, both for better and for worse. At its crux, Redknapp maintains, football is a simple game, but the modern way seems to try and overcomplicate things and the old guard are at the risk of being left behind. But football’s loss has been entertainment’s gain in the form of Harry Redknapp, who comes across as an eminently likeable, straightforward and down-to-earth man – just the sort perhaps that seems to be missing in large part from football today.

Jade Craddock

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Book Review: Hard Case: The Autobiography of Jimmy Case with Andrew Smart

During my teenage years, Liverpool were the dominant team in England winning numerous domestic and European titles. Part of that side was Jimmy Case a Scouser with a reputation as a hard man.

However, it is all too easy to forget that he was also a player with a great deal of skill. If proof was needed then one only needs to checkout his goal in the 1977 FA Cup Final against Manchester United. Early in the second-half a ball is played into the box and Case with his back to goal, controls it on his right thigh, takes a touch with his right foot, turns and smashes it beyond the reach of Alex Stepney the Manchester United keeper. Quite simply a great goal executed with skill.

That game back in May 1977 opens the book, in a first chapter which looks at not only that appearance for Liverpool, but also for Brighton in the 1983 Final, when again Manchester United were the opponents.

The next ten chapters then take the reader through Case’s life in chronological order, from his childhood days growing up in Liverpool to retirement and a brief spell in management.

These chapters cover Case’s schooldays, his early adulthood training to be an electrician and his time playing for The Blue Union and Stevedores Dockers Social Club, before moving into the professional game with spells at Liverpool, Brighton (twice), Southampton, Bournemouth and Halifax Town. Case’s brief time playing for Wrexham, Darlington and Sittingbourne with managerial stints at Brighton and Bashley, is also covered. As you might expect the chapters are liberally sprinkled with tales of the trophy wins and losses, and anecdotes of events on and off the pitch.

Within two of the final three chapters, Case has the chance to look at the modern game and Liverpool in the 2013/14 season, offering his opinion on both. The final chapter provides the reader with tributes to Jimmy Case from those within the game.

This is the story of a player who perhaps never got the credit he deserved for what he brought to teams he was involved in. Certainly the fact that he didn’t earn a single senior cap irks Case and is probably justified as he was as good as anybody around during his pomp.

It is football from a different era and the book has that old fashioned feel and format to it. The conversational and anecdotal style reminds me of the football autobiographies I grew up reading. However, that isn’t a criticism; it’s simply that the game and the books written about it have moved on.


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2014/15: Sky Bet Championship Review – March 2015

This will be my penultimate Championship Review as this time next month it will be as they say ‘all over’. With a fist full of games remaining the only certainty is Blackpool have been put out of their misery and returned from where they emerged a few years ago after a calamitous season on and off the pitch.

The bottom three has included Wigan and Millwall for long periods and they remain favourites to join The Tangerines in League One, but I suspect Fulham, Rotherham and even Reading might still become involved. The fixtures between these sides become unbearable for the watching spectators with relief the overriding emotion at the final whistle.

With Blackpool and probably Wigan both recently dumped from the Premier League and heading for the third tier of English football could Fulham make it a trio? Personally, my opinion of promotion and relegation is swayed by simple geography, so Millwall and Reading can go for me. However, it looks like Wigan will depart the division as The Latics can’t buy a win at home. Still with events at the DW Stadium it was also interesting to see that Whelan Junior has acted to sack McKay to show Grandad who the boss is now!

Board room decisions are never far from my thoughts – Leeds rewarding a successful period of results and stability by sacking the under-performing coach, apparently removing the Sporting Director and asking Neil Redfearn to put the cones out and make the tea. Little wonder the worst results since Christmas followed as chaos returned to Elland Road. I could fill the remainder of this article with stories of film star takeovers, Fan Ownership and tax evasion Court Cases, but will leave that for next month.

The race for the TV millions is well and truly congested and I boldly predicted back in December 2014 that Norwich would fill one of the automatic spots when well off the pace, so I’m going to pat myself on the back because nobody else will! I actually had Derby to join them with Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Watford and Blackburn making up the play-off spots, so five out of six isn’t too bad. Once again, the travelling miles sway my choice of who goes up, so The Canaries, The Cherries and The Hornets can happily fly, pluck and buzz off for me and I believe they will.

Eddie Howe’s team continue to score goals a plenty and show no sign of faltering, Norwich have the best squad and experience and Watford take chances with a flamboyant attacking philosophy that makes them dangerous opponents. Derby and Boro’ can be brittle under pressure and expectancy might be too much for them, which could allow Wolves or Brentford to make a Wembley appearance.

Brave attempts by Forest, Blackburn and even Charlton Athletic to join the play-off hopefuls were always destined to fail such was the gap, but plenty of promise for next season. Sheffield Wednesday have had the middle of the table to themselves virtually all year without ever flirting with top or bottom in a rather dull season. You could add Cardiff to that list and latterly Birmingham who extracted themselves from a perilous position and have free wheeled since.

For those still involved in the business end of the season, enjoy or endure and this time next month all will have been revealed.


David Goodwill