Top 50 books: Managers, mavericks and Madridistas

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Welcome to Chapter Two of our rundown of the best 50 football books ever. If you missed numbers 50 to 41, they're here. Or read on for more...

40 Walking On Water
Brian Clough 2002

There are some familiar tunes in Walking on Water. Cloughie rants about the directors who incensed him over the years, and provides sharp insights into the successful sides he built at Nottingham Forest and Derby County during the 1970s.

But many of the lines are delivered with a degree of mournfulness. Ol’ Big ’Ead expresses regret about his homophobia towards the late Justin Fashanu, and he is open and candid about his own alcoholism.

Perhaps the biggest sea-change lies in his attitude towards former assistant Peter Taylor, to whom the book is dedicated. The Forest manager missed Taylor both professionally and personally in his later years at Forest, and the guilt he felt after Taylor’s death in 1990 (the pair didn’t speak for the last eight years of Taylor’s life) hastened his own physical decline.

In the loudly moneyed Premiership era, the pair’s monumental achievements at two provincial clubs will never be repeated. An irresistible tale.

39 The Mavericks
Rob Steen 1994

Amid a backdrop of brutality, the fancy-dans of the title (subtitled "English Football When Flair Wore Flares") followed the trail blazed by English football’s first tabloid star – George Best. Interviews with the likes of Frank Worthington, Stan Bowles and Alan Hudson tease out the subtle differences between each player, and touch upon the two factors shared by all of them: outrageous talent and a tendency to self-destruct.

Bizarrely, the most telling anecdote in the book concerns the least articulate member of the group – Charlie George. When England boss Don Revie substituted him after only an hour of his England debut, he offered the gutted Derby star an olive branch. He could go for a bath, or join him on the bench.

George declined both options. “F*ck you,” came the response, as Revie’s olive branch was summarily dispatched where the sun don’t shine.

If you still remain baffled as to why England failed to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, this goes a long way to solving the mystery.

Revie preaches to the unconverted

38 The Story Of The World Cup
Brian Glanville 1980

The man Patrick Barclay called “that eternal galactico of the press box”, Glanville is the wisest, most knowledgeable and incisive writer football has known. For half a century, he’s blazed a trail with courage, wit and intelligence.

From his forward-thinking 1955 condemnation of blinkered, outmoded attitudes in the English game in Soccer Nemesis to prescient warnings about the Premiership and the bloated Champions League, his passionate and original voice has been unique and authoritative. All football writers are in his debt.

This, the great man’s definitive, eye-witness history of the World Cup, is written in his distinctive, inimitable style, peppered with terrific anecdotes, lordly myth-busting and penetrating insights into tactics and personalities. No wonder he is revered around the world.

As leading Dutch sports writer Auke Kok puts it: “We’ve had some good writers – but we’ve never had a Glanville.”

37 Ajax Barcelona Cruyff: The ABC Of An Obstinate Maestro
Frits Barend & Henk Van Dorp 1999

Cruyff embodies all that is quirky and captivating about Dutch football. ABC pulls together articles and interviews which the authors, respected Dutch journalists, conducted with Cruyff over 35 years.

His obstinacy (“If I’d wanted you to understand, I’d have explained it better”) and aloofness (Interviewer: “I don’t understand a word”; Cruyff: “Yes but I’m only suitable for the people at the top. For the people who really understand these things”) is apparent throughout.

But David Winner, who translated ABC into English, notes: “It’s a bit of a misnomer to think that all Dutch footballers are like Cruyff. He’s deliberately elliptical in interviews, and has this habit of referring to himself as ‘you’. He seeks to be incomprehensible, it seems.” Cruyff argues: “It’s the way I talk, so why not put it in the book?”.

Too Dutch for the Dutch? The mind boggles.

"Act mysterious, they love it"

36 The Football Grounds of England and Wales
Simon Inglis 1983

Football’s answer to architectural guru Nikolaus Pevsner, Simon Inglis single-handedly made us appreciate our extraordinarily rich sporting architectural heritage.

As an architectural history student in the 1970s, Inglis spent weekends cycling around the cities of Britain, checking out cathedrals and football grounds, an eccentric obsession triggered by his boyhood love of Aston Villa’s old Trinity Road stand.

There was plenty to read on religious buildings, but nothing on cathedrals of football. Years later, as a freelance journalist, he decided to follow his passion and chronicle the history and design of every one of Britain’s 92 league grounds.

In snobbish architectural circles, he may as well have written about road haulage depots. “People forget how unfashionable and unglamorous football was back then,” explains Inglis. “When I told architectural people what I was doing they’d say ‘How quaint’.”

Some of the people running the game were even worse. “Football was an industry run by people who had no idea what it was. They knew very little. It never even occurred to them that a football ground could be important or culturally valuable,” he adds.

At best, Inglis assumed, The Football Grounds of England and Wales work would moulder on a few library shelves. Instead, when it appeared in 1983, it struck a resounding chord. “I got long emotional letters from football fans pouring their hearts out about their affection for their home ground and how important it was in their lives – how they felt they were no longer alone.”

After the 1985 Bradford fire disaster, he expected the real experts on stadium design to stand up and be counted – and then realised he was the only one around, a position he has since cemented with two decades of advice to government bodies on the subject and numerous books including the splendid Engineering Archie, a biography of prolific stadium designer Archibald Leitch.

Stately homes: Inglis's inspiration

Inglis also turned out to be something of a footballing Roman Vishniac, documenting a world on the eve of its destruction. Within a decade, the Hillsborough disaster and the Taylor Report would end the culture of the terraces. “My one regret is that I didn’t take more photographs,” he says. “But at the time I wasn’t sure many people would be interested.”

35 Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football
Phil Ball 2001

Ball is lucky to have published Morbo before the post-Beckham flood of books on Real Madrid (including two of his own), when there was very little in English on football in Spain. Like Alex Bellos and David Winner, Ball wrote well, was funny, and knew more about his chosen country than just its football.

The bulk of his book is stories of morbo, a Spanish word that means something like needle or rivalry. It is, in effect, a guide to Spanish life. Ball lives in San Sebastian, played beach football with legendary winger Lopez Ufarte, and knew someone who taught Luis Arconada English.

It’s the perfect mix of the personal and the national, Ball’s own life illuminating the book. It will survive after most of the Madrid books have turned out to be ephemeral.

34 England v Argentina: World Cups and Other Small Wars
David Downing 2003

England’s hostility to Germany – explored in Downing’s first book on rivalry – is readily explicable; the roots of England’s tensions with Argentina are less so.

From the earliest tours by English clubs to South America through Rattin and Maradona to Beckham and Simeone, Downing examines the spats that resulted in mutual loathing, concluding that the two nations’ value systems are incompatible. One favours physicality and honesty, the other trickery and cunning.

Downing’s best moment is his myth-shattering analysis of the 1966 quarter-final, after which Alf Ramsey called Argentina “animals”. In fact, it was England who committed more fouls.

"Don't swap shirts, kick him"

33 Kicking And Screaming
Rogan Taylor & Andrew Ward 1995

This is the only all-encompassing oral history of football in the 20th Century, pulling together all the strands which make up football’s fabric. The testimonies, which formed the basis of an award-winning BBC TV series, range from Zillwood March’s comments on football in 1900 to West Ham United supporters revealing the strength of feeling against the club’s bond scheme proposal in the 1990s.

Fans who packed the terraces in the ’30s talk of “hotlegs” and Bestie speaks about life in the ’60s. Whether it’s Sir Tom Finney’s “jumpers for goalposts”, Len Shackleton admitting to receiving £25 backhanders in the 1940s or Ian Wright discussing astronomical wages in the 1990s, this is an indispensable guide to how football was dragged – kicking and screaming – towards the 21st Century.

32 The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw: The Robin Friday Story
Paolo Hewitt & Paul McGuigan 1998

Drinking binges, drug-fuelled rages, disappearing acts, jail sentences, an outrageous talent squandered, and a shockingly early death amid suspicious circumstances: meet Reading and Cardiff ’70s cult hero Robin Friday – football’s Keith Moon.

The idea for the book came during Oasis’s 1996 US tour. The then Oasis bassist Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan and music journalist Paolo Hewitt stumbled upon a Goal article printed in memory of Friday, who’d recently died at the age of 38.

Inspired to unearth more about him, they headed for Berkshire when the tour ended. “Guys on the Reading Evening Post put us in touch with his family and team-mates, and the stories just started flooding in,” recalls Hewitt.

The Friday legend is perpetuated by the fact that so little footage of him remains. He spent his entire career in the lower leagues, and despite extensive research, Hewitt unearthed only a few grainy images of him in action.

But team-mates vouch for Friday’s unorthodox brand of genius. He set the tone after his Reading debut in 1973. When asked if he was satisfied with his debut goal, he replied: “Yeah, I could have back-heeled it in actually, but I thought that might be taking the p*ss a bit.”

“Guigsy always said that George Best was football’s first pop star, and that Robin Friday was its first rock star,” Hewitt comments. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, Friday turned up to away games armed only with his boots, and would go AWOL until the following weekend’s ‘gig’.

Off the field, Friday emerges as a rebel in other ways. Hailing from a white working-class estate, he married a black girl at 16, fought running battles with National Front activists, and grew his hair long. Controversial referee Clive Thomas reckoned Friday’s outrageous 35-yard scissors-kick against Tranmere was “the most amazing goal ever”. It’s certainly the greatest you never saw.

31 El Macca: Four Years With Real Madrid
Steve McManaman & Sarah Edworthy 2004

Often criticised during his fitful England displays, Macca’s style seems at odds with the work ethic which English fans expect from players. Yet the languid Scouser, who scored Madrid’s second goal in their 2000 Champions League win over Valencia, was also our most successful export in a long while.

“He was clever enough to be adaptable, and to understand that his approach work would enable the likes of Figo and Raul to express themselves,” says co-writer Sarah Edworthy.

This book is more than simply hagiography of his time in Madrid. It recounts how he was used as a diplomat to soothe tempers in the dressing room and how he and wife Victoria adapted to life in Spain. A far more quirky and insightful account of life among the galacticos than Becks, Owen or, er, Woodgate are likely to provide.

More on tomorrow, including fervent Brazilians, warring Dutchmen and an irascible Irishman...

Top 50 books: The countdown
Chapter 1: Fashion, fighting & Fish (Billy the)
Chapter 2: Managers, mavericks & Madridistas
Chapter 3: Priests, demons & golliwogs
Chapter 4: Randy Africans, hairdryers & Communists
Chapter 5: Puskas, politics & Palinesque jaunts

---------------------------------------------- More to read...

Top 50 Books: Chapter One
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