Showing posts from July, 2010

Debut ghostwriter relishes her Savage start

Robbie Savage has been one of football’s pantomime villains ever since Martin O’Neill identified him as the man to add snap and bite to his Leicester midfield in the late 1990s. Instantly recognisable for his mop of wild blond hair, he has been cherished by his own fans but despised almost everywhere else, largely due to his inherent ability to wind up opponents. In short, he has been a tabloid football writer’s dream. It is only appropriate that his autobiography -- out next week -- has been ghosted by a red-top reporter who has been there to record virtually every controversy along the way, from bust-ups with managers and theatrics on the field to the dire consequences of using the referee’s toilet without permission. Janine Self has been tracking Savage’s progress since The Sun assigned her to international duty with Wales in 1998 and has witnessed most other episodes in his colourful career on her day-to-day beat in the Midlands.   She has unavoidably written critical thin

Insights and anecdotes -- but shirt tales keep the real Hodge under wraps

A review by Jeremy Culley The infamous role of Diego Maradona in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup quarter-final with England has become one of football’s greatest paradoxes. The performance, defined equally by the genius of his bewitching second goal as it was by the despicability of his controversial first, propelled his standing in the eyes of the English public from that of a world class player to an all-time great, albeit a flawed one.   But, for England’s embittered fan base, the memories of this match, which provided possibly the greatest goal and the biggest injustice in modern football history, extend to many of Maradona’s supporting act as well. Who could forget a furious Peter Shilton charging at the referee after the diminutive Maradona had miraculously leapt above him to score Argentina’s first? Or John Barnes bringing some flair to the occasion from a white shirt? Or Gary Linekar heading in to give England hope, and himself a sixth goal of the tournament? Strange the

Thomas and Le Tour

The approaching climax of the 2010 Tour de France brings to mind the extraordinary courage of the former England football international and Crystal Palace captain Geoff Thomas, who announced his recovery from leukaemia by riding the 21 stages of the tour route in 2005. The account of his epic journey,  Riding Through The Storm, is a brilliant, gripping read, portraying vividly the pain and exhaustion of covering 2,200 miles on two wheels but also, with raw clarity, the ordeal Thomas went through from his diagnosis to his return to health. Thomas raised £150,000 for cancer research by completing the course in 2005 but that was only the beginning. The 45-year-old former midfield player, who won nine full international caps, subsequently set up the Geoff Thomas Foundation, which continues to work tirelessly to generate funds for research. This year, alongside former Palace teammate John Salako and Foundation chairman Graham Silk, and other members of the GTF team, Thomas complete

Joe Cole postpones his memoirs after World Cup flop

England’s dreadful performance at the World Cup has persuaded Joe Cole to delay the publication of his autobiography by at least a year in the hope that a good first season at Liverpool will provide the story with a happy ending. The midfielder’s deal with Simon & Schuster had been geared towards an August 19th release date and the inside story of England’s calamitous South Africa campaign was to have been a key selling point. But Cole, who signed for Roy Hodgson at Liverpool last week, has sensibly reasoned that England fans who have already had their summer spoiled may not be keen to relive their Bloemfontein blues in the run-up to Christmas. He has also been clever enough -- or, at least, his publicists have -- to realise that his new following among Merseyside fans may not be too interested in his final days at Stamford Bridge. Simon & Schuster say that the deadline for publication in time for this year's Christmas trading period was missed, in any event, while

Tom Watson and the 2009 Open

Not even a hint of a fairytale this time for Tom Watson, who missed the cut after two rounds of the Open at St Andrews.  Perhaps the veteran champion will use his unwanted free time to relive his dramatic near-miss in 2009, which so nearly ended in one of the greatest sports storied of all time. He hardly needs to read a book to know what happened, of course.  Others not so familiar with every detail from Turnberry a year ago could do much worse than pick up a copy of Robert Winder’s Open Secrets: The Extraordinary Battle for the 2009 Open . Winder, a former literary editor of the Independent and author of two novels,  made his first venture into sports writing in the 1990s, culminating in an acclaimed book, Hell For Leather: A Modern Cricket Journey , that was based on the 1996 cricket World Cup in Pakistan. He could not have picked a better year in which to turn his attentions to golf.  Winder followed every turn of the 2009 Open championship, from the qualifying process throu

The story of Spanish football

No World Cup victory for Spain should be allowed to pass without a new recommendation for the acclaimed study of Spanish football, Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football . Originally published in 2001 and updated in 2003, its examination of why the brilliance of Spain’s La Liga sides has not translated into success for the national team has been superseded by events but there is still much about the book that stands the test of time. Morbo -- a Spanish word which defies precise translation but represents the mutually shared antagonism and hostility between clubs -- is particularly strong on how regionalism, history, language and politics underpin support for clubs all over the country. The reader learns how the fierce enmity between Barcelona and Real Madrid is only one of many deeply entrenched rivalries, some of which make Liverpool’s differences with Everton, or Tottenham’s feelings towards Arsenal look almost friendly by comparison. The book, published in 2001, marked the b

Celebrating the Home of Golf

It is with good reason that St Andrews, on the eastern Scottish coast a couple of hours north of Glasgow, is known as the home of golf.  According to the oldest known historical documentation, the game has been played there at least since 1552.  Although the Scottish Reformation was just around the corner, nothing much could happen at that time, even in the way of leisure pursuits, without the say-so of senior clergy and it was Archbishop John Hamilton who apparently declared that it was okay for the folk of Scotland’s oldest university town to indulge in “playing at golf” on land adjacent to the “waters of [the river] Eden”. There is some evidence to suggest that as early as the 12th century, before even legendary commentator Peter Alliss was born, shepherds in the area amused themselves by knocking stones into rabbit holes. No one then saw the need to adopt formal rules.  That came 600 years later when, in 1754, a group of 22 enthusiasts, “being admirers of the ancient and hea

Moving stories reveal stark realities of northern culture

A review by Andy Wilson Sport as social history, anyone? Two rugby league books that have been published in recent weeks – one biography, one autobiography, whose subject matters really are chalk and cheese – are as fascinating for their insights into the development of northern working-class culture over the last few decades as for the professional stories of the players involved. John Holmes grew up in 1950s Kirkstall, a couple of miles from Headingley, where he would wear the blue and amber of Leeds with great distinction in a career spanning the next four decades. 'There was a strong sense of community within that area of Leeds,' recalls his brother Phil, who began working with his own son, Phil Jr, an English teacher at Leeds grammar school, to tell John's story shortly before his death from cancer last autumn at the age of 59. 'A row of shops would provide everything any family would require ... bakers, Bradbury's butchers, a paper shop and, for the ch

Brilliance unsurpassed

Holland are in the World Cup final. Inevitably, the chatter among the sports columnists is of laying the ghosts of 1974 and 1978, when the best team in the world evolved around the sublime talents of Johan Cruyff yet lost both of the two World Cup finals they reached. The current Dutch side is not a patch on that one, for all the tendency to believe that Wesley Sneijder is possessed of mystical powers.  Football is a more prosaic game these days, even in those countries with a history of magnificent individualism. There is no harm in looking at the present through nostalgic eyes, however.  And this, therefore, is the perfect moment to revisit David Winner’s classic analysis, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football , a work inspired by the conceptual genius of Total Football but which goes well beyond the game in its scope, setting football in the context of Dutch society and explaining how the country’s history and the character traits of its people so much influenc

Has Hamilton delivered another Corker?

Already a double winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, can Duncan Hamilton make it a hat-trick with his latest work? The Yorkshire-based journalist and author, who scooped the award for his books about Brian Clough and Harold Larwood, has already attracted high praise for the quality of his prose in A Last English Summer , published this month by Quercus. It impressed Mike Atherton, the former England captain now establishing himself as a wordsmith of note in The Times . While noting that the view of cricket Hamilton conveys in his journey through an English season is ‘unashamedly romantic and sentimental‘ and ‘not necessarily [one] that many would recognise today’, Atherton enjoyed Hamilton’s turn of phrase so much that his review quotes verbatim from a wonderfully accurate and detailed description of a Dominic Cork appeal. Cork has the body of a 37-year-old man, but the effervescence of a teenager on a night out. Appealing for a catch or an lbw decision i