Giving the game away - how England's coaching missionaries taught the world how to beat us at football


On the Shortlist

Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game

By Rory Smith (Simon & Schuster), £18.99

Review by Jon Culley

Alan Rogers during his days as coach of the Iranian team Persepolis
Alan Rogers during his days as coach
of the Iranian team Persepolis
Big-name interviews sell newspapers, we are always told.  But how often does a star player tell you anything you did not already know? Football is a micro-managed business these days, with minders and media advisers never far away.

It is why Times journalist Rory Smith admits the stories he most enjoys writing are often the less obvious ones, with interview subjects who may seem obscure on the face of it but frequently come with a fascinating back story waiting to be told.

So when a friend drew his attention to a story in Southport's local paper about a belated honour for a war hero his curiosity was instantly piqued.

The war hero was Alan Rogers, who had as a teenager served as a gunner on a Royal Navy destroyer assigned to protect the Arctic convoys from marauding German warplanes and predatory u-boats as they shipped supplies to the Soviet Union.  In a footnote to his description of the perils he faced in that role it was mentioned that after he had done with serving his country he had been a football coach, not in Britain but in a long list of other countries around the world.  Smith immediately wanted to know more.

Better appreciated abroad

He arranged to meet Alan Rogers, by then almost 90, in his modest Southport flat and learned that he had never played professional football and could not get a job as a coach at home yet met with such appreciation abroad for his ability to teach the game that he found work from Iceland to the Philippines.  In the Iranian capital, Tehran, whose Persepolis team he coached to four championship titles, he is remembered with particular affection.

Talking to Rogers gave Smith the idea for this book, which takes its title from the quintessentially English term of address that was adopted across the world to describe a coach. From the most famous 'Misters', such as Charles Miller, Jimmy Hogan and George Raynor - who won the 1948 Olympics with Sweden and a decade later took the same country to the World Cup final - to those like Rogers, whom celebrity largely passed by, Smith tells the story of how the football teams who dominate the game today, at club and international level, owe so much to the Britons who spread the gospel of the game around the planet.

George Raynor coached the Swedish national team in two spells, reaching the World Cup final in 1958
George Raynor coached the Swedish national team in two
spells, reaching the World Cup final in 1958
The book does much to explain how these pioneers and missionaries not only taught the rest of the world how to play football but helped them become better players than our own.

Often, the Misters were not merely good teachers but innovators, too, with a chance to put forward ideas that were all too often rejected at home, where training tended to be about fitness and muscularity rather than ball skills, and change was considered unnecessary.

Inherent gifts

Nowadays we tend to look at the Brazilians and Argentinians, the Spaniards and the Dutch as if they possess inherent gifts to which our players simply cannot aspire.

Yet go back in history and it was Jack Greenwell, an amateur player from Crooks in County Durham, who laid the foundations for Barcelona's attacking philosophy.  And the Total Football with which the Netherlands came so close to conquering the world in the 1970s can be traced back to Vic Buckingham's time in charge of Ajax.  It is something of an irony that in today's Premier League only four teams have English coaches and only seven British.

Mister: The Men Who Taught the World How to Beat England at Their Own Game, by Rory Smith (Simon & Schuster), £18.99

Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WH Smith

The winner of the 2016 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, worth £28,000 to the successful author, will be revealed at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday.  There will a poignancy about this year's award ceremony in that it will be the first since John Gaustad, the award's co-founder and proprietor of the much-missed Sportspages book shop in central London, passed away earlier this year.

Also shortlisted: Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life. Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses, by Christopher McGrath (John Murray)

Also shortlisted: Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek, by Rick Broadbent (Wisden Sports Writing)

Also shortlisted: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan (Corsair)

Also shortlisted: Chasing Shadows: The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck, by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge (Hardie Grant)

Also shortlisted: Oliver Kay's Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty - lost genius of Manchester United's golden generation (Quercus)

And then there were seven - the full shortlist for the 2016 William Hill Sports Book of the Year

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2016: the longlist in full



Post a Comment

Leave a comment or submit your own sports book review

Popular posts from this blog

The watchers watched: Collins delivers a masterclass in the art of sharp and witty observation

Heavyweights slug it out for title hat-trick

Hamilton takes William Hill prize for a third time with brilliant biography of the venerated cricket and music scribe Neville Cardus