Interview with Texi Smith, author of ‘Jarrod Black – Guilty Party’

Following the success of the first two Jarrod Black novels, Introducing Jarrod Black, and Jarrod Black – Hospital Pass, we at footballbookreviews (FBR) are delighted that there is a third offering in the series – Guilty Party. Ahead of our review of the book, we caught up with their author Texi Smith (TS) to talk all things ‘lockdown’ and what readers can expect from this latest instalment.

(FBR): What has lockdown been like for you?

(TS): Lockdown seems to have been a lot less traumatic in this part of the world. Australia has been locked down state by state. Apart from letting a cruise ship dock in Sydney and let out a group of contaminated people, New South Wales has been well contained. Only Victoria remains as the hot spot for the virus. Park football started up again at the beginning of July, the NRL (rugby league) and AFL (Australian Rules football) have been going for a few weeks now behind closed doors, and A-League (football) restarts in a couple of weeks. Apart from having to hunt high and low for toilet paper and having six weeks with limited movement around town, we’ve been very lucky.

(FBR): Has it allowed for more reading and writing? If so, what has been a stand-out read and what have you been writing?

(TS): I was midway through writing a fourth book when COVID-19 struck. I absolutely powered through the writing and finished the first draft in May. It’s a different story this time, an aside from the chronicles of Jarrod Black, but I absolutely loved writing it. I’ll be getting back to the editing process when the publisher gives the green light. I found my favourite ever football book in lockdown too – Full Time: The Secret Life Of Tony Cascarino. It just struck a chord with me and I could not put it down. I’d recommend it to anyone who was around to experience the twilight of his career.

(FBR): What was the inspiration for writing the third instalment of the Jarrod Black series, ‘Guilty Party’?

(TS) Guilty Party was born from the exciting end to the second book, Hospital Pass. It allowed me to go back to the North East of England and write about Newcastle and St James Park. Again, it was great fun writing it and the story took some twists as it evolved. The next in the series is underway, but with life getting back to normal, progress is at a more realistic pace.

(FBR): Finally, what’s on the horizon for you?

(TS): Australia and New Zealand will be the hosts for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 – look out for the next book, as yet untitled, which delves into the World Cup scene for its storyline. You’ll love this one!

Interview with Tom Flight, author of ‘Yer Joking Aren’t Ya? – The Story of Middlesbrough FC’s 1996/97 Season’

As football in the Premier League and the Championship prepares to return after the COVID-19 outbreak, titles, promotions, and relegations will be fought for behind closed doors. For Middlesbrough, the remaining nine games are vital as they look to ensure their survival in the Championship. Ahead of this unusual end of season, FBR caught up with Tom Flight (TF) who has released a book about an incredible season in the Boro’s history.


(FBR): Congratulations on the publication of ‘Yer Joking Aren’t Ya?’ which tells the story of the 1996/1997 season at Middlesbrough. Can you tell us a bit about your affinity with the club?

(TF): Thank you very much. My family moved to Teesside when I was two, so I grew up with them being my local team. My dad wasn’t a particularly huge football fan, but he got swept away with the optimism and all the excitement when Bryan Robson became manager. We started going to games during the 1994/95 season, the year we got promoted, and then we got a season ticket the following season which we kept for years. In the mid-90s Middlesbrough was an absolutely amazing place to be a young football fan.

(FBR): The 1980s were a difficult period financially for the club, but Middlesbrough were promoted back to the Premier League in 1994/1995, what were the feelings around the club at the time?

(TF): I remember there being a distinct buzz all season about that promotion side. I imagine the events of 1986 were still raw, but what that young side did was such an incredible achievement. When Steve Gibson became chairman in 1994 and appointed Bryan Robson, I think it felt like Boro’ were finally going to go to the next level.

(FBR): Bryan Robson was brought in as player-manager in 1994, in his first experience in a managerial role, what was the reaction to his arrival and his time at Middlesbrough?

(TF): I think it was seen as a massive coup. When Robson retired from playing for Manchester United, he was approached by a number of clubs, and Ron Atkinson was trying to bring him in as assistant at Aston Villa. Terry Venables had picked him for the assistant job for England, so Robson was definitely seen as an up-and-coming manager.

(FBR): In the first season back in the Premier League, Middlesbrough finished 12th, was there a sense of optimism at the start of the 1996/1997 season?

(TF): I’ve never experienced anything close to the optimism that I felt as a young Middlesbrough fan in the summer of 1996. Middlesbrough had started well in the 95/96 campaign, but they dropped off after Christmas, but that season really felt like a prequel ahead of what was going to happen the following season. The transfer of Juninho in October 1995 had been ground-breaking, but when we signed Fabrizio Ravanelli it was unbelievable.

(FBR): Can you tell us a bit about the story of the 1996/1997 season and its inspiration for the book?

(TF): I’ve always thought it was one of the most incredible stories of the Premier League era. How a side like Middlesbrough was able to attract top stars and compete financially with top sides in Europe was impressive in itself. But it was quite remarkable how the season unravelled. It was a campaign full of crazy stories, like Brazilian midfielder Emerson going AWOL for a month, and the debacle at Ewood Park where Boro’ were deducted three points for failing to show up for a match. At the same time, Middlesbrough were also embarking on two epic cup finals and two Wembley appearances. That one season produced more memories and incredible moments than you would normally hope to see in a decade.

(FBR): In Ravanelli and Juninho, Middlesbrough had two of the league’s most mercurial figures, both of whom were amongst the top scorers in the Premier League in 1996/1997, how did this mesh with Middlesbrough’s falling to relegation?

(TF): At the start of the season, I think Boro’ fans were just so excited by the fact we had two genuine world-class players in Ravanelli and Juninho, plus Emerson in midfield, but it soon became apparent that the side was horribly unbalanced. The defence was just a mess, not helped by a pretty severe injury crisis. Ravanelli in particular found the defence exasperating and was slagging his own side off to Italian newspapers during the season. Robson made a couple of late signings in getting goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and Italian defender Gianluca Festa which massively improved the side at the back, but the damage had already been done.

(FBR): How is the 1996/1997 season reflected back on now? Has there been a lasting effect at all?

(TF): I’ve actually had several people message me saying that they’ve purchased the book but said they can’t bring themselves to read it and revisit those memories. Over 20 years later it still feels “too soon.” Rob Nicholls who is editor for the Middlesbrough Fanzine Fly Me To The Moon has said that Boro’ fans “lost the ability to truly let themselves go” after this season. There was so much drama and emotion and memorable moments, but for it all to end in relegation and two cup final defeats was just completely crushing. It was also a major sliding-doors moment. If we had been able to stay up, there were all sorts of rumours about who we were going to sign next (Gabriel Batistuta and Roberto Carlos were serious targets), but relegation dashed all those dreams. I think the thought of what might have been still lingers with a lot of fans today.

(FBR): Juninho left at the end of that ‘96/97 season, only to return for spells in 1999/2000 and in 2002 to 2004 and is still very much synonymous with Middlesbrough. How important was he for the club and where does he rank for you amongst the best players the team has seen?

(TF): He is the best player I’ve ever seen in a Middlesbrough shirt. When I started researching the book and watched some of the matches, I was fully prepared for my memories to be steeped in nostalgia and maybe find he wasn’t as good as I thought. To be honest, he was far better than I remembered. I’m not exaggerating when I say he could pick the ball up literally anywhere on the pitch and you’d be on the edge of your seat. He would glide past players with such grace and ease, but he was always direct, never showing off. It often felt like he was taking on the opposition almost singlehandedly. If his teammates got the ball, they would just give it straight back to him. Obviously, he was tiny, but his balance was incredible. The game is significantly less physical now, I think if he played in the modern era, he’d be unstoppable.

(FBR): Do you still follow Middlesbrough today and if so, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, how would you view their season and their ambitions for the future?

(TF): Yes, I still follow Middlesbrough. I live in the States now though, so I’m always watching or listening to games on Saturday mornings. When I get home to the UK, I usually get to a game. I’m desperate for Jonathan Woodgate to do well, but obviously we have struggled a lot this season. There have been glimpses where we’ve looked promising, and a few of the goals we’ve scored this season have been some of the best I’ve seen in years, but I think we are also the lowest scorers in the league, and the defence has hardly been covering themselves in glory. We’re definitely in a process of rebuilding, so I’m just hoping we can just stay up and then perhaps we’ll see Boro’ evolve into a more consistent side next season.

As for the future, the footballing world has changed so much. The gap between the elite and the rest is so vast now it’s almost impossible to imagine we’ll ever see players of the calibre of Juninho playing at the Riverside again. I just hope Steve Gibson is able to turn things round and get us back in the Premier League one day, and maybe have one more shot at a trophy. He’s given so much to the club, it would be great if he could have one last shot at glory.

(FBR): It’s impossible not to mention the current situation, with football suspended in England, and generally worldwide, for the last couple of months, with plans for the resumption in mid-June, how much have you missed it and what are you most looking forward to when it returns?

(TF): I’ve definitely missed it. Not only the end of the regular season, but I was also looking forward to the Euros and going to some MLS games here in the States. But at the same time I’ve quite enjoyed the excuse to indulge in looking back at classic matches and past seasons. I wrote this book because I love football nostalgia, particularly from the 90s, so I always enjoy looking back.

(FBR): And finally if you could pick one former Middlesbrough player to slot into the current team who would it be and why?

(TF): Juninho. He would be worth a fair bit in today’s market though.


Jade Craddock (for FBR)

Interview with Peter Roberts, author of Park Life: Four seasons of Rhondda football (Cyfweliad gyda Peter Roberts, awdur bywyd y Parc: pedwar tymor o bêl-droed Rhondda)

Football is a game that is not just about the elite at the top of the professional pyramid. Up and down the country on weekends during the season, park pitches ring to the sound of players of all shapes, sizes and abilities giving it their all at the grassroots level. Peter Roberts has recorded that story from his perspective in his book, Park Life: Four seasons of Rhondda football, and ahead of our review of it, the FBR team caught up with him.

Mae pêl-droed yn gêm nad yw’n ymwneud â’r elît yn unig ar frig y pyramid proffesiynol. I fyny ac i lawr y wlad ar benwythnosau yn ystod y tymor, mae lleiniau Parc yn canu i s?n chwaraewyr o bob math, maint a gallu gan roi’r cyfan ar lefel llawr gwlad. Mae Peter Roberts wedi recordio’r stori honno o’i safbwynt yn ei lyfr, bywyd y Parc: pedwar tymor o bêl-droed Rhondda, a cyn ein hadolygiad ohoni, daliodd tîm FBR ag ef i fyny gydag ef.

Football Book Reviews (FBR): Congratulations on the publication of ‘Park Life’ – this was the first book you’ve written, so how did you find the process? Were there any particular challenges?

Llongyfarchiadau ar gyhoeddiad ‘ bywyd Parc ‘-Dyma’r llyfr cyntaf i chi ei ysgrifennu, felly sut y gwnaethoch chi ddod o hyd i’r broses? A oedd unrhyw heriau penodol?

Peter Roberts (PR): Thank you. As a complete novice author, I was not familiar with the publishing process at all and I made mistakes and suffered numerous knockbacks along the way.

However, I felt strongly that I had a proper football and community story to tell that was both relevant and relatable to amateur footballers up and down the country. So, I persevered, a skill that I learnt on the football field, and eventually the publishers Y Lolfa showed an interest. The team there were extremely helpful and instrumental in making Park Life a reality, and I am grateful to them.

Diolch. Fel un o’r awduron cyflawn, nid oeddwn yn gyfarwydd â’r broses gyhoeddi o gwbl a gwneuthum gamgymeriadau a dioddef tagfeydd niferus ar hyd y ffordd.

Fodd bynnag, teimlais yn gryf fod gennyf stori bêl-droed a chymunedol briodol i’w hadrodd a oedd yn berthnasol ac yn addas i bêl-droedwyr amatur ar hyd a lled y wlad. Felly, yr wyf yn dyfalbarhau, sgìl a ddysgais ar y cae pêl-droed, ac yn y pen draw Dangosodd y cyhoeddwyr Y lolfa ddiddordeb. Roedd y tîm yno yn hynod o gymwynasgar ac yn allweddol o ran gwneud bywyd y Parc yn realiti, ac rwy’n ddiolchgar iddynt.

FBR: The book focuses on Maindy Conservative Football Club, can you tell us a bit about the club and your association with it?

Mae’r llyfr yn canolbwyntio ar Glwb Pêl-droed Maindy, a allwch ddweud ychydig wrthym am y clwb a’ch cysylltiad ag ef?

PR: The football team was formed when a group of us who used the Maindy Con club socially approached the Club Committee with the suggestion to run a football team from there. Luckily, they agreed, and we joined the Rhondda Sunday League. As the book explains, I became player/manager despite not having any managerial experience.

The club itself is a typical workingman’s club located in a street of terraced houses in the Rhondda, South Wales.

Cafodd y tîm pêl-droed ei ffurfio pan ddaeth gr?p ohonom a ddefnyddiodd glwb Maindy Con yn gymdeithasol at bwyllgor y clwb gyda’r awgrym i redeg tîm pêl-droed oddi yno. Yn ffodus, cytunasant, ac ymunon ni â Chynghrair Sul y Rhondda. Fel yr eglura’r llyfr, deuthum yn chwaraewr/rheolwr er nad oedd gennyf unrhyw brofiad rheolaethol.

Mae’r clwb ei hun yn glwb workingman nodweddiadol sydd wedi ei leoli mewn stryd o dai teras yn y Rhondda, De Cymru.

FBR: What was the decision behind focusing on four seasons in the book and how easy was it to decide on which stories to recount?

Beth oedd y penderfyniad a oedd yn sail i ganolbwyntio ar bedwar tymor yn y llyfr a pha mor hawdd oedd hi i benderfynu ar ba straeon i adrodd?

PR: The book is an actual snapshot of four seasons and is an extension of the game-by-game summaries I gave at our end-of-season presentation nights.

It documents the ups and downs of a local grassroots football team that highlights and illustrates what Sunday League football is like – a million miles from the Premier League!

It also illustrates the camaraderie that exists within the grassroots game, detailing the post-match pub culture, as well as the football.

Mae’r llyfr yn gipolwg go iawn ar bedwar tymor ac mae’n estyniad o’r crynodebau gêm-wrth-gêm a roddais yn ein nosweithiau cyflwyno ar ddiwedd y tymor.

Mae’n nodi’r ups a’r drwg gan dîm pêl-droed lleol ar lawr gwlad sy’n amlygu ac yn darlunio beth yw pêl-droed y gynghrair ddydd Sul – miliwn o filltiroedd o’r uwch gynghrair!

Mae hefyd yn dangos y camaraderie sy’n bodoli o fewn y gêm llawr gwlad, gan fanylu ar y diwylliant dafarn ôl-gyfatebol, yn ogystal â’r bêl-droed.

FBR: Can you tell us a little about the highs and lows of playing in the Rhondda Valley and District League?

A allwch ddweud ychydig wrthym am uchafbwyntiau ac isafbwyntiau chwarae yng nghynghrair Cwm Rhondda a’r cylch?

PR: The League has a proud history, celebrating its centenary year in 2007. Like lots of local leagues, it is very competitive, and the winners of the Saturday League have the opportunity to gain promotion to the South Wales Alliance.

As the book details, we experienced some great highs, like winning the South Wales Intermediate Cup, whilst also experiencing some lows, such as having a game abandoned as we only had six players left on the pitch.

Mae gan y Gynghrair hanes balch, sy’n dathlu ei blwyddyn ganmlwyddiant ym 2007. Fel llawer o gynghreiriau lleol, mae’n gystadleuol iawn, ac mae enillwyr y Gynghrair ar ddydd Sadwrn yn cael cyfle i gael dyrchafiad i Gynghrair De Cymru.

Fel y manylion llyfr, buom yn profi uchafbwyntiau gwych, fel ennill Cwpan canolradd De Cymru, tra hefyd yn profi rhai isafbwyntiau, megis cael gêm wedi’i adael gan mai dim ond chwe chwaraewr oedd ar ôl ar y cae.

FBR: As for many towns and individuals, grassroots football is their lifeblood, how did you first get involved and what importance does it hold in your life?

Fel yn achos llawer o drefi ac unigolion, pêl-droed ar lawr gwlad yw eu hunain, sut y gwnaethoch chi gymryd rhan am y tro cyntaf a pha mor bwysig yw dal yn eich bywyd?

PR: I started playing football for Ton and Gelli Boys’ Club Under 10s. From then on, football was in my blood. I went on to play for the club at every age level from Under 10s to Under 18s. It was during this time that I played against Nathan Jones, current manager of Luton Town FC, who kindly wrote the foreword for me.

I am now 47 and have been involved with local grassroots football ever since, playing, managing, and coaching.

Currently I play for Ferndale and District Over 40s team in the Wales Veterans League. The League is a great way to keep playing and even has some ex professionals playing in it, including Lee Trundle (ex-Swansea City) and Scott Young (ex-Cardiff City).

Coaching wise I look after the Ton and Gelli Boys’ Club Under 18s team. I really enjoy this, and it is great to see the next generation of local footballers enjoying the game.

Dechreuais chwarae pêl-droed i Glwb Bechgyn ton a’r Gelli dan 10 oed. O hynny ymlaen, roedd pêl-droed yn fy ngwaed. Euthum ymlaen i chwarae i’r clwb ar bob lefel oedran o dan 10s i rai dan 18 oed. Yn ystod y cyfnod hwn y bûm yn chwarae yn erbyn Nathan Jones, rheolwr presennol clwb pêl-droed Luton Town, a ysgrifennodd y Rhagair i mi yn garedig.

Rwyf bellach yn 47 ac wedi bod yn gysylltiedig â phêl-droed lleol ar lawr gwlad byth ers hynny, yn chwarae, yn rheoli, ac yn hyfforddi.

Ar hyn o bryd rwyf yn chwarae i dîm Glynrhedynog a’r ardal dros 40au yng nghynghrair cyn-filwyr Cymru. Mae’r Gynghrair yn ffordd wych o ddal i chwarae, ac mae rhai cyn-weithwyr proffesiynol yn chwarae ynddi hyd yn oed, gan gynnwys Lee Trundle (cyn-ddinas Abertawe) a Scott Young (cyn-ddinas Caerdydd).

Hyfforddi’n ddoeth Dwi’n gofalu am dîm dan 18 clwb bechgyn ton a’r Gelli. Rwy’n mwynhau hyn yn fawr, ac mae’n wych gweld y genhedlaeth nesaf o bêl-droedwyr lleol yn mwynhau’r gêm.

FBR: What value do you think grassroots football has in general and what state is the game in at this level from your own experiences?

Yn eich barn chi, pa werth sydd gan bêl-droed ar lawr gwlad yn gyffredinol, a beth yw’r gamp ar y lefel hon o’ch profiadau chi eich hun?

PR: I cannot overemphasise the value of grassroots football, as I think it is part of the glue that holds communities together. For example, most teams play from a pub or club and the revenue generated from the after-match refreshments are often key in keeping these places open.

Grassroots is much more than just the football, and this is what I hoped to capture in Park Life.

These days, I think grassroots football is fighting a battle to survive, costs are rising and there are also so many things that compete with football. However, I have no doubt it is a battle it will win and continue to thrive.

Ni allaf orbwysleisio gwerth pêl-droed ar lawr gwlad, oherwydd credaf ei fod yn rhan o’r glud sy’n dal cymunedau at ei gilydd. Er enghraifft, mae’r rhan fwyaf o dimau’n chwarae o dafarn neu glwb ac mae’r refeniw a gynhyrchir o’r lluniaeth ar ôl y gêm yn aml yn allweddol i gadw’r lleoedd hyn ar agor.

Mae llawr gwlad yn llawer mwy na dim ond y bêl-droed, a dyma’r hyn yr oeddwn yn gobeithio ei gipio ym mywyd y Parc.

Y dyddiau hyn, rwy’n meddwl bod pêl-droed ar lawr gwlad yn ymladd brwydr i oroesi, mae costau’n codi ac mae yna hefyd gymaint o bethau sy’n cystadlu â phêl-droed. Fodd bynnag, nid oes gennyf amheuaeth ei bod yn frwydr y bydd yn ei hennill ac yn parhau i ffynnu.

FBR: We can’t avoid touching on current circumstances and the suspension of all football, what effect has this had on your own club and what in particular are you missing about football?

Ni allwn osgoi cyffwrdd â’r amgylchiadau presennol ac atal pob pêl-droed, pa effaith a gafodd hyn ar eich clwb eich hun a beth yn benodol ydych chi’n ei golli am bêl-droed?

PR: Personally, I think grassroots football is being missed far more than the professional game because of the community and camaraderie that exists at our level. I sincerely hope that everyone is back on the pitch as soon as possible.

Yn bersonol, rwy’n credu bod pêl-droed ar lawr gwlad yn cael ei cholli llawer mwy na’r gêm broffesiynol oherwydd y gymuned a’r cyfeillgarwch sy’n bodoli ar ein lefel ni. Mawr obeithiaf y bydd pawb yn ôl ar y cae cyn gynted ag y bo modd.

FBR: And, finally, you’ve presumably been a part of some big games with Maindy, but if you could have any team from the past or present face you at home who would it be?

Ac, yn olaf, mae’n debyg eich bod wedi bod yn rhan o rai gemau mawr gyda’r Maindy, ond os gallech chi gael unrhyw dîm o’r gorffennol neu’r presennol yn eich wynebu chi gartref pwy fyddai hwnnw?

PR: My team, Cardiff City!

For those who buy a copy of the book I really hope it takes readers back to their own playing days and most importantly that they find it an enjoyable read!

Park Life is available from Amazon, Waterstones and also direct from the Publishers ‘Y Lolfa’.

Fy nhîm i, Dinas Caerdydd!

I’r rhai sy’n prynu copi o’r llyfr Rwy’n gobeithio’n fawr y bydd yn mynd â darllenwyr yn ôl i’w diwrnodau chwarae eu hunain ac yn bwysicaf oll eu bod yn ei ddarllen yn bleserus!

Mae bywyd Parc ar gael gan Amazon, Waterstones a hefyd yn uniongyrchol gan y cyhoeddwyr ‘ Y lolfa ‘.


Interview with Barry Hoggarth, author of the Cumberland Senior Cup 1886 to 2019.

Ahead of the review of this book about the Cumberland Senior Cup, Football Book Reviews caught up with its writer, Barry Hoggarth to get the lowdown on his football background and a bit about the book itself.

Football Book Reviews (FBR): How did you first get interested in football and what was your first football memory?

Barry Hoggarth (BH): My first football memory is of my dad collecting the ESSO coins that you got when buying petrol back then. The collection was made up of the England squad that took part in the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. In terms of my first actual memory of a game that was the 1971 FA Cup final at the ‘old’ Wembley between Arsenal and Liverpool, when the London club won 2-1 in extra-time.

FBR: Do you support or watch a team regularly?

BH: It’s difficult to watch anyone regularly due to the geographic isolation, however, I do support Liverpool, as do my two lads. We try to get down when we can, but the reality is that with work commitments and ticket availability it’s difficult to get to see many games.

FBR: What was the inspiration for writing this book?

BH: I’m extremely interested in the history of West Cumberland and collect local postcards, pictures etc about the area and these have provided the basis for many of the pictures contained in the book. Another prompt came when someone at work gave me a list of all the winners of the various cups under the jurisdiction of the Cumberland FA (which turned out to be incorrect), but to my surprise my own village had three different winners of the Cumberland Cup. When I mentioned at work about writing a book on the history of the competition I basically got laughed at, however, here we are 10 years later with the book.

FBR: What was the most surprising or difficult aspect in compiling this book?

BH: I often visit the local archives in Whitehaven and the research started there and initially things were quite straightforward. However, as I got into the 1950s things began to dry up. The local weekly newspaper, the Whitehaven News started to stop reporting on the cup games if the teams in the west of the county had been eliminated, the balance of power had undoubtedly moved from the west to the north and east. I therefore had to make numerous visits to Carlisle (an 80 miles round trip) to finish the book. Unbelievably, the last season to be found was 1996/97.

FBR: From the book what is your favourite cup win and why?

BH: My favourite wins are undoubtedly the three triumphs for the Frizington teams in 1902, 1920 and 1926 given that is my home, but in terms of shock and surprise nothing beats the Bigrigg win over Carlisle United in 1915. It is without doubt a proper David v Goliath story, as Bigrigg is a village just north of Egremont with a tiny population, whilst Carlisle is a City with thousands of people and at the time Carlisle United, were playing in a particularly strong North Eastern League.

FBR: What do you think the future of grassroots football and Senior County Cup’s is?

BH: At grassroots level in Cumbria, teams are falling by the wayside left, right and centre. My own village has fantastic facilities, a superb pitch, its own clubhouse, but we don’t even have a team at junior or senior level, all this in a village with over 3,000 residents. The local Sunday League (Seniors) had three divisions when I played in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it’s down to one now.

Kids football, especially in West Cumbria is huge, loads of teams, but when the kids get to 18 only the good ones continue and play senior football because there’s nowhere for them to play.

Despite the decline in grassroots football, the Cumberland Cup remains relatively strong, with entries around the 32 mark for a while now. However, as no doubt with Senior County Cups around the country, the senior clubs (up here, Carlisle United and Workington), generally use the competition to field reserves and academy youngsters. Nevertheless, the smaller clubs who enter love to get one over on the so called ‘big guns’.

FBR: How can people buy your book?

BH: The book can be bought directly from me priced at £15 including postage and packing, contact details are:

Mobile – 07791956711

Email –

Twitter – @hoggy082

Facebook / messenger – Barry Hoggarth

Also available on eBay (search Cumberland Senior Cup) priced at £16.

Interview with Ralph Robb, author of, More Than a Game: A Story About Football and other stuff.

Originally published in 2006 through Raldon Books, More Than a Game, A Story About Football and other stuff, is a novel which has been recently released on Kindle.

Set in the early 80s after Aston Villa had won the English First Division title, the story centres on Sabina Park Rangers an amateur team of black players who are the first to reach the final of the Watney’s Challenge Cup. Their coach Horace McIntosh has more selection problems than most, with Villa, the First Division champions wanting to sign one of his best players, and right up until the day of the match, uncertainty about whether he will have a team for the biggest game in the club’s history, set against a background of arrests, a scam and an atmosphere of impending violence.

Author Ralph Robb who grew up in Wolverhampton, but now lives in Canada answered a few questions about his book and its new release some thirteen years later. (FBR): What was the inspiration for writing the novel? 

Ralph Robb (RR): As a teenager I belonged to a karate club that took on the name of the organization in which we practiced – Wolverhampton YMCA. The same vicinity served as a club house for an all-black football team, to which several members of the karate team also belonged.

Many of their experiences were casually shared between members of the club, this painting a tapestry of characters and events both uplifting and heart wrenching. It is from these stories that the inspiration for the book evolved.

FBR: You were raised in Wolverhampton; did you watch Wolves growing up? 

RR: I’ve never gone to watch the Wolves play! Like most kids I played football excessively, whether it was for the school team, in the local park or just heading the ball against a wall. I had a few friends that occasionally went to see Wolves play on the weekend, usually with an older brother, father or uncle. My family wasn’t particularly well off, so I had to settle for hearing the results on ITV’s World of Sport or BBC’s Grandstand programmes. The fact that I couldn’t afford it was only part of the reason I attend. I remember being chased by visiting fans, looking for trouble. So, I learnt very early to avoid the unpredictable nature of football fans. 

With the lessons learnt as a kid, visiting the Wolves ground, Molineux, as a young man was still off the table. The Molineux was such a magnet for hooliganism I daren’t go. It was exclusively white, working class and intolerable towards most minorities in which women were included. I knew a few black teens, older than myself, that would go as a group for protection, but that didn’t last long as the racial abuse for the few black players on the pitch became too much for them.

FBR: How much of the book is biographical? 

RR: The book was written as a piece of fiction, but I’d like to think of it as also being realistic, in terms of ‘that could happen’ or ‘I’ve experienced the same thing’.

FBR: What resonance do you think the book has currently bearing in mind the recent racist incidents at two England games and the abandonment of the FA Cup tie involving Yeovil Town?

RR: The tribalistic nature of the fans is a strange beast. I find it a little patronizing that we find the behaviour of the Bulgarian fans so offensive, which it is; however, at the same time neglecting the fact that the same behaviour was tolerated in England for many years.

FBR: Did you ever consider an alternative ending for the book?

RR: I wanted the ending of the book to be as realistic as possible. With any competitive team sport, the stars have to be in perfect alignment in order to obtain the desired result. With Sabina Park Rangers, they had so much going against going into the final.

FBR: Do you follow football over in Canada at all? 

RR: Every now and again I like to check in to how Wolves are doing. I do however follow the international games in which England are playing.

FBR: Is there a possibility of a second book featuring Sabina Park Rangers?

RR: Sorry, there’s no plan for any sort of a follow up.

FBR: Many thanks for your time Ralph.

For more information about the author:



Twitter: www.

Steven Bell interview: Wednesday 04 September 2019

Football Book Reviews caught up with Steven Bell the author of From Triumph to Tragedy: The Chapecoense Story (Pitch Publishing) to talk about his recently published book.

Football Book Reviews (FBR): Your day job is as an engineer, but what is your football background and how did that lead to you writing ‘From Triumph to Tragedy’?

Steven Bell (SB): My background – well firstly as a poor amateur player! But a huge football fan who grew up in the 90s and became besotted with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Class of 92. It was then Euro ’96 which swung me towards supporting England really rather than a club side at that stage if I’m honest. That subsequently  led me to becoming obsessed with the World Cup in particular and the whole colour, fans, passion and spectacle of the tournament.

My first real World Cup experience was watching Brazil win it in 1994, and when they were hosts in 2014, I knew I just had to go. Going there I made a lot of contacts and started following Brazilian football. The group I was with stayed in Rio for six weeks, next to the old training ground of Flamengo and I sort of adopted them as my Brazilian team and began following their results. When I was back in the UK the first result I looked at was one that was a huge upset, when Flamengo, the biggest team in Brazil, were beaten by a team I’d never heard of called Chapecoense. That was at the back end of 2014, and after doing a bit of digging discovered that they were a team that over the last few years had come from nothing – non league, on the verge of going out of business – to the top division in Brazil. It connected with me as a fantastic sporting story, with a couple of individuals, like the goalkeeper Danilo and star striker Bruno Rangel, with incredible individual journeys, overcoming poverty and making it to the top at the back end of their careers.

Fast forward two years to November 2016, and I woke up to an alert on my phone from all the news outlets that the team had been involved in a tragic plane crash on their way to what would have been their biggest match in the club’s history. I got hooked on the story from there and decided to research it for the book.

FBR: So, does the book trace that story from 2014?

SB: It actually goes back to my love and passion for both Brazilian football and the World Cup with Brazil winning it in 1994 and how that team inspired change in tactics and culture towards football in the country. It was an influence on Chapecoense and their style of play, they didn’t mind being the underdog, they didn’t mind that other clubs had better individual players – Chape could defend and dig in, scrapping and battling to get results.

So, in terms of this book, the story of Chapecoense starts in earnest in 2006, when they were a non league team, pretty much part-time, basically a team and a club falling to pieces. However, the local businessmen didn’t want to be part of a city without a football team, so they got together and put in place a financial package which rescued the club from oblivion. In addition, they brought in a decent manager and created a sound infrastructure, and gradually the team went from strength to strength, which saw them eight years later make it to Brazil’s top division, Serie A, before tragedy struck when travelling to play the First-leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Final against Atletico Nacional.

FBR: The book obviously takes the reader through to the tragic events of the 26 November 2016, but presume the story doesn’t stop there?

SB: In the timeline of the book, the crash is probably about three quarters of the way through and then there is a section on the how, why, and aftermath for the club, players, families, community and indeed Brazilian football as a whole. The book actually concludes with a reflection on the 2018 World Cup, which finished around the same time as I was completing the manuscript for From Triumph to Tragedy. As someone who has followed Brazilian football it was interesting to note the reaction to the teams defeat to Belgium in the Quarter-Finals, it was more reflective and a realisation that there is more to life than football, which I believe is a result of the Chapecoense disaster.

FBR: This seems then to be a significant change to the reaction in the wake of the 2014 World Cup Semi-Final mauling 7-1 by Germany.

SB: It’s funny you should mention that game, as I was watching it in Rio and it was a day I remember, with torrential rain all day. At the whistle, there were tears and tantrums, it felt like a national tragedy and was a surreal place to be on that day. For many Brazilians it felt like the world had come to an end. Compare that to four years later, when they valiantly lost to Belgium, when Brazil were the better team in the match, the reaction was completely different, and I genuinely believe that was influenced by the Chapecoense tragedy.

FBR: It is interesting that you talk about a change in fan perception and culture of football in Brazil arising from the crash. Does this book also show a different side and a change to Brazilian football in other ways, as many older football fans and perhaps historically, Brazil have been considered to have essentially one style of football?

SB: It is very much why I started the book at the point of the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Carlos Alberto Gomes Parreira was the Brazilian manager at the time and the style of play he brought in was very unpopular with the media and fans in Brazil who were used to free-flowing football. However, he didn’t have the players to continue that tradition, and he recognised that, so his squad were taught a more pragmatic style that was being used and working for European teams. Italy had been particularly successful with that approach over the previous decade or so, with the irony that Brazil beat the Italians at their own game in the ’94 Final on penalties. It did teach the Brazilian country nationwide that there was another way to play, what Pele had described as, the beautiful game.

FBR: With the recent events at Bury and Bolton Wanderers, does this book have a story to tell for those clubs and their fans at all?

SB: I think it does. Chapecoense were one meeting away from going out of business. Other clubs down the years have proved that there is life after the most trying circumstances. It’s funny what difference a decade can make. Chape in 2006 were on their knees and yet ten years later were taking part in the finals of an international tournament they could only have dreamed of previously. Who knows what lies ahead for Bury and Bolton ten years from now.

FBR: Finally, do you still follow the game closely in Brazil?

SB: Writing this book has been a big part of my life and I’ll always have that interest in the game in Brazil. As I said earlier I was caught up in the furore of the Class of ’92, so I will always say Manchester United were my first team, but having moved to Huddersfield, the Terriers are a passionate club – I live within walking distance of the ground – I can’t help but be caught up in the club. They aren’t doing very well at the minute, and the title of my book, From Triumph to Tragedy, could equally apply to Huddersfield Town at the minute! However, I’m sure they will soon be on the up.

FBR: Steven, many thanks for your time and good luck with what sounds like a fascinating story.


Saturday 28 September 2019 – Steven will be talking about From Triumph to Tragedy prior to the Huddersfield Town v Millwall fixture in the White Rose Club Lounge in the main stand at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Saturday 05 October 2019 – Book signing at Huddersfield Waterstones (11:00 – 15:00)