Top Ten Football Books: Tom Flight

Tom Flight is a Middlesbrough fan who grew up in Teesside and started going to games from the 1994/95 season when Boro’ were promoted to the Premier League. Yer Joking Aren’t Ya?: The Story of Middlesbrough’s Unforgettable 1996/97 is his excellent book, reviewed by FBR, charting the incredible campaign when stars such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and Juninho graced the Riverside Stadium. Tom now lives in the USA but continues to follow the fortunes of Middlesbrough from across the pond.

Here Tom picks his top ten books, with a very international flavour.

10. The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines – Michael Cox

Michael Cox has found a way of making tactics writing highly entertaining and readable. It feels like tactical styles and trends are endlessly analysed these days (Sheffield United overlapping centre-backs etc.) so I really enjoyed looking back and see how trends evolved in the early days of the Premier League. This is a book for both the tactics nerd and the 90’s nostalgia fan.

9. Stillness and Speed – Dennis Bergkamp and David Winner

Bergkamp was probably the footballer I enjoyed watching the most as child. This book makes you appreciate his breathtaking technique and style of play even more. Rather than a traditional biography, the unique structure of the book brings you into the mindset of Bergkamp; you learn literally what was going through his head in moments such as when Frank de Boer hit the long-ball in the last minute against Argentina in 1998. The book is a riveting insight into one of the game’s greatest craftsmen.

8. Soccer in Sun and Shadow – Eduardo Galeano

 A poetic history of football. Galeano’s lyrical style makes almost every sentence in the entire book quotable. A legendary Uruguayan man of letters, he was a football fanatic but is never afraid to slip in social commentary and history throughout. Often hilarious, he is also vicious in his attacks of certain figures in the football hierarchy.

7. The Mavericks: English Football When Flair Wore Flares – Robert Steen

I wasn’t alive in the 7’s but I watched a lot of BBC’s Match of the Seventies and re-watched 101 Great Goal VHS’s endlessly as a child. The ‘Mavericks’ described in this book were true characters of the game of which we just don’t see in the game anymore. Steen writes authentic portraits of the rebels who played the game with a swagger and weren’t afraid to give two fingers to the establishment. A work of social history as well as a great football book.

6. Too Good To Go Down: The Inside Story of Manchester United’s Relegation – Wayne Barton

I’m not a Manchester United fan, although I do find them to be a fascinating club and this book covers an extraordinary chapter in their history. When I was researching my own book I was trying to read books about focused on English clubs or on a specific season in a club’s history as inspiration, and I read some of Wayne Barton’s book and I found this book on Manchester United’s fall from grace after the 1968 European Cup Win to relegation and subsequent rebound under Tommy Docherty to be an absorbing read. His follow-up covering the Atkinson era is superb also.

5. Calcio: A History of Italian Football – John Foot

As a fan of Italian football since watching Football Italia on Channel 4 I found this book to be an absolutely captivating history of the Italian game. It gives great insight into the rivalries, the corruption and also how the defensive style of Italian football developed and thrived.

4. God Is Round – Juan Villoro

“Reality gets better in the writing of it,” Villoro writes. Sometimes I think I enjoy reading about football more than watching it and this book is a good example of why. A series of enchanting essays, this book will help rekindle any loss of enthusiasm for the game.

3. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — and Even Iraq — Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport – Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

I’ll read anything Simon Kuper writes, and Football Against The Enemy is a big favourite of mine. I’ll pick this book for my top ten simply because it changed the way I thought about the game and challenged many preconceptions I had. The chapter on penalty kicks is particularly memorable.

2. Angels With Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined a Nation and Changed the Game Forever – Jonathan Wilson

 Inverting the Pyramid changed the way I watched and thought about football. After reading that book I felt like I knew everything about football. But pretty soon I realised the book actually opened up just how much there was to learn about the game. That book just made me want to read more about football, and read books such as this amazing book. An enthralling history of Argentina and the nations unique relationship with football. I’ve always been fascinated with Argentinian football and I’m so pleased this book exists.

1. All Played Out – Pete Davies

The first World Cup of my life-time was Italia 90. I have no memory of it being three-years-old at the time, but my brother taped a 1-hour BBC review of the tournament I must have re-watched it easily over 100 times in my childhood. The tournament seemed like the most epic, breathtaking, emotional, important thing in the world.

Two decades later I read All Played Out and through his eye-witness account I saw that the tournament was every bit as exhilarating as it had existed in my childhood imagination. As Davies writes, he was “In the heart, now, of the greatest drama on earth.” Just a wonderful book.

Book Review (Part 2): World in Motion – The Inside Story of Italia ‘90: The tournament that changed football by Simon Hart

Having finally got my hands on my second review copy (see Part 1) I was able to grasp why the driver or drivers of East Yorkshire Motor Services did not hand it back in. They are probably still reading it, all 373 pages. Having so many pages in a book can be a strength and/or a weakness. The title makes very big claims for both the ‘inside story’ and the World Cup tournament, Italia ’90, but the book itself dives too deeply into the small details, interviews and anecdotes, losing its focus on a regular basis. Many of the anecdotes are illuminating and entertaining, though, and that is where the book’s heart actually lies.

The Contents page is a useful guide not only to the contents (appropriately enough), but also to how the argument is structured. It is a chronological telling of the matches with copious interviews (more than 100 across several continents) and plenty of references to other books on the relevant sections, demonstrating Simon Hart’s journalistic pedigree. It is only on page 340 that he finally returns to the main point which is broached in the Introduction and then left pretty much hanging.

Nearly 30 years after Italia ‘90 the reader is promised a groundbreaking book which demonstrates how football was so significantly changed by that event. But it all slips, well, into the background as the book moves methodically and in great detail through its sections, explaining in Chapter 2, along the way, why the New Order song ‘World in Motion’ has been featured in the title.

On page 2 of the Introduction, however, the author had let slip what he is really writing about for all of the Publisher’s understandable desire to big it up and boost sales in time for this summer’s World Cup. He says, ‘The purpose of this book is to examine the impact of Italia ‘90 across the globe.’ Hart actually does this well and once you stop looking for something even more mighty – and what he attempts is mighty enough – it is full of interesting views and theories. Each chapter is a mini book in itself, so that the reader can weigh up how the tournament affected different nations and cultures. England reached the semi final, after all, and that has been the nation’s greatest success since 1966. However, Hart also deals with how much the Irish gained from that World Cup, and the Cameroonians, et al, plus how much it brassed off the Argentinians, fuelling their ever-simmering sense of persecution.

Roger Milla is interviewed face-to-face in Yaounde the capital of Cameroon. Sergio Goycochea, likewise, is interviewed 25 miles outside Buenos Aires. That’s dedication! And it is in such instances that the best of the book is to be found. Interviewing people by phone is certainly cheaper but is far less likely to gather real insights or such nuggets as when Sir Bobby Robson’s widow, Lady Elsie, and two of his sons are interviewed much nearer home. When Paul Robson reveals to the author that his dad got £10,000 for doing a cigar advert, a surprised Lady Elsie says, ‘Did He? He didn’t tell me!’

World in Motion? Money makes the World around.

Graeme Garvey


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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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