Book Review: One Game at a Time by George F. Brown

The blurb on the back of a book is the opportunity to summarise the plot and lure in potential readers, letting them know what to expect. For George F. Brown’s debut novel, there were three phrases from that information that leapt out.

  1. One Game at a Time is a love letter to the lower sometimes forgotten, tiers of the English football pyramid.
  2. Gifford [the Bucknall manager] discovers that management is not just about what happens on the pitch and has to deal with the darker side of the game.
  3. George [F. Brown] has created a narrative that celebrates the tactics and spirit of the world’s most beloved sport.

And for this review these are the starting points to discuss.

First up, the book as, a love letter to the lower…tiers of the English football pyramid. The author has created a fictional team, Bucknall, playing in the National League, the top division of the non-league game, and from which clubs can progress to the ranks of the Football League. And whilst the opponents that appear within the book are ‘real’ clubs who have or are playing in the National League (aside from the other fictional team within the book, Trosley United), there is little else within the narrative that is really typical and indeed illustrates the reality of the lower tiers of the game. The National League is one dominated by full-time clubs, many with Football League experience with grounds and budgets to match and as such aren’t representative of the rest of the non-league pyramid. Indeed it is a league which sees and wants to align itself more with the Football League than the rest of the non-league pyramid.

Next, Gifford discovers that management is not just about what happens on the pitch and has to deal with the darker side of the game. Brown does indeed explore through a number of plotlines, genuine issues with the game at all levels, which includes racism and gambling, as well as the impact that a career in football can have on an individual’s personal and homelife.

And lastly in terms of the third highlighted points, George has created a narrative that celebrates the tactics and spirit of the world’s most beloved sport. The author certainly does this and displays a coach-like quality in the description of the training and match action as well as getting across the highs and lows of the beautiful game for owners, management and players alike.

What else can readers expect? Well, the main story focuses on the appointment of Gifford an ex-player of Bucknall, who with no experience of managing at senior level tries to change the fortunes of the club as it languishes at the bottom of the National League. Along the way he signs the talented but wayward and ageing forward in Tommy Pearce to resurrect both the players and Bucknall’s fortunes.

Not every game is detailed as the season progresses, instead certain fixtures are described all with an impact on the team and crucial to the plotlines.

At less than 200 pages this is not an overly long book or taxing read, and with 45 short chapters moves quickly through the season to its conclusion.

Football fiction or indeed, Sports fiction in general, is not an easy genre to get right. George F. Brown in this book demonstrates a passion for the game and an easy writing style, however, this reader was left with the feeling that the greatest stories and drama still come from the real-life football of the past, the present and indeed the future.

(Publisher: DB Publishing. September 2023. Paperback: 192 pages)


Buy the book here: One Game at a Time

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Programme Review: 2022/23 Handsworth FC

Fixture: Toolstation  Northern Counties East League (NCEL) Premier Division

Date: Saturday 21 January 2023

Teams: Handsworth v Maltby Main

Venue: Express Worktops Stadium, Olivers Mount, Sheffield

Result:  Handsworth 1 (1) – (1) 2 Maltby Main

Programme cost: £2.00

Pages: 32

The freezing temperatures of December 2022 and January 2023 have heavily impacted the non-league fixture calendar this season. Take for instance Saturday 21 January. Of the scheduled twenty league fixtures in the NCEL, only two survived, those at Handsworth and Hemsworth Miners Welfare – the common denominator? Both clubs have artificial pitches. Love them or hate them, they do have their advantages and without doubt was the reason these fixtures went ahead.

Of the two, FBR took the option of a first visit to Olivers Mount in Darnall, Sheffield who as part of a decent crowd of 254 on a very cold, but bright day, enjoyed a local fixture against Rotherham based Maltby Main, with the visitors getting a last gasp winner to take all three points in a 2-1 victory.

The welcome at both the main bar (set a little way from the ground entrance) and entry to the playing area was as is usual in non-league circles, warm and friendly. Admission was paid at a hut with a 32 page all colour programme also able to be purchased. This edition covered both the midweek NCEL League Cup fixture vs. Ollerton Town and the league encounter vs. Maltby Main. Now I know that this divides fans and even some leagues, where double issues aren’t permitted. However, in the current economic climate it seems a sensible approach to save not only money but volunteers time in putting together two separate editions with little turnround time.

So what of ‘The Ambers Review’ as the Handsworth match programme is titled? Well the cover is an attractive one featuring a member of the Ambers squad and in the club colours of yellow and black. It contains all the usual detail you would expect with the date, opposition and competition displayed, the club badge and the logos of league sponsor (Toolstation), league benchwear provider (Macron), ground sponsor (Express Worktops) and shirt sponsor (HE Barnes).

Pages 2 and 3 have the club directory and history. Here there are a couple of observations. Firstly, the history is one solid block of text, which would be visually more attractive if broken down into paragraphs. The second point is that although the club badge has the date 1986 on it, the history within the programme only provides details from 2014/15. Now there maybe a reason of space which explains why the content as is. However, from a neutrals point of view it would have been interesting to read of the club from 1986. Page 4 is given over to all the various club sponsors, with page 5 ‘From the Dugout’ the notes of Aiden Spowage (‘Spow’) part of the management team, providing his review of results to date and a welcome to the opponents.

The next five pages are pen-pics of the Handsworth squad, especially useful for neutrals and away fans unfamiliar with the home team squad. Page 11 features the thoughts of Ambers skipper San Finlaw, who in addition to welcoming both Ollerton and Maltby Main, provided his views on Gareth Bale’s recent retirement and his choice of greatest ever Premier League player. Pages 12 and 13 provided a match report of their 1-1 draw with Eccleshill United, followed by a classic of many a programme, a Q&A with a featured player. Midfielder Morgan James features in this edition of ‘Meet the Ambers’ who in response to the question, ‘What would be your death row meal?’ responded ‘Nando’s simple as that!’ It must be decent in Sheffield!

The centrespread (pages 16 and 17) contain the seasons fixtures and statistics, with the results column dominated by red blocking highlighting that the Ambers have had a wretched recent league run which saw their last victory in the NCEL back in mid-November. The stats continue on page 18 with the squad appearances for this season and their Handsworth career. Page 19 is an advert for Macron who besides being a league sponsor, also provide the Ambers kit. Another match report features on pages 20 and 21, this time the 2-0 defeat at Goole, and you have to admire the honesty of the reporting, with the writer beginning the piece, ‘Another turgid performance on the road’ – candour to be admired.

Page 22 is a advertorial from The FA featuring the RESPECT campaign and message, which has come to be more relevant with a noticeable increase in behaviour problems in non-league football this season. This is followed by a page on Ambers league cup opponents, NCEL Division One, Newark based, Ollerton Town (who incidentally, the Ambers beat 2-0 with a brace from James Eyles). Page 24 is an advert for club shirt sponsor HE Barnes followed by an article from the Non-League Paper putting the case for a third promotion place from the National League to the Football League.

The next three pages are given over to Maltby Main with two pages of history and one of pen-pics, standard programme content but vital reading for home and neutral fans. As with the Ambers history, the formatting of that for Maltby would have benefited from splitting into paragraphs.

Page 29 contains two adverts, one for league sponsor Toolstation and the other for BMW Construction. Pages 30 and 31 details the squads for both games, with the final (and back) page providing the NCEL Premier Division table. All useful for fans on the day.

All in all this programme is well worth the £2 with plenty of material to see fans through their pre-match and half-time read. It only contains five pages of adverts (approximately 15%) and is a well written, edited, produced and printed programme.




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)


Football writer Steven Penny takes you on a journey across the football fields of Yorkshire during the 2002/03 season.

From the multi-national squad of Premiership club Middlesbrough to the six-year-old boys of Wheldrake Junior FC playing their first game. The book concentrates on the non-League clubs of the county, from Barnoldswick – playing in Lancashire competitions – to Easington – tucked away on Spurn Point. And from Northern League sides Marske United and Northallerton Town to the world’s oldest club, Sheffield FC, now based in Derbyshire.

Penny reports on more than 40 matches, including Harrogate Railway’s remarkable FA Cup run and Doncaster Rovers’ return to the Football League. As well as reports and match details from every game, included are club histories, interviews with fans and club officials

(Publisher: Victor Publishing. February 2021. Paperback: 269 pages)


Read our review here: Book Review: Soap st (

For details about: Towering Tales & a Ripping Yarn: Yorkshire Football’s Grassroots Legends click here: TOWERING TALES & A RIPP (


Football writer Steven Penny takes you on a journey across the football fields of Yorkshire during the 2020/21 season, discovering some incredible links to the game’s greats.

Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal are among 90 professional clubs from the UK who have links to the lower-level Yorkshire clubs featured in this book. Add a sprinkle of overseas clubs and international teams, including England’s 1966 World Cup winners, and the grassroots scene in the Broad Acres has given much to the global game.

Discover the story of the world’s first black professional footballer, the pop star who arranged his gigs to carry on playing Sunday football and the White Rose apprenticeship served by managerial legends Bill Shankly, Joe Harvey and Herbert Chapman. Read about the schoolboy footballers who conquered the world and the fictional team that went down a storm in a TV classic.

Penny digs up dozens of tremendous tales of life on the White Rose county’s lesser known football fields.

(Publisher: Victor Publishing. January 2022, Paperback: 248 pages)


Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences lifts the lid on the little-known world of non-league football.

From being hours away from folding in the Essex Senior League and turning semi-professional because of YouTube to dropping out of the Football League and trying to find a way back, this book shines a vital spotlight on clubs from various levels of the National League System and shares their stories.

The tales include the dramatic null-and-void decision of the 2019/20 season, Chichester City making history in the FA Cup, Leyton Orient and Notts County battling to get back into the Football League, Hashtag United turning semi-professional and Steve Castle, the former professional player, returning to the lower levels to pursue a career in management.

Filled with compelling stories from multiple sides of the game, Fields of Dreams and Broken Fences brings non-league football to life as it delves beneath the surface of the lower levels of the English game. This book is written for the love of football.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. February 2022. Paperback: 256 pages)


A million miles away from the rich uplands of the Premier League lies the Poundland world of non-league football. A far grittier version of the beautiful game, it’s a glorious ragbag of former EFL clubs on the down, impoverished minnows and ambitious outfits on the make, played by a mix of full-time, part-time and amateur performers.

This is the inside story of life in the lower reaches of English football, seen through the eyes of a player with over a decade’s experience in the Conference and National Leagues.

Footballer X lifts the lid on never-before-told stories of dust-ups, bust-ups, backhanders and betting scandals, the players lucky enough to get contracts and the rest who live precariously from game to game. It’s a story of constant financial struggle, big sacrifices and small victories for owners, fans and players alike. Our footballer is still playing, so the cloak of anonymity allows him to give us a true picture of what life is really like playing as a non-league footballer today.

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. January 2022. Paperback: ?272 pages)

Book Review: Lower Mead 1921 – 1991: The history of Wealdstone FC’s iconic former home by Roger Slater

Roger Slater is a long-time fan, former secretary and board member of Wealdstone FC. As a writer he has been involved with a number of books for the club including, The History of Wealdstone FC, Off The Bench – A Quarter of a Century of Non-League Management and Behind the Season, as well as providing material for the Wealdstone match day programme, and various websites. He was also co-author of, And sometimes the dog was busy! with Fergus Moore.

His excellent catalogue has been added to with his latest contribution to The Stones story, this time focusing on Lower Mead, the home of Wealdstone from 1921 to 1991. Its release in 2021 acknowledges what would have been 100 years for the club at the ground.

This A4 sized, glossy production, tells the story of the ground and its changes from hosting its first game in September 1922 against Berkhamsted Town to its last competitive fixture in April 1991, in a Southern League Premier Division fixture when Cambridge City were the visitors.

The focus of the book is on the development of the ground from the inaugural season in 1922/23, through to its sorry demise in 1990/91, with an interesting range of photographs, plans and newspaper clippings, adding to the informative text.

What is evident is that the ground was seen as something central to the community, as it developed down the years, adding a main hall, billiard room, committee rooms etc. as well becoming a focus for a range of events. And it was therefore interesting to read of the range of events that Lower Mead hosted including the local fete, dog shows, a pop concert, a weekly market and other sports such as lacrosse and rugby league.

With the club turning professional in the early 70s, it came under increasing financial pressure and combined with some financial mismanagement from the owners and subsequent legal problem, despite success on the field with the 1984/85 ‘double’ triumph of league title and FA Trophy win, within six years The Stones had to leave their iconic and spiritual home of Lower Mead.

This is a book aimed squarely at the Wealdstone faithful, but will also be of interest to those interested in football grounds and their history. It is though a sobering story of the maladministration that can occur. As football fans we should never take our home grounds for granted.

(Published by CAMS. March 2021. Paperback 56 pages)



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Magazine/Fanzine Review – Are You The Clown?

(C) Atherton Collieries

Atherton Collieries are a non-league club based in the town of Atherton, surrounded by Bolton to the North East, Leigh to the South West, Manchester to the South East and Wigan to the West. As the club badge proudly shows, the football team was founded in 1916 from it mining roots. The Colls played in various Lancashire leagues during their history and were founder members of the North West Counties Football League in 1982. In 2016/17 Atherton gained promotion to the Northern Premier League (NPL) and in their first season caused an upset by winning the League Cup beating Coalville Town 2-1 in the Final. Building on that The Colls then won the NPL Division One West in 2018/19 to achieve their highest position in the Football Pyramid (level seven, taking the Premier League as level one). As we now know the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons were declared ‘null and void’ with all club results expunged.

(C) Atherton Collieries

With the prospect of no football until the 2021/22 season, clubs have been creative in getting revenue into their coffers and maintaining connection with their fans and sponsors. In the case of The Colls, this has taken the form of a magazine produced by their matchday programme team and curiously title, “Are You The Clown?”.

This first issue is an informal look through the club archives, with interviews, photographs and stories from throughout their 105 year history. Contained within its glossy colour 36 pages are an explanation as to the title of the magazine and some articles that will appeal to both Atherton fans and football fans of all persuasions alike. These include an exclusive interview with former Colls, Manchester United and Bournemouth player, Russell Beardsmore, and an interesting piece from Zach Pierce who discusses the differences between the theatres of football and the arts.

The content wonderfully sums up football at non-league level – some history, a volunteers story, an interview with an ex-player who went into the professional game, and pictures and features that connect with its fans community.

Why not help support non-league football during this difficult time and order a copy for £3 plus £1 postage and available via:

Book Review – St. Pauli: Another Football is Possible by Carles Vinas and Natxo Parra

This book was originally published in Spanish as FC Sankt Pauli and in Catalan as Sankt Pauli: un alter futbol és possible, in 2017. The English language edition was published in late 2020 by Pluto Press, “an independent publisher of radical, left-wing non-fiction books”, wholly appropriate for the unique club that is FC St. Pauli.

Content wise it is divided into five major parts, titled, Informal Beginnings, War and Peace: From the Third Reich to the Bundesliga, A Club of Belief: The pirates of the league, Terraces with Conscience and St Paulinism Without Borders, with an Epilogue, Against Modern Football. The chapters within each section provide context for the club that St. Pauli is today. Therefore readers are presented with a timeline which takes at its beginning a brief history of football in Germany from the second half of the nineteenth century and the establishment of the early football clubs in Hamburg, before the official formation of St. Pauli in 1910, following the club and the social and political machinations within Germany and the Hamburg district through to the end of the 2015/16 Bundesliga 2 season.

As a result, this is no simple season-by-season summary of St. Pauli, instead this is a book which has the feel of an academic read, with copious footnotes, an extensive bibliography and index as authors Carles Vinas and Natxo Parra use social history, politics and football to tell the story of a club that despite no significant record of honours and is overshadowed by its city neighbour, HSV Hamburg, has a global following.

What sparked this, can essentially be traced back to the 1980s “thanks to young group of people from the autonomous, punk and squatting movements who began turning St. Pauli into the cult club it is today”. They created a club that opposed to racism, sexism and homophobia, and fought against fascism and right-wing extremism and which today are still central values of Sankt Pauli and has spawned Official fan clubs around the world, fighting and supporting similar causes.

However, the authors acknowledge that whilst these tenets have attracted fans who empathise with these ideals, it has also made the club trendy, with merchandise of the St. Pauli skull and crossbones, a must-have item for tourists and visitors to the Millerntor Stadium. And this is the modern day conundrum for St. Pauli – is the club one that is striving for playing in the top-division in Germany and entry into European competitions, which would require major financial input and down a route of commercialism or is it a club just happy to play at whatever level but sticking to supporting its causes and values. The fact remains that St. Pauli fans today “have the power to veto team sponsors thanks to the club’s management model” so are a significant force in terms of decision making at the club, something a million miles away from the vast majority throughout the world.

In closing the book, the Epilogue, Against Modern Football, is a discourse about how capitalism has ruined the game, detailing a blunt assessment of the realities of the sport today. One only has to look at the game in England, with the Premier League and the Sky TV contract, to see that football has been turned into a global business, where clubs are detached from its working-class roots, history and location, with ordinary fans priced out of attending games and indeed are now nothing more than consumers, with oligarch owners only interested in profit and making their club a global brand.

St. Pauli continue to show that there is a way for clubs to have a social conscience, to connect once again with its community, with fans playing their part, but how many other clubs and their supporters would swap their league titles and cups for a more democratic and socially responsible way? Maybe as has been the case here in England, there is an answer to been found at the non-league level of the game, where during 2020 and the COVID crisis, these clubs run by volunteers, got out into and connected with their respective communities, providing food and support in checking on the old and vulnerable as well as a range of other social projects.

Real Fans, Real Clubs, Real Football.


(Pluto Press. October 2020. Hardback 253 pages)


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