Book Review – The Reality of the Dream: My unique journey from non-league to the Premier League by Malcolm Christie

At the back of Malcolm Christie’s biography titled The Reality of the Dream, is a table showing his appearances and goals from his youth and amateur career and his time in the semi-professional and professional game. Putting aside Christie’s scoring record as an amateur and youth player, what stands out is that as a professional from 1998 to 2009 – some 11 years – he only managed 132 starts and 51 appearances from the bench. Now it could be interpreted that at his three clubs, Derby County, Middlesbrough and Leeds United, the management team simply didn’t ‘fancy’ Christie and so his first team opportunities were limited. However, the reality is that his career was decimated by a series of debilitating injuries which meant Christie was more familiar with the treatment room than the dressing room and therefore unsurprisingly features large in this autobiography.

The book opens with two Forewords, one from Steve Round and the other from Steve McClaren who worked as assistant and manager, respectively, during Christie’s spells at Derby County and Middlesbrough. It also includes an Introduction from current England manager, Gareth Southgate, who was Middlesbrough skipper and then manager during Christie’s time at the Riverside Stadium. All as you would expect praising Christie’s character during his difficult playing career.

As readers we first hear Christie’s ‘voice’ in the Prologue, which details his goal at Old Trafford on May 2001 as Derby beat the Premier League Champions elect, a result which would see the Rams eventually hold onto their top-flight status. It is undoubtedly the highlight of Christie’s career, with him scoring against the club he supported since boyhood and its importance in Derby’s fight to avoid the drop, providing it with immense significance.

The story then opens with the first of 24 chapters as it goes back to Christie’s childhood, and his playing days at school, detailing how he came to support Manchester United, despite growing up in Lincolnshire. Although rejected by Peterborough United early on, Christie found his way into the professional game after a successful spell at non-league Nuneaton Borough, scoring 14 goals in 21 games. Jim Smith was the Derby County manager in 1998 and he signed the 19 year old Christie, who at the time besides his part-time football was working in Somerfield’s supermarket. Having not come through an Academy meant that Christie (as he admits in the book) wasn’t grounded and groomed in the same way as other young professionals and so wasn’t confident in this new environment and indeed his first experience as a substitute warming up at Anfield in the Premier League was an eye-opener for the teenage Christie.

1998/99 though saw Christie make his Premier League debut with two substitute appearances, first against Sheffield Wednesday on 30 January 1999 and then on 20 March 1999 against Leeds United. In the following season, 1999/2000, Derby started badly and by December had only three wins from seventeen games and were in one of the relegation spots. Christie too was struggling on a personal level after receiving a misguided Secret Santa gift from a fellow player, “I became even more self-conscious and retreated further into my shell…I spent too much energy trying to be the person I thought people wanted me to be, instead of being my normal self. As a result, my teammates never got to know the real me.” Nonetheless, on 15 January 2000, Christie made his first start for the Rams and scored twice as they beat Middlesbrough on their own patch 4-1. It saw him finish the campaign with six goals from ten starts as well as eleven appearances off the bench and earning him the Club’s Young Player of the Year award. This brought Christie to the attention of Howard Wilkinson who was then the England U21 manager, who had guided his team to the European Championships in the summer of 2000. Having flown out to Slovakia, Christie was not included in the final squad so returned to the UK. He then contracted viral meningitis and as would sadly happen on other occasions in later years, found his fitness hit by illness and injury.

Thankfully in this case, Christie’s absence from the first-time wasn’t a long one and he returned to duty in early September 2000 with Derby once again getting off to a poor start in their league campaign. However, it proved to be a memorable one as Christie finished as Derby’s league goals top scorer with 12, the Rams retained their Premier League status, and he scored his first England for the England U21s. However, what topped it off for Christie was becoming a sticker in the Panini Premier League album! It illustrates how much of a fan he was and retained a schoolboy enthusiasm even as a top-flight professional.

However, after dodging the bullet of relegation in two previous seasons and despite the addition of Fabrizio Ravanelli the club was relegated at the end of the 2001/02 campaign. Christie stayed at the Pride Park for the start of the following season but departed for then Premier league Middlesbrough on deadline day in January 2003 in a joint deal with Chris Riggott who was to have a significant impact on Christie’s career. At that time, Boro’ were a decent side under Steve McClaren with the like of Gareth Southgate, Croatian striker Alan Boksic and Brazilian superstar Juninho in the squad.

Whilst things on the pitch were good for Christie as he scored in his first start, he reflects that it was a period when his mental health was suffering to the extent that, “my anxiety levels had been increasing at an alarming rate since the 2002 Euros and by the time I joined Middlesbrough, I was no longer able to suppress it and I began to suffer with bouts of double vision.” Indeed, Christie is open throughout the book on his struggles acknowledging that stress wasn’t viewed by sport and indeed society back then as a real issue, which thankfully today is being addressed.

With the 2002/03 season at an end, Christie underwent surgery for a groin injury and removal of his tonsils which impacted his pre-season preparation. However, battling the physical tiredness and on-going mental issues, he started the season, scoring the winner in extra-time against Brighton in the League, a goal that would set Boro’ on their way to Wembley. For Christie though what happened next was to change things irrevocably.

“I will never forget the 4th November 2003. It was the day my life changed forever. It was the day my football career ended. It’s as simple as that.”

In a routine training session, Christie had his leg broken in a tackle with Chris Riggott who had joined Middlesbrough with Christie. Christie attached no blame then or in the book for what happened. He wasn’t out of plaster until February 2004 so was not part of the Boro’ squad which went on to win the League Cup. Christie like the other injured players were kept away from the squad on the day and it deeply hurt him. “Whilst the Boro’ players were celebrating in the dressing room…myself and the other cast-offs…were boarding a coach back to the airport, again missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.” His feelings were that strong that he did not attend a celebration dinner and had to be persuaded by manager Steve McClaren to be part of the bus-top parade to show off the trophy.

With the dawn of the new season and Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup, Christie was still struggling with is leg despite playing for the reserves and a sub appearance in Europe against Banik Ostrava. Eventually he had a CT scan which revealed his leg was still effectively broken and so required surgery. Christie pulls no punching in being critical of the treatment he received and the impact it had on his physical and mental health. He returned to action 15 months later in February 2005, scoring on his return at Portsmouth only to be injured in his next match with a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal, which required surgery.

2005/06 saw Middlesbrough back in the UEFA Cup and Christie back in pre-season training. However, once again the footballing gods were not on his side as operations were needed to deal with the rod in his leg which was causing knee problems and nerve problems in his feet. Even after coming through these and returning to training, injury struck again with a re-fractured foot. Whilst he sat on the side-lines, Boro’ reached the FA Cup Semi-Final and UEFA Cup Final, the most successful period of their history. By April 2006 Christie was back in action, and unlike the League Cup previously travelled as part of the squad to the UEFA Cup Final in Eindhoven.

The following season Steve McClaren left the Riverside Stadium to become England manager with Gareth Southgate coming in as Boro’ gaffer. Once again Christie suffered another injury, this time, torn ankle ligaments. Returning in November 2006 he scored against Aston Villa, a first goal in 21 months. In a stop start season, Christie started his final match for Boro’ in April 2007 playing a full ninety minutes for the first time in three and a half years. With his contract expiring in June 2007 his time on Teesside was over. As with some much of this book, Christie is honest about his mindset at the time, “leaving was the right thing for me and the club, I needed to get away from football for a bit…part of me had given up and I’d begun to fall out of love with the beautiful game.”

Without a club, Christie went on trial at Hull City in what provided to be another demoralising experience with him suffering some poor treatment by then Tigers manager Phil Brown. Burton Albion offered a contract which Christie turned down and was then given a lifeline trialling at Leeds United in January 2008. However, unbelievably in training Christie suffered a fractured spine which meant that he didn’t play a single game in 2007/08. In November 2008 he signed for Leeds and debuted against Northampton Town in the FA Cup. With Leeds manager Gary McAllister keen to sign Christie, he was then sacked and replaced by Simon Grayson. With his back problems persisting the final straw for Christie came in late January 2009 when after not being picked for a game against Peterborough United and an overhead outburst from Grayson, Christie walked away from football. Christie reflects on the moment saying, “my overriding emotion was one of pure relief. My injury problems had started way back in November 2003 and had dragged on through to January 2009…over five years of injury hell.”

The final chapter explores Christie’s life after his playing career, which saw him work in the motor industry until 2019 and find a more settled family life, reconnecting with his parents once more. Christie though rediscovered his love for the game through his boys, leading to him setting up his own Academy, Christie Coaching. As this review is written Christie has taken up a post at former club Middlesbrough as a Youth Development Phase Coach and one can hope that he translates the undoubtedly ability he had as a player to the youngsters under his charge.

The Reality of the Dream is an incredibly honest account. As readers we share the joy of his journey to being a Premier League player and scoring the winner against his boyhood club. However, equally it is not an easy read at times as you feel Christie’s anxiety, pain and torment as his career drifts away from the high of that goal at Old Trafford in May 2001 through the strength sapping injuries to the low of walking away from Elland Road in January 2009. Christie is open about his mental health struggles, and it is hoped that this book has been cathartic and part of the process in his healing process and his re-engagement with the game that he loves.

(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. June 2022. Paperback: 248 pages)


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When Jim Smith took charge of Derby County in the summer of 1995, he joined a club needing to balance the books after several seasons of failing to reach the Premier League. Little was expected of him.

Yet alongside Steve McClaren, Smith oversaw a transformation that took Derby to a new home, a new division and to the brink of European competition for the first time since the days of Dave Mackay. Smith built a side capable of matching the very best in English football, amassing an array of international talent almost never before seen in the British game, alongside hugely impressive home-grown players.

This is the story of Jim Smith’s Derby County, told with the exclusive insights of Smith’s players, coaching staff, friends and supporters.

Rams legends including Igor Stimac, Stefano Eranio and Steve McClaren speak in depth on what made that Derby County side, while those closest to Jim reveal what the legendary man-manager was like to deal with, both in and out of football.


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2022. Hardcover: 336 pages)

Book Review – “Gimme The Ball”: My Take On The Beautiful Game by Terry Curran with John Brindley

In October 2012, Terry Curran, released his autobiography Regrets of a Football Maverick in conjunction with journalist John Brindley, a warts and all account of life both on and off the field. Nine years later, post-COVID, Curran once again teamed up with Brindley for a second book, “Gimme The Ball”: My Take On The Beautiful Game.

Whereas Regrets of a Football Maverick followed a fairly conventional timeline, i.e. Curran’s childhood, growing up, football career, and life post-football,  his second offering takes a slightly different approach in that the various chapters are divided into three parts, My Football Favourites, My Football Career and Modern Day Football.

My Football Favourites is made up of four chapters. The first two look at Curran’s relationship with two of his former bosses, Jack Charlton and Brian Clough and his admiration for George Best. Whilst many of the anecdotes of these three football legends are repeated from Curran’s first book, what comes across more strongly is the respect, admiration and genuine love he still holds for Charlton and Clough despite the, at times, tempestuous relationship they shared. The remaining two chapters within part one, deal with the club that Curran supports and is probably best known for playing – Sheffield Wednesday. First, Curran reflects on how the 1966 FA Cup Final when The Owls blew a two-goal lead to Everton, saw him become a supporter of the club from Hillsborough. He follows this will his view of the heights of the Ron Atkinson and Trevor Francis eras and the lows since as Wednesday continue to bounce between the Championship and League One, without any prospect of a return to the Premier League in sight. What is evident is Curran’s affection for the club and its fans, and his overriding belief that The Owls should be in English football’s top-flight.

Part two of this book, My Football Career, constitutes the biggest section with seven chapters and as its title suggests follows Curran’s path in the game from his first professional club, Doncaster Rovers in 1973 to his final football league appearance for Chesterfield in 1987. Whilst Curran played for more than a dozen clubs, he is best known for his time at Sheffield Wednesday and to a lesser extent spells at Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Southampton and Everton, where at these last two clubs he picked up a Wembley appearance and League Cup runners-up medal and First Division Championship medal respectively. Once again some of the stories and details are repeated from Curran’s first book, but what emerges strongly from this section, are the regrets he has with some of the choices he made in his career and ‘what might have been’ if Curran hadn’t suffered injuries at certain crucial times. Part two also includes Curran’s brief time as a manager on the non-league circuit at Goole and Mossley and his subsequent coaching career. This final chapter within part two provides his forthright opinion of the way youngsters are coached, providing a neat link into the final part and chapter of the book, Modern Day Football.

Within this closing part of the book, Curran offers his views on topics including Gareth Southgate’s reign as England boss, football post-COVID, VAR, BLM, the Premier League, overseas players and coaches and Women’s football. As with his playing days, Curran takes no prisoners and displays the same confidence when offering his opinion on these areas of the game today. Not everyone will agree with his sentiments, but it should be said that Curran is not afraid to say his piece and is being true to himself.


(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. September 2021. Paperback: 250 pages)


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Like most young boys, Malcolm Christie grew up dreaming of becoming a professional footballer.

Rejected by his hometown club Peterborough United and working at Somerfield supermarket, playing amateur football at 19, Malcolm thought the moment had passed him by.

But dreams do come true.

Just months after he was stacking shelves, Malcolm was playing for Derby County in the Premier League. International honours and a big money move to Middlesbrough followed as Malcolm became one of English footballs brightest prospects until a succession of injuries led to a premature end of his promising football career.

The Reality of the Dream chronicles the amazing story of Malcolm Christie’s journey to become the only person in history to go straight from non-league to scoring in the Premier League and representing his country without ever joining a professional academy.

Sad, funny and often emotional, Malcolm’s unique tale provides a brutally honest insight into the reality of life as a footballer, an injured footballer and worse – a retired footballer.

(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. June 2022. Paperback: 248 pages)

“GIMME THE BALL”: MY TAKE ON THE BEAUTIFUL GAME by Terry Curran with John Brindley

From watching Sheffield Wednesday and England in the golden year of 1966 to football in the age of Covid 19, Owls idol Terry Curran shoots from the hip as he explores the good, bad and ugly sides of the ‘beautiful game’.

He introduces you to ‘greats’ George Best, Alan Ball and Brian Clough who inspired his own exciting and unpredictable career and reveals his explosive but close relationship with Jack Charlton.

From rock bottom Doncaster Rovers to First Division champions Everton, TC lit up the game with his blistering pace and appetite for the unexpected. Yet his heart was always with The Owls whose rise and fall he writes of as a fan as well as a never-to-be-forgotten player.

A footballer, who always did things his way, TC’s views on modern day football are also ‘out of the box’. He explains why coaching methods have left his club and country behind the times – and calls for radical change.

There’s humour and slapstick from one of football’s great characters who refuses to compromise the principles he learnt playing for Clough’s Forest. Warning: If you pick up this book you won’t want to put it down!

(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. September 2021. Paperback: 250 pages)

Follow on Twitter Terry Curran Official (@terrycurran_11) / Twitter

REGRETS OF A FOOTBALL MAVERICK: The Terry Curran Autobiography

Terry Curran’s confessional is a no holds barred tale of football guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of fans who remember the game’s golden age of Cloughie, Tommy Docherty, Lawrie McMenemy, Jack Charlton and Howard Kendall.

Sheffield Wednesday’s all-time cult hero opens his heart about football in the 1970s and 80s, with great off-field tales to make your hair curl. Brilliant and unpredictable on the pitch, argumentative and hot headed off it, Terry Curran thrilled and entertained, leaving great and unusual memories. Yet in Regrets of a Football Maverick he reveals how his contentious nature caused him to miss out on his destiny.

Highlights include learning from Cloughie, being a saint and a sinner with England World Cup hero Alan Ball, the Boxing Day Massacre and doing a Carlos Tevez at Everton. Terry’s story will transport you back to an era of great games, goals and girls – but not necessarily in that order.

WARNING: Terry Curran’s story may offend the politically correct!

(Publisher: Vertical Editions. October 2012. Hardback: 272 pages)

Read our review here: Regrets of a Football Maverick

Follow on Twitter Terry Curran Official (@terrycurran_11) / Twitter


In 1973, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor stunned the football world by taking charge of Brighton & Hove Albion, a sleepy backwater club that had rarely done anything in its 72-year existence to trouble the headline writers. The move made no sense. Clough was managerial gold dust, having led Derby County to the Football League title and the semi-finals of the European Cup. He and his sidekick Peter Taylor could have gone anywhere. Instead they chose Brighton, sixth bottom of the old Third Division.

Featuring never-before-told stories from the players who were there, Bloody Southerners lifts the lid for the first time on what remains the strangest managerial appointment in post-war English football, one that would push Clough and Taylor’s friendship and close working relationship to breaking point.

Read our review here: Book Review: Bloody Southerners – Clough and Taylor’s (

(Publisher: Biteback Publishing. October 2018. Paperback: 320 pages)

THE DAMNED UTD by David Peace

In 1974 the brilliant and controversial Brian Clough made perhaps his most eccentric decision: he accepted the position of Leeds United manager. A successor to Don Revie, his bitter adversary, Clough was to last just 44 days.

In one of the most acclaimed British novels of recent years – subsequently made into a film starring Michael Sheen – David Peace takes us into the mind and thoughts of Ol’ Big ‘Ead himself and brings vividly to life one of football’s most complex and fascinating characters.

(Publisher: Faber & Faber. Main edition April 2007. Paperback: 368 pages)


After a trophy-laden and record-setting club and international career, England’s greatest ever goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, could rightly look forward to an equally successful post-playing career. But a gambling habit forged in his playing days soon spiralled into a gambling addiction: a silent, self-destructive and ruinous obsession that destroyed relationships, his mental health and very nearly himself.

With the love and support of his wife Steph, he was able to face up to his addiction, find hope for the future and overcome his 45-year secret and turn his life around.

Peter and Steph – who has over 20 years’ experience working in the NHS – now campaign to raise awareness of this, and other destructive addictions, helping both addicts and their partners weather the long and arduous journey back to recovery. Their support for and work with ‘The Big Step’ campaign aims to bring in stricter advertising controls and team kit sponsorship rules.

Steph and Peter bravely tell both sides of their journey with a direct honesty and an empathy born of real-life experience, offering advice and hope to not only those affected by gambling, but sufferers of other chronic addictions. They also shine a light on football’s obsession with gambling, taking millions of pounds from the gambling sites and bookies who sponsor the game, while neglecting to support both the players and fans who fall prey to addiction.

This is the ultimately uplifting story of how he was saved – by Steph’s love and support, and his own strength and determination.

(Publisher: Ad Lib Publishers Ltd. September 2021. Hardcover: 288 pages)

Book Review – The Early Years of Belper Town Football Club 1878-1912: From Windmill Lane to the Acorn Ground by Mike Smith

Belper Town Football Club, nicknamed The Nailers, are a club based in Derbyshire, in a town approximately 7 miles north of Derby, who in the 2020/21 football season were plying their trade in the Northern Premier League, South/East Division (level 8 of the English Football Pyramid, where the Premier League is level 1).

Their unusual nickname came about because the craft of nail making began in Belper in the Middle Ages when it was the site of a hunting lodge for John of Gaunt. The huntsmen needed nails for the shoes of their horses and the trade in nails eventually grew. It was a domestic industry with the Nailers working in family groups but, in 1861, the introduction of machinery to manufacture nails was the beginning of the end for the local trade which died out altogether at the beginning of the century to be replaced by modern industry and commerce in the town. Like the nail making industry, Belper Town FC has faded away in the past and Mike Smith’s book, The Early Years of Belper Town Football Club 1878-1912: From Windmill Lane to the Acorn Ground tells the story of the first incarnation of the football club.

The clubs current badge (see right) states 1883 as the date of formation, Smith though in the book states, looking at various precedents I would argue that Belper Town were formed in 1878 rather than 1883. Part of this conclusion from the author is the existence of Belper St Peter’s FC (who changed their name to Belper Town FC for 1883/84 season) playing games as early as 1878.

This book which is an incredible piece of research and which must have taken an inordinate amount of patience and persistence, seeks to detail the highs and lows of the club, both on and off the pitch, during The Nailers initial manifestation as a football club. In addition to a season by season description and match reports of the games played by Belper Town, there are sections, which highlight some of the important names involved with the club in the late 19th and early 20th century and also contains a number of photographs and a detailed statistical record of the club including results, scorers and league tables.

Amongst the early highlights of the club was an FA Cup First Round tie against Sheffield Wednesday on 15 October 1887 in which Belper were narrowly defeated 3-2 by the Yorkshire giants. However, to put this into context, in the 1887/88 season this was before the age of qualifying rounds. Belper had other success during its early days, with Derby & District League titles in 1899/1900 and 1900/01 as well as five Derbyshire Divisional Cup wins between 1901 and 1907.

It is all too easy to forget that the game back then was a very different one to that we watch today. As an example, goals were still able to be scored by “scrimmage” i.e. where players bunch together to force the ball over the line, as still occurs in rugby union today. Smith also details how often games were not ninety minutes, for instance, due to teams turning up late and the light not being sufficient to complete a normal game, or where the pitch conditions or weather reduced playing time. In addition, many games took place with teams not able to play with a full compliment of players and so teams scoring six plus goals was not uncommon, with many netting double-figures.

Alongside the realities of Victorian football, the author provides readers with some absolute gems of stories, such as from the November 1896 Derbyshire FA meeting. Buxton Football Club complained about injuries to several of their players, caused by a member of the Bonsall Football Club who had an artificial arm…After a long debate it was decided that players with artificial arms should take them off before taking part in any game.” Additionally, Smith details events such as the mind-boggling “Man v Elephant” football games and even drops in an outline of Belper Town’s brief flirtation with baseball in 1900. IT is easy to forget that the game was popular in England with the Baseball Ground, first used as the home of Derby Baseball Club from 1890 until 1898 and then for football as the home of Derby County from 1895 until 1997.

Whilst the game was very different back then, there are some things in the sport that don’t change and that is in relation to finance and the pull of the professional clubs. The Nailers demise, as they were unable to complete the 1911/12 season, came about through the declining gates that meant the club were running at a loss, due in part to the draw of other clubs in the area especially of Derby County who were one of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888. The reality though for The Nailers was that it would not be until 1951 that Belper Town got back on its feet and become the club that exists today.

Some might argue that books such as this have a very limited market, but the reality is that it will appeal to anyone interested in the early origins of the game and social history of the time, especially those in the Derbyshire region, as the background to the rivalries with the likes of Buxton, Gresley Rovers, Matlock Town and Ilkeston Town are detailed from the Victorian era.


(Michael John Kirk Smith. April 2020. Paperback 260 pages)


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