Top Ten Football Books: Steven Bell

This site was lucky enough to interview Steven Bell back in September 2019 about his excellent book, From Triumph to Tragedy: The Chapecoense Story and review it shortly afterwards. In October 2020, that book is to be followed up by another incredible story in The Man of All Talents: The Extraordinary Life of Douglas ‘Duggy’ Clark, when Bell uncovers the tale of a man who was to become amongst a number of things, a Rugby League legend as well as a hero in the First World War.

Here though, he presents his Top Ten Football Books, with a noticeable Manchester United flavour, a nod to the club team that influenced his love of the game.

10) Red – Gary Neville

I was surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed this after being bought it as a Christmas present shortly after he retired from playing. Interesting, deep and articulate, the book is more reminiscent of Neville the pundit and TV personality than it is of the dour and often scowling right-back.

9) Until Victory Always – Jim McGuinness

Another present – this time from my Irish sister-in-law. This is an underdog story for the ages, told by the former coach of Donegal (Gaelic Football), written grippingly alongside his own personal, and often heart-breaking, story.

8) Between the Lines – Michael Carrick

One of my favourite players, I looked forward to reading his story and, in particular, his own thoughts on his perennial misuse by England. Penned by him personally, it turns out to be a surprising rollercoaster of sporting highs and terrible woes as Carrick discusses his spells suffering with mental illness. As a fellow overthinker, he only went up in my estimations – something I didn’t think possible before opening the book.

7) Alex Ferguson – My Autobiography

Sir Alex was manager of Manchester United when I was in nappies, and his team of Schmeichel, Giggs, Cantona et al are one of the main reasons I fell in love with the game. Reading his story from a toolmakers apprentice in Glasgow to winning The Treble to discovering and nurturing Cristiano Ronaldo was a joy, and a perfect way to reminisce on the 20-years of joy his team had given me.

6) More Than Just a Game – Chuck Core and Marvin Close

The harrowing but wonderfully uplifting story of the Makana FA – set up by the political prisoners of Robben Island at the very summit apartheid in South Africa. The ability to organize and run a football association for two decades helped give the men the confidence and the tools to eventually overthrow their captors. Inspiring stuff, to say the very least.

5) I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (with David Lagercrantz)

A true rags to riches story. The pages seem to turn with the Zlatan swagger, as his personality and confidence ooze from the telling of his life story. Great anecdotes that let the reader know, Zlatan is not just a character he plays to the camera, it is a way of life.

4) Blessed – George Best (with Roy Collins)

The rollercoaster ride that is part of pop culture but told from George’s heavy heart. What makes this more tragic, is that it ends at such a happy period of his life – and we all know that there was another heart-breaking chapter or two to follow.

3) Doctor Sócrates – Andrew Downie

‘Footballer, Philosopher, Legend’ is the sub-title of this extraordinary biography, and I really cannot add to that. A unique and amazing life told brilliantly and researched diligently. Inspired me to do further research into Sócrates bizarre appearance for Garforth Town in my very own West Yorkshire and subsequently write an article for These Football Times.

2) Back From the Brink – Paul McGrath (with Vincent Hogan)

When I think of this book, I feel my heart get heavy. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days during and after reading. To this day, when I see a positive social media message from Paul I feel instantly glad that he is in a good place. A harrowing read with spikes of unbridled joy and triumph from a gentle giant and a footballer ahead of his time.

1) The Miracle of Castel di Sangro – Joe McGinniss

The reason I immerse myself in and write sports stories. A masterpiece.



2011/12: Evo-Stik NPL Division One North – Garforth Town v Radcliffe Borough

Whilst the football community in the United Kingdom was still coming to terms with the tragic death of Gary Speed, another legend of the game passed away in Brazil. Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira (or as the football world knew him “Sócrates”), died in Sao Paulo aged 57 on 04 December 2011. It is a strange and sad fact of life that only in death are the lives of people often told. Away from the football field Sócrates’ was a qualified medical doctor and he practised once he retired from football. In addition, he was very interested in politics and economics and was a co-founder of The Corinthians’ Democracy, which was set-up to challenge the dictatorial way football clubs and indeed the Brazilian Military Government operated. He had his vices too and enjoyed a drink and a smoke (quoted as a two packet a day man), even during his playing days.

Like another famous footballing-smoker, Johan Cruyff, Sócrates was considered one of the greatest players in the world and as with the Dutchman never won a World Cup. Sócrates played in two World Cup tournaments (Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986) and counted amongst his clubs Botafogo, Corinthians, Fiorentina, Flamengo and Santos. However, Sócrates came out of retirement in November 2004 and at the age of 50, in a blaze of publicity, turned out for Garforth Town against Tadcaster Albion. The Brazilian played for 12 second half minutes in a 2-2 draw in a season which saw Garforth promoted from the Northern Counties East League (NCEL) Division One.

During his very brief time with The Miners, Sócrates made his mark on the West Yorkshire club and at the fixture against Radcliffe Borough today, Garforth paid their respects to the Brazilian. The players warmed up in yellow t-shirts featuring a picture of Sócrates and before kick-of there was a minute’s silence/applause as a wreath was laid. In the match-day programme, Garforth Chairman Simon Clifford paid tribute to Sócrates, saying that the Brazilian had, “…brought a kind of magic. The club was almost bankrupt, but he (Sócrates) became part of our crusade for promotion. He was the most intelligent man in football I’ve ever met…We have lost a unique man and a unique footballer…”

Sócrates would no doubt have chuckled today at the freezing and squally conditions in which the game took place today. He struggled badly with the cold temperature back in 2004, and he would have done so again today. Both sides came into this game on the back of decent runs. Garforth had won three of their last four League games to move into seventh in the table. Whilst Radcliffe Borough had won their last three League fixtures, including an incredible 10-3 victory at Harrogate Railway Athletic. With two sides in confident mood it made for an open first half. Both sides had good chances to score, with Garforth keeper Jack Lonergan in outstanding form to deny Radcliffe striker Ben Wharton on a couple of occasions. Wharton led the Borough line well, although he didn’t endear himself to the home fans with his no-nonsense battling centre-forward display. Indeed the Radcliff number nine was booked for one such tangle with Darren Kelly, much to the delight of the Town fans. Despite the better chances for the visitors, Garforth took the lead just before the half-time whistle. From an Oliver Hotchkiss corner, Rob Pacey rose to head in and send The Miners in at the break with a 1-0 lead.

Garforth started the second-half more impressively than the visitors, but were unable to increase their lead. Their best chance was a breakaway in which Town had a three-on-one situation, but they contrived to delay the killer ball and the resultant Hotchkiss shot was high and wide. Radcliffe took advantage of this miss and on fifty seven minutes levelled the scores after Garforth conceded a free-kick just outside the box. Up stepped Dave Sherlock who curled it delightfully into the net. Wharton continued to give the home defenders problems and on seventy minutes he showed great skill with a lovely pass which sent Steve Burke through to finish coolly past Lonergan for a 2-1 lead. The Miners responded with concerted pressure as the game went into its final quarter and it looked like it had paid off when Town were awarded a penalty with two minutes to go. As a result Radcliffe had Kris King sent off for hand-ball, but Paul Walker could only hit the post from the penalty spot. Garforth had one more chance to snatch a point, but the resultant shot from Darren Kelly cleared the Borough bar. At the whistle, Radcliffe celebrated a fourth successive League victory, whilst Garforth were left with their memories of the day that Sócrates graced this part of West Yorkshire.