Book Review


As a confirmed bibliophile one of my hobbies is buying and selling antique and collectible books and I like nothing more than truffling among the dusty shelves of a second hand bookshop or charity shop in the hope of unearthing some literary gem. It was while I was engaged in this activity a few months back that I chanced upon a 1966 first edition copy of Bobby Moore’s ‘My Soccer Story’. My heart skipped a beat as I excitedly checked the title page for our hero’s elusive signature. Sadly the page was unmarked but as I handed over my pound coin I knew that I’d found myself a bargain. Back at home I examined my treasure more carefully and apart from a missing dust jacket, it proved to be in mint condition. Although I had no intention of selling it on I was gratified to discover that in today’s market a first edition copy of Bobby’s words in this condition was worth in the region of £45. A 4400% profit! Not bad for a couple of hours of pottering but ironically still not enough to buy a cheap seat for a Category A match at Upton Park today.

Since then Bobby’s autobiography has been nestling in my bookcase in the claret and blue company of Billy Bonds, Geoff Hurst, John Lyall, Harry Redknapp, Tony Cottee and Paolo Di Canio; but I have a confession to make …. I haven’t read it. Last year I also bought Billy Bonds’ autobiography ‘Bonzo’ but about two chapters in my head began to nod, not because I wasn’t interested in the details of Billy’s life and career but because the writing style was so …well … boring. A quick flick through Sir Bobby’s book unfortunately revealed that his writing style was only marginally less ponderous and so there it languishes, in the relegation zone of my ever growing ‘to read’ pile.

As an amateur writer myself I realise that I’m in danger of scoring an own goal here, but it’s clear that just because a footballer is good enough for the Premiership it doesn’t mean that his skills are necessarily transferable to penmanship. Surely there must be some footballers whose writing is as fluid as their dribbling? I decided to find out …..

Albert Camus, is perhaps the most famous literary footballer, with his quote “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football” gracing T-shirts on terraces across the land. However, it seems that the story about him playing in goal for Algeria’s national team in the 1930s or the suggestion that he even played professionally might be apocryphal. What is certain is that he loved the game and played in goal for Racing Universitaire d’Alger until tuberculosis sadly put paid to his footballing career when he was 18. The same applies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who served his time between the sticks for amateur side Portsmouth Association FC in the late 1800s.

For some reason, there appears to have been a disproportionate number of goalie writers. Like writing, goalkeeping is a solitary business and perhaps that is why so many writers who played football chose the loneliness of the green shirt.

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of the controversial novel ‘Lolita’, was an ardent keeper in his youth, and in his autobiographical memoir ‘Speak, Memory’ he wrote: "I was less the keeper of a soccer goal than the keeper of a secret.” Another amateur keeper was Argentinian revolutionary and writer Che Guevara, who penned ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. His ambitions to play as a forward were thwarted by asthma but kicking his heels in the goal mouth probably gave him the time to come up with lines like this “It is not just a simple game. It is a weapon of the revolution.” Even James Joyce was goalkeeper for a small team in rural Inniskeen, albeit as a Gaelic Footballer rather than in the Association game.

In more recent times, but less auspiciously, we have David Icke who had a youth career at Coventry City and made 37 professional appearances as a goalkeeper for Hereford United, which he said “suited the loner in him and gave him a sense of living on the edge between hero and villain.” Since retiring from professional football Icke has attracted ridicule for his thesis about giant lizards living in caverns at the centre of the earth. Sadly, it was intended to be non-fiction. So far he has written 16 books, mostly about the Illuminati, 9/11 and so-called mass mind manipulation.

For notable authors outside of the goalie’s area we must look to Barry Hines, the author of the classic ‘A Kestrel for A Knave’, perhaps better known as the Ken Loach film ‘Kes’. Mr Hines was skilled with both the pen and the ball and he played football for the England Grammar School team and, briefly, for his beloved Barnsley FC.

Then we come to the professional footballers whose literary aspirations ended up in the bargain bin, as much for being badly written as for being too much about football. While still playing for QPR Terry Venables once co-wrote a book called ‘They Used To Play On Grass’, the blurb of which reads: “In this story, manager John Gallagher is rocked by a fresh threat to his dream, three days before one of the biggest matches in soccer history.” Sounds about as thrilling as some of the football we witnessed at West Ham last year.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the novel ‘The Ball Game’ is the cover; which features a naked lady with one foot on a football, brandishing a submachine gun and nothing but a strategically draped ‘Miss America’ sash to preserve her modesty. Co-written by Jimmy Greaves in the 1980s, it follows the adventures of “cockney striker Jackie Groves” who clearly had some rather unusual defending to deal with before he could score against that particular lady. Centre Backs with machine guns ….. now there’s a novel idea.

As unlikely as it may seem, Steve Bruce also wrote a trilogy of football books while managing Huddersfield Town. Entitled ‘Defender!’, ‘Striker!’ and ‘Sweeper!’. The protagonist is none other than ‘Steve Barnes’, manager of the fictional ‘Leddersfield Town’. Where did he get his ideas? Unfortunately, the books were awash with grammatical errors, inconsistent character names, bizarre plots and terrible prose and Bruce himself has described them as "the biggest load of crap ever written.” How refreshing, a football manager who recognises his own shortcomings.

A few professional footballers have made the foray into children’s literature, including Frank Lampard, Theo Walcott and David Beckham. Beckham’s contribution to the English literary canon is ‘Charlie Barker and the Secret of the Deep Dark Woods’, which seems to have been published with very little fanfare. Maybe he needs to find himself a publisher who takes a more aggressive approach to publicity.

Frank Lampard has also got in on the act and has written a series of children’s books called Frankie’s Magic Football. The books follow the adventures of a school boy called Frankie, his football-loving friends, and his pet dog Max. Frank has said “the characters are loosely based on friends and team-mates I’ve played with over the years.” I’m betting Wayne Bridge has kept Frankie Sandford well away from the ‘The Mummy’s Menace’ since she gave birth last year.

Frank’s books have been very well received and I’m sure that he’s as pleased with them as Arsenal’s Theo Walcott was with his children’s book, ‘TJ and the Hat-Trick’, which he declared to be his favourite book when asked in a survey.

A few footballers have put pen to paper outside the genre of literature to write cookery books and travel guides; including Francesco Totti who has written his own tourists’ guide entitled ‘E Mo Te Spiego Roma’/’Let’s Talk About Rome’. His effort to educate his foreign teammates about the beauty of the Eternal City through his own eyes is said to be full of irony and humour and might be worth a read in preparation for the day that we finally make it into Europe. Mind you, looking at the cover it might be prudent to ask for a plain paper wrapping … unless of course that’s your usual type of ‘Totti’.

Apparently Pepe Mel has written a mystery novel called ‘The Liar’ which has been reviewed as ‘Lovejoy’ meets ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and is the tale of an antiques dealer who clashes with The Vatican in his quest to retrieve stolen religious manuscripts. He’s not the only football manager to pen a mystery; you only have to look at Big Sam’s team sheets every week to find another. Maybe this will be the season that he’ll finally write us a thriller and West Ham will perversely start to move down the ‘best seller’ list.

So it would seem that while some writers can play football, most footballers should probably stick to the lines on a pitch rather than the lines on a page and leave the writing to the professionals.

Speaking of which, without wishing to step on Iain Dale’s and Jeff Powell’s toes, Manchester based Hammers may be interested to know that the National Football Museum are hosting the Manchester Football Writing Festival in association with Waterstones between 4th – 12th September; which includes an event on 9th September called Bobby Moore – The Man In Full to launch Matt Dickinson’s much anticipated biography of our very own hero. Matt will read from his book and take questions from the audience about Bobby Moore, his life and career. Matt Dickinson is Chief Football Correspondent for The Times. He won Young Sports Writer of the Year (1993) and Sports Journalist of the Year (2000). He is most famous for conducting the interview with England Manager Glenn Hoddle which led to the latter’s resignation.

Talking Point

Sweet FA Support - A Sporting Injustice for Women's Football

When you were small did you fantasise about wearing claret and blue and scoring the winning goal in front of a roaring crowd at Upton Park? So did I.

Whether you only ever played for your school or a local youth side or were talented enough to reach the heady heights of the professional game, I would wager that the majority of you had the opportunity to play football on a marked out pitch with a referee and proper goalposts.

As a girl born in 1965 I could only look on longingly at the boys’ youth teams playing over our local park on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. During the 1970s little girls were simply not expected to want to play organised football so no provision was made for us, at least not where I grew up on the Essex/East London border. So I had to content myself with games in the road or over the park with the boys who lived down my street. I did have one girl friend at school who was as mad about football as I was and I was green with envy because her dad took her to Upton Park every home game to sit in the mysteriously named chicken run – you can’t imagine the images that conjured up in my 9 year old mind! I can vividly remember the day that we discussed how we were going to join one of the newly formed ladies teams that we’d heard of when we reached the age of 16. In the meantime we endeavoured to practise our skills by ourselves in the pouring rain and mud over a small rec near her house, before trailing back to look at her WHU programmes and dream. Her horrified mum took one look at our bedraggled muddy state and promptly threw us both in the shower. As I walked home in clothes two sizes too big for me I vowed that one day I would be a footballer.

As it transpired, 16 came and went and love and life got in the way and I transferred my longing to play the game into supporting my then boyfriend/husband in his footballing career. It’s a decision that I deeply regret and I honestly believe that if I’d had the opportunity to be involved in grass roots football at a young age then I would have naturally progressed into the women’s game. At the time I just accepted that that’s the way things were, football was for boys and I was some kind of anomaly. It was only with the advent of the internet that I learned that I had been the victim of a great sporting injustice.

The women’s game has a long and interesting history and can even be traced back to ancient times. Fast forward to the 1890s and women’s football in England was well developed with a national team structure and was growing in popularity; one north London team reportedly attracted a 10,000 gate to a game at Crouch End before the turn of the century. However, it was the outbreak of war in 1914 which really saw the women’s game come into its own.

Women were drafted in great numbers to the munitions factories to keep the wheels of the war machine turning and they became known as the ‘Munitionettes’. The Government appointed women welfare supervisors to oversee the well-being of these women and they also encouraged the development of sporting activities. One of those activities was football, and the beautiful game became the official sport of the munitions girls. Almost every factory in the UK involved in war work had a ladies football team; but it was at Dick, Kerr & Co Limited in Preston that the most successful team in the history of women’s football was formed. This team of ordinary factory girls quite literally took the country by storm; and on Christmas Day 1917 10,000 spectators came to the home of Preston North End to witness the start of the most phenomenal success story in the history of women’s sport. Dick, Kerr Ladies notched up the first of many famous victories and £600 was raised for the wounded soldiers, a sum today that would be worth over £38,000. What started out as a means to raise money for the war effort proved to be a bigger success than anyone could ever have imagined and it became obvious that women’s football was a real crowd pleaser.

In the early 1920’s the national enthusiasm for Dick, Kerr Ladies (DKL) was on a par with that for the professional men’s game. DKL had earned themselves the reputation of being the premier team in England and the charities they were playing for recognised ‘what a little gold mine these girls were’. By 1921 the popularity of DKL was at its peak. They were the team that everyone wanted to see and they were being booked to play an average of two games a week. Because of their popularity they were even feted as the unofficial England team and they travelled to Europe and North America to play in exhibition matches. When they arrived in Canada to find that their scheduled games would not be allowed, they travelled to the USA to play a number of men’s club teams.

The fact is that during those post war years women’s football was attracting crowds far in excess of many of the men’s games. On Boxing Day 1920 Dick, Kerr Ladies played against St Helen’s in front of 53,000 people at Goodison Park, with thousands more locked outside. That same year the biggest crowd at a men’s match was 37,545 at 1st Division Chelsea, 2nd Division West Ham attracted 20,100, Division 3 South Millwall 16,650, and Division 3 North Stockport 11,050. The remainder of the new Division 3 North and South could only attract crowds of between 2,500 – 9,500 people; and with the Dick, Kerr Ladies regularly attracting crowds in excess of 30,000 it isn’t difficult to see why men felt threatened by the success of the women’s game.

At its inception women’s football was embraced by The FA for the patriotic nature of their games but by now it was offending the middle class patriarchy of The FA’s ruling council and perhaps more importantly, it was stealing the limelight from the men’s game. It all came to a head on 5th December 1921 when The FA banned women’s football and effectively changed the course of the beautiful game forever. The minutes of the meeting read as follows:

“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.

Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects.

The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects.

For these reasons the Council request clubs belonging to the association to refuse the use of their grounds for such matches”.

It was as easy as that. The axe had fallen on women’s football and fifty years of prejudice and exclusion were to follow. Some members of the medical profession also supported The FA’s ruling, stating that football was a dangerous pursuit for women and could seriously affect their fertility. It was probably the biggest sporting injustice of the last century.

As a result we are a nation that for generations has been brought up with the belief that football is a man’s game; but only because men wanted it that way in order to keep it for themselves. History does prove it to be otherwise but the glittering legacy of women’s football has been conveniently buried and largely forgotten. If only women’s football had been allowed to prosper and grow at the same pace as their male counterparts, just imagine where it would be today.

Women’s football only come back under the auspices of The FA in 1969 when they lifted the ban on women’s teams becoming members. This meant that they were finally allowed access to affiliated pitches and referees; but still only as amateurs. Inevitably, with the women’s game pushed back into relative infancy there was no female grass roots infrastructure for the likes of my generation in the 1970s; and West Ham Ladies wasn’t founded until 1992, so sadly my childhood dreams of playing in claret and blue were a bubble that had long since burst. For me personally there’s scant consolation in the fact that women’s football is slowly beginning to regain the recognition and popularity that it had already worked so hard to gain a century ago; but at least subsequent generations of young women are back in their rightful place on the pitch.

Ironically, at the time of writing, if you Google ‘history of women’s football’ and click on the link to the FA’s website you are directed to this: Please Keep Off The Grass.

With thanks to Gail Newsham for the majority of the information on Dick, Kerr Ladies.

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