Book Reviews

The Man in the Middle – By Howard Webb- Published by Simon & Schuster UK- Price £20.

This is the autobiography (albeit assisted by Joanne Lake) of a rare breed of men and an even rarer breed of Englishmen who have refereed the FIFA Men’s World Cup Final to give it its full title.

That great day came in Johannesburg in “South Africa2010” in the match between Holland and Spain where he shared his honour with friends and colleagues Darren Cann and Mike Mullarkey as his Assistant Referees. Both the meeting at which they heard the news and the match itself with some of the criticism it threw up are amply covered with the joy of the former tempered by the problems of the latter.

Football of course has not been Webb’s only career having been inducted into the police force in 1993 and there are stories of unintended bravery in both occupations. Indeed the work with the “force” is both ably woven and blended into the whole book and especially shows the struggle of trying to win promotion equally in both capacities.

Plenty of space is devoted to the long road from youth football to the top with promotions coming regularly and with advice and assistance given by more senior referees, including his father who supported his son’s refereeing throughout his career. Of particular note in the early years came when as a boy first at the job being physically threatened by an errant father as too often is the case. Many might and often do quit in such circumstances but Webb carried on both regarding and regardless to continue with such banes as biased club linesmen and the wait for promotion.

In what turns out to be a revelatory Chapter 4 we see that even when reaching the top the rivalry and factions occur between men who are supposed to be the closest of colleagues which will throw a light on the fact that even as professionals referees are no different to others.

There are many insights into players refereed, match incidents and the game as seen from a different perspective to most football autobiographies as it is seen from the referee’s point of view .What stands out most from this book is the author’s complete honesty and self deprecation especially in regard to the chapter encompassing that World Cup Final in the chapter entitled “Today’s Your Day” wherein he cautioned nine players and dismissed one. In the final chapter we are invited into favourite reminiscences on the cusp of retirement with a hint of pathos displayed but also a touch of heart on the sleeve.

Above all this is a book showing that love of football that all referees must have, but also one written with complete honesty which does not shirk to self criticism since there must be few referees who would admit so readily to their mistakes.

This is a great read even if you are not interested in refereeing because of all the background stories and match incidents.

There are 305 pages including Index and the book is well illustrated with colour photographs.

 


TURF WARS- A History of London Football- by Steve Tongue published by Pitch Publishing Ltd @£9.99

Football Club histories can amongst other things be dry or fascinating and this narration is without doubt very much in the latter category. Written by one of the few journalists equally at home in broadcasting or the written word this is a mammoth task completed with both style and fact, since the author sets out to record the events marking the complete stories of all the London Clubs who have appeared in the four top divisions. This also includes those minnows from non-League, Barnet in the North and Dagenham in the East as they finally made their way into the heady heights of the highest echelon.

As can be expected for analysis purposes the book is divided into sections and these consist of “Early days(1863-1899); Taking shape(1900-1920); Capital gains(1921-1939) Interlude(War);  Austerity(1946-60); Glory days(1961-1970); Transition(1971-90); Greed is good(1991-2000): and  Plus ca change (2001-16)”. There is another interlude chapter which is entitled Non-league football which deals with the oft forgotten era of when the game was loved and supported by thousands of fans across a large range of amateur clubs, who as we know saw some promoted to the Football League when they became professional.

The book shows how much rivalry there has been over time especially between Arsenal and Spurs when the Gunners first reached the top division, but it did not stop Spurs allowing Arsenal to use their ground when Highbury was bombed in the war. Or the enmity involving failed take-overs and rescuing of the clubs in West London, including Chelsea, Fulham, Brentford and QPR .Or simply the desire to be top-dog especially in the First Division and the Premier League where Arsenal apart from short periods led the way.

Whoever you support in the London your team is included here and of course fans of  Spurs the first club to complete the double of League and FA Cup in the 20th century followed by Arsenal and ultimately by Chelsea have the most to crow about, especially the Gunners in going a complete season without a league defeat. All of this and other exploits are more than ably recorded but the rest are not forgotten. These include Brentford and the battlers of Wimbledon (now Milton Keynes Dons) stays in the top division along with the ups and downs of QPR and Fulham, the short appearances of Millwall and the even shorter experience of Leyton Orient the club that the author supports.

There is another vital aspect to the book which is the social history woven within the same especially in the earliest chapters but it progresses as the game progresses by the clubs, throughout the 33 Greater London Boroughs (which is why Watford are excluded) despite numerous postal address changes and the occasional name variations to the clubs themselves.

So if you are a supporter or have any interest in a London club their story is unfolded in these pages covering their triumphs their longevity and their despairs..
There are 317 pages in which there is a section on the “Top London Club” season by season; an excellent Bibliography; an Index to the Clubs themselves and some fine colour photos.

Thus no-one in the football loving population of London or indeed going further afield should miss out on acquiring this terrific paperback book.

 


Reviewed here are the biographies of the first two men to be President of the LFCA.

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The first is by the son-in-law of Sir Walter Winterbottom and the second is by the wife of Jimmy Hill. Thus both books are by people intimately connected with their subjects and are able to bring an insight that other writers may not have been able to do.

Sir Walter Winterbottom- The Father of Modern Football by Graham Morse-Published by John Blake Books @ £8.99.

This is the paperback edition of the hardback published some 3 years ago and has been updated with an extra chapter.

Running to 414 pages and with a Foreward by Gregg Dyke FA Chairman, it covers a lifetime devoted to football in general and coaching in particular. Indeed without Walter there would never have been a coaching system created for many years after his blue-print came into existence. This is because he built it up coach by coach encouraging some of the subsequent great names in coaching to attend his courses, become coaches themselves and then pass on their knowledge to others.

These men all brought together by Walter sometimes over a period of time included Dave Sexton, Don Howe, Bill Nicholson, Jimmy Hill, John Cartwright, Bobby Robson, Ron Greenwood and Jackie Goodwin who then inspired younger coaches such as Terry Venables, John Lyall, Gordon Jago whilst others took their new-found skills abroad including Phil Whosenam, Roy Hodgson and Bobby Houghton. In addition and to recognise their work Walter created what he called “The Staff Coaches” and they met every year at Lilleshall to exchange ideas and put on coaching sessions often with a respected coach being invited from abroad. This continued for many years until unfortunately removed by one of Walter’s successors.

Gradually the coaching system was introduced at lower levels to encompass all those interested in taking, firstly the Preliminary Badge at local venues and then the Full Badge on longer courses provided at specific venues around the country. In order to serve the numbers interested in taking courses and being involved with further developments he founded Coaching Associations the first of which was in London. But of course WW was not only intensely involved in virtually single-handedly building up the coaching system he was also the first real England Manager and the book goes through the successes and failures including the 6-3 home defeat to Hungary in 1953 and contains a full list of the Internationals that England played under his leadership but not under his control as he was never solely allowed to pick the team as the text clearly reveals.

One matter that we should all be indebted to the author for is setting right the oft-suggested statement that Walter was not a successful player. Here it is shown that but for some unfortunate mis-understandings and then injuries he would have won England Amateur International Caps and War-time England caps and would have been a Manchester United stalwart for years. Likewise the work he did for the Sports Council after leaving the FA is here shown in its true light, as is the terrible and insidious scheming used by various high ranking members of the FA which prevented him from being made Secretary to the FA as successor to Sir Stanley Rous which the latter had so much wanted him to be.

Although the emphasis here has naturally been on the football side of his life the book contains full details of growing up, academic success marriage and family as well as family history. In regard to history there is woven throughout
a social history as the author places WW’s life in the context of England as it was throughout his life and as an ever changing pattern. This must surely rate as one of the finest of football biographies and was rightly nominated for an award.

There is a bibliography, a fulsome index and several mono photos.
 


My Gentleman Jim by Bryony Hill Published by the Book Guild-price £15.99
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The author is the wife of our late President Jimmy Hill and although the author also of other books, this one is a bit special as it is such an up close and personal tribute to someone so often referred to as the “Man for all seasons”.
Indeed this is a very private book and subtitled “A Love Story” so that it weaves in and out of their close relationship as it tells the story of their years together starting in the 1970’s. Obviously Jimmy’s football career commenced before that but it is adequately covered often through the eyes and words of third parties including his father, numerous friends and other football and indeed sports personalities as well as in quotes from several football autobiographies.

Although of course the subject matter of this volume is about the extraordinary JH there are some pivotal chapters involving Bryony herself. These being entitled “I get to meet my man” and “many a slip twixt fizz and lip” which self evidently detail their meeting and subsequent time together.

It is a measure of Jimmy’s involvement in so much for so long and with so many that the names the author is able to identify during their time together as having mixed with from Royalty to entertainers to often simply sports fans would require an Index as long as at least three chapters in themselves but unfortunately in this regard the book does not even have one at all.

However there are insights not only into football in England but in Saudi Arabia, the USA and South Africa where Jimmy ploughed his furrow not always successfully although always optimistically. We hear about his versatility in driving fast cars, horse riding, playing tennis golf and cricket and even the trumpet on occasions. In fact seen in print in this way Jimmy’s career and life itself is even more incredible than has hitherto been supposed or imagined either by repute or reputation.

The relationship between Bryony and Jimmy despite being over a long period comes to fruition in the chapter entitled “Third time lucky” when after 15 years living together they married. The ensuing happy years that follow encapsulate many of the same patterns of life together but also show much love and friendship between the pair. The inevitable sad ending is narrated with sincerity and lack of self pity containing as it does some cogent notes on how Bryony dealt with Jim’s ever developing Alzheimer’s disease. Thus we are left in this book with an even greater knowledge of a man with both an extraordinary and prodigious talent who had foresight, determination and energy to spare. The greatest tribute one can make to the man is that we would be fortunate to ever see his like again.

The book runs to 212 pages and is fully illustrated with numerous colour and mono photos.