Clive Allen is one of the finest goalscorers of his generation but arguably his biggest battle has been to prove himself the best in his own family.

His remarkable 49-goal haul for Tottenham in the 1986-87 season still stands as a club-record which earned him the rare dual honour of Professional Footballers Association Player of the Year and Football Writers Association Player of the Year in addition to the First Division Golden Boot.

That stunning achievement is the apotheosis of a career which began at Queens Park Rangers before becoming English footballs first million-pound teenager when signing for Arsenal in 1980.

Yet, in one of the most mysterious transfers of modern times, Clive was sold to Crystal Palace without playing a game and went on to represent eight more clubs including a year in France with Bordeaux before a brief stint as an NFL kicker for the London Monarchs.

Read our review here: Book Review: Clive Allen – Up Fron (footballbookreviews.com)

(Publisher: deCoubertin Books. October 2019. Hardback: 300 pages)

Book Review: Clive Allen – Up Front with James Olley

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

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

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

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

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

(deCoubertin Books, October 2019. Hardcover 300pp)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(deCoubertin Books, September 2019. Hardcover 250pp)


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Book Review: Money Can’t Buy Us Love: Everton in the 1960s by Gavin Buckland

Gavin Buckland is Everton’s official statistician, so the book is almost certain to be factually accurate and it is clearly a labour of love for the author. So far so good. And, although it is possibly too detailed at times, it is an enjoyable read. Evertonians of a certain vintage will surely lap it up; a chronicle of a time when the club won two Championships and the FA Cup, an era when stars like Alan Ball and Alex Young were in their pomp. Plus a nostalgic look back to when Toffee fans led the country in smashing up football train specials…

But the ‘so far so good’ point is that there is way too much detail for the less devoted fan and the book’s title is simply not accurate. When we reach the end of the 1960s, Buckland decides, since he’s enjoying himself so much, to simply keep going and we get not just the bonus of 1970 (which makes some sense as it is the completion of Everton’s second title winning season) but then 1971 sneaks in. Ok, room for one more, but what’s this? 1971 says, ‘Can my pal come, too?’ so we get 1972. And guess what? 1972 wants his pal so we get 1973 before finally calling a halt to the ‘sixties’.

There is some reason for all this. The central pivot of the book is the contribution made to the club’s success by chairman John Moores, founder of Littlewoods Pools, in combination with manager Harry Catterick. Each of them still wielded strong influence in the early years of the 1970s making a neat cut off point extra difficult. But this also brings another problem. The central premise is that Everton bought their success and it made them very unpopular, hence the title and word play on the Beatles’ hit ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. The author clearly proves his case going into bagfuls of detail and quoting extensively from the press, especially the quality press. The second championship, centred on the famous ‘holy trinity’ of Ball, Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey. However, they were noted for the fine football they played and that central premise no longer holds true.

Trying to pour too much into a pint pot? For sure and I fear it therefore narrows the likely audience which is a shame because there are tons of really interesting stories and facts within, for instance the Football Bribes Scandal of the early sixties is dealt with expertly. Everton were the innocent victims of it as they lost a real star in Tony Kay who had accepted a bribe whilst still at Sheffield Wednesday and was banned from football for life.

There is plenty of gossip such as how the unhappy former goalkeeper Albert Dunlop alleged that Everton players tried to bribe the opposition. His case was not proven but they say some mud always sticks…

And first team coach Stewart Imlach earned himself a punch in the face for his dismissive treatment of misfit striker Bernie Wright. Not a good idea to treat a moody reject so badly then run past him in training, it seems.

Too many times, Buckland slips into straightforward reportage of game after game but his details of the battles fought out between Everton and Leeds United are fascinating and he tells with relish of the confrontations between two very hard men Jack Charlton and Johnny Morrissey. Among the excellent photographs is the famous one where the referee had to take both teams off the pitch to let things cool down. Former Everton hero (and another hard man) Bobbie Collins, by then at Leeds, and Everton’s Brian Labone are walking off side by side and Labone is literally head and shoulders above Collins. A great picture about a time in football that the author recounts pretty well. It deserves a wider audience because there is so much in the book to enjoy.


Graeme Garvey

(deCoubertin Books, August 2019 363pp)


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Book Review (Part 1): World in Motion – The Inside Story of Italia ’90: The tournament that changed football by Simon Hart

It’s probably because so much is hinted at in the title that he couldn’t resist the temptation. Plus there is a striking cover picture of Gazza, as I recall. A successful book, like a baited hook, attracts and then captures the reader. I think it could be true in this case but I really don’t know yet since someone has got my review copy and won’t give it back!

It might come as a surprise to avid readers about World Cups that a particular hotbed is the bus depot of the East Yorkshire Motor Services (EYMS) in Pocklington. I base that claim on the Missing Book Mystery.

All began well as I met the esteemed FBR top man in York to collect my copy of ‘World in Motion’ and for, ok, one or two beers. Whenever we meet, we always talk about football so there was plenty of speculation between us as to what Simon Hart had to say and why he thought it was the ‘tournament that changed football’. I noticed envious glances being shot at the book by other customers as it rested on the seat next to me in the Guy Fawkes Inn, those glances being presumably drawn by the action pic of Gazza. Clearly, the cover is well-chosen.

The Final of Italia ’90 – spoiler alert, West Germany won – was at the Stadio Olympico in Rome, pretty close to the Vatican, which is apt in a way because here comes a confession. I had actually made a start on the book on the (last) bus back to Pocklington. The usual things; check out the author, Simon Hart, and the publisher, deCoubertin Books from footie mad Liverpool. Chapter headings and general layout all seemed sound, providing a clear narrative structure. I put it on the seat beside me for the remainder of the journey. You know how it is, though, what with the steady engine hum and slight rocking motion of the bus, I might, just might that is, have drifted off a little. Whatever, when the bus stopped at the depot in Pocklington, I got off but the book didn’t.

I figured there would be no problem in calling round for it at the next opportunity and when I did so was greeted in a polite and friendly manner whilst somebody whizzed off to look for it. There’s a hint of Camberwick Green about the town but it was soon to seem more like Hot Fuzz. They said that though they were certain it was somewhere in the depot – and here comes the Missing Book Mystery part – the book had mysteriously gone missing. They were full of apologies and promised to find it for me. This they attempted to do with some vigour.

In an appeal to the purloiner, EYMS, I understand, launched the biggest poster campaign since Chairman Mao gave everyone in China a sheet of A4 and a red crayon – but still to no avail, the magical pull of ‘World in Motion’ has proven too potent a force. Some driver has been so hooked (see above) that he simply can’t let it go, or it won’t let him go. I am left wondering precisely what has struck a chord in the book thief’s psyche? I suppose the first thing is that, for a country bus driver, the ‘World in Motion’ part of the title chimes with his life, never still, always on the go. But deeper and darker, maybe, is that he absolutely has to know. Drawn by the eye-catching cover like others before him, he has been forced to look inside, the only place to discover the ‘inside story’ about what exactly happened that ‘changed football’.

One or more of those reasons might account for why it went but why has it not been returned? I understand EYMS even offered a temporary Book Amnesty but that also failed. Perhaps he can’t bear to share and it has been snaffled home to take pride of place in a small trophy cabinet? Possibly a surreptitious read is taken whenever the driver stops for his lunch break, tucked away somewhere deep in the Yorkshire Wolds? It could be that Simon Hart’s narrative, as he chronicles that defining tournament, has entranced him. After all, Hart is an experienced sports journalist who has been to the past five World Cups.

But what if it’s a, dare I say it, conspiracy and several drivers are involved in a cover-up? What if they all are? What if…

EYMS and I have had to concede that the review copy has found a permanent home elsewhere. But I will not be beaten. However, I have learnt my lesson and my second review copy will be arriving safely by post. Its contents must not be revealed on the packaging, though, lest it proves too enticing a prospect for the postie this time and the whole, ‘Can we have our book back?’ process starts again.

Part 2 Review

Graeme Garvey

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