Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

92 Grounds, 92 Pies, 1 Masterpiece

Posted by hakanrylander on August 19, 2011

It is a simple idea. During the 2008/2009 season Tom Dickinson watched a match at each of the 92 League grounds. This meant he travelled 3,000 miles and put “his relationship, health and sanity on the line”.  Even though the idea is simple it is not easy to turn it into a good read, but Mr Dickinson has managed this brilliantly.

Each chapter follows more or less the same template. The author wakes up (often hung-over), travels to the ground, finds a parking space, gets a ticket (often at a ridiculous price), has a quick look in the club shop, watches the game, chats with some fans and eats a pie. This is repeated 92 times. It sounds boring, but actually Mr Dickinson has written a highly entertaining book. He is witty, has a fine eye for detail and often manages to convey the atmosphere at different stadiums.

Obviously this is a book best enjoyed in small doses. I read a few chapters each day during my summer holiday and it certainly increased my longing for League One and League Two football (which hasn’t been particularly strong until now).

Highly recommended.

Tom Dickinson: 92 Pies (Blackline Press)


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Review: Why England lose

Posted by hakanrylander on October 9, 2009

Why England loseThis book combines the skills of a top journalist with those of “Britain’s foremost sports economist” in a very successful way.  Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski give us the rare pleasure of an enjoyable read about academic subjects.

Among the topics they cover are “How to avoid silly mistakes in the transfer market”, “Why football clubs don’t make money”, “The country that loves football most” and, amazingly, “Are Manchester United really a problem?” (The answer is no.) Some of the questions they answer very convincingly, others less so, but most of the time you have fun reading their explanations. 

The best part is probably the chapter dealing with England’s lack of success. The authors start by listing eight phases to describe the traditional pattern of an England World Cup campaign. A pattern that looks very familiar to any football fan looking at England from the outside.

  1. Certainty that England will win the World Cup
  2. During the tournament England meet a former wartime enemy
  3. The English conclude that the game turned on one freakish piece of bad luck that could happen only to them
  4. Moreover, everyone else cheated
  5. England are knocked out without getting anywhere near lifting the cup
  6. The day after elimination, normal life resumes
  7. A scapegoat is found
  8. England enter the next World Cup thinking they will win it

Having beaten Croatia is of course more than enough to now place us firmly in phase eight.

Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski: Why England lose & other curious football phenomena explained (HarperCollins)

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Après Hornby, le deluge

Posted by hakanrylander on October 2, 2009

I think it’s probably fair to credit Nick Hornby with starting the avalanche of football books that is now upon us. You can now find books looking at football from just about every perceivable angle; biographies, tactical analysis, academic research etc. To guide you through this maze we have decided to publish the Official Between the Lines List of the Top Ten Football Books Ever Written:

1. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. Still the undisputed champion. He perfectly captures the feelings of an Arsenal supporter during a season with the most perfect of endings (if you’re an Arsenal supporter). But what really sets this book apart is the sheer quality of the writing. All toiling blog editors should envy his seemingly effortless style. I know I do.

2. Brilliant Orange by David Winner. Winner tries, very successfully, to capture the the essence of the distinguished and sophisticated football culture of the Netherlands, and explains why Total Football was born there.

3. The Damned Utd by David Peace. An absolute page-turner relating the story of Brian Clough’s brief spell as manager of Leeds United in 1974. The book is very elegantly structured, with the Leeds story told in parallell with Clough’s career as a player at Sunderland and very successful manager at Hartlepool and Derby County. Well-researched and well-written.

4. Why England Lose by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. A happy marriage between a top journalist and a sports economist gives us the rare pleasure of an enjoyable read about academic subjects.

5. My Father and Other Working-class Football Heroes by Gary Imlach. An unusal book about football in the 50’s that shows how totally different the life of a top footballer was then compared to the present. Given extra depth by the fact that a son is writing about his father.

6. The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss. The story of how a smalltown club rises from regional amateur football to the Italian Serie B. Very well-written.

7. She stood there laughing by Stephen Foster. This is the best of a number of books trying to follow closely in the footsteps of Fever Pitch. But Foster supports Stoke City which means that most of the time the best he can hope for is not to be unjoyful at the end of ninety minutes.

8. Cantona – The Rebel Who Would be King by Philippe Auclair. The French journalist Philippe Auclair sheds light on several aspects of Cantona’s complex personality, and the book therefore rises head and shoulders above the average football biography.

9. My Favourite Year, Ed: Nick Hornby. A collection of stories with contributions from Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby among others, each focusing on a particular club during a particular season. My favourite is Olly Wicken’s account of Watford during the season 1974/75.

10. Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson. A history of how the development of football tactics spread around the world, and how important steps in this developmet were taken in Italy, Brazil, Holland and the coffee-shops of Vienna.

Please let me know if I’ve missed a book that should be on the list.

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Review: Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King

Posted by hakanrylander on September 30, 2009

Cantona the rebel who“I have never and will never find difference between the pass from Pelé to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970, and the poetry of the young Rimbaud.”

Let’s face it, there’s no way you would attribute this quote to John Terry, Steven Gerrard or even Gary Neville. Or for that matter any player in the history of the Premier League, other than Eric Cantona. Cantona stands out during the last 20 years of English football not only for his skills but also for his attempts to lift football to the level of the fine arts (where it belongs, of course) while other, darker parts of his personality made hot-headed attacks on coaches, opponents or spectators.

The French journalist Philippe Auclair manages to shed light on several aspects of this complex personality, and the book therefore rises head and shoulders above the average football biography. The research is very thorough, including about 200 interviews, but the subject himself has not been interviewed or in any other way contributed.

Until he arrived at Old Trafford Cantona regularly fell out with coaches and chairmen and didn’t stay for long at any club. One of Auclair’s theses is that throughout his career Cantona was looking for a father figure that he could trust and who trusted him, and that Alex Ferguson managed to strike just the right balance by giving the player a bit of latitude.

A must read.

But first, please try to spot the difference: PeléRimbaud.

Philippe Auclair: Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King (Pan Macmillan)

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Review: The damned Utd

Posted by hakanrylander on April 5, 2009

damned-utdThis novel ranks right up there with the best books ever written about football, such as “Fever pitch” and “Brilliant orange”. I read it last week, and it’s an absolute page-turner. Most of you are probably familiar with the background story of Brian Clough’s spell as manager of Leeds United in 1974 (yes, it’s about Leeds, not Manchester).

The book is very elegantly structured, with the story of the 44 disastrous days at Leeds told in parallell with Clough’s career as a player at Sunderland and very successful manager at Hartlepool and Derby County, and the two story-lines converge towards the end. It’s a novel based on a true story (and apparently very well-researched) which makes it a mix of fact and fiction.

I like this book a lot, but I still have a couple of reservations. Firstly, I find it difficult to match the image I get of Clough with the fact that he was one of the most successful English managers of all time. He took Derby County from the bottom of the Second Division to the League Championship, and he won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest. But in the book he seems completely unable to handle the, admittedly difficult, situation at Leeds. Secondly, it is well documented that Clough had a drinking problem but if it was on the scale indicated in the book it’s beyond me how he could be a top manager for so many years.

But never mind the reservations. A must read!

David Peace: The damned Utd (Faber and Faber).

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Review: Manchester United ruined my wife

Posted by hakanrylander on January 24, 2009

ruinedmywifeYou’ve got to admire the guy. He was present at all three European Cup Finals; 1968 at Wembley, 1999 in Barcelona and 2008 in Moscow. This book covers more than 40 years of his highs and lows as a United supporter.

Blatt has a habit of trying to make a joke in every other sentence, but some of the gags are repetetive or not even funny in the first place. The constant references to the relative merits of sex and football grows tiresome already on the second page. But he gets it right often enough for you to have a lot of fun reading this book, and his “joie de vivre” is impressive even if his French wife occasionally puts him in “la maison du chiene”.

As you would expect the book is often biased (how could it not be!) as when he relates crowd trouble in connection with away games in Europe. In these cases the United choir boys always seem to be the victims of unprovoked attacks from opposing fans and/or the police.

The book confirms that Mr Blatt’s obsession with Manchester United is at a completely different level compared to my own. But I’m not sure that my wife would agree.

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Review: Manchester United ruined my life

Posted by hakanrylander on January 23, 2009

ruinedmylifeColin Shindler grew up in Manchester in the 1950s and 1960s which sounds pretty wonderful considering the opportunities to enjoy the Busby Babes as well as Best, Charlton and Law. But fate dealt Shindler a cruel hand. At the age of three he became a passionate City supporter.

This is the best book written by a City-supporter that I’m aware of. The story deals not just with football but with the author’s childhood which is spent as an outsider in more ways than one. It contains a lot of sadness, as when his mother dies, but is also at times hilariously funny. One highlight is Shindler’s puzzled response when told about the murder of Bobby Kennedy. “Well, he was only a reserve.”

But the book was published in 1998, so why review it now? Well, let’s say I needed to prepare the way for tomorrow’s review. Stay tuned.

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Review: The Economics of Football

Posted by hakanrylander on November 10, 2008

economicsoffootballThis book is a sometimes enlightening, sometimes frustrating mix of the interesting, the obvious and the too complicated. The authors Stephen Dobson and John Goddard lectures in Economics at The Queen’s University of Belfast and at University of Wales Swansea respectively. They’ve attempted to analyse professional English football at club level, using a combination of economic reasoning and statistical and econometric analysis.

In previous posts I’ve touched upon two of the segments that I find most interesting; the increasing inequality between rich and poor clubs and how the length of a spell of wins/losses affects the probabilities of the outcome of the next game.

Another chapter deals with the highly interesting question of whether it’s possible to beat the bookies by using a statistical model based on historical results. This is of course crucial, not least from the point of view of personal wealthbuilding. The answer, sadly, is negative. Or perhaps I just have to construct a better model than these guys managed to.

Though some parts are very interesting others are boring (relating things I already knew) or incomprehensible (describing complex statistical models in detail). To a large extent it’s possible to skip these segments, but at times I found that my somewhat limited understanding of the finer points of econometrics hindered my ability to question the conclusions reached by the authors.

Despite these reservations the book increased my understanding of some of the factors that drive the development of football, and was well worth the effort.

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Scousers infiltrate world-class performance

Posted by hakanrylander on October 25, 2008

This week I attended a concert by Bryn Terfel, the world’s best baritone and also an avid United supporter. It was a wonderful experience with the highlights probably being his renditions of “Credo in un Dio crudel” from Othello and “Ehi! paggio!…L’onore! Ladri!” from Falstaff. The program, amazingly, ended with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. But Mr Terfel was careful to point out that “the scousers think this is a song about their football team, but in fact it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein”. He tried to make us sing along, but full marks to the audience who seemed totally unfamiliar with both the tune and the lyrics.

Also present was a representative of leading West Ham-blog Bubbleview. Still Mr Terfel sensibly refrained from a “Forever Blowing Bubbles” encore.

Recommended recording: Cecilia & Bryn (Decca).

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Review: Myths and Facts about Football

Posted by hakanrylander on October 8, 2008

The Independent today reviews an interesting book yet to be published; Myths and Facts about Football: The Economics and Psychology of the World’s Greatest Sport. The book draws together academic research from around the world, exploring a number of wellknown “facts” about football and submitting them to scientific and mathematical tests. Some are found to be myths, such as “teams run a greater risk of conceding just after scoring” and “taking the lead just before half-time makes a win much more likely”. While others are found to be true, e.g.  “goalkeepers dive too often for penalties” and “teams who celebrate goals collectively achieve better results”.

Seems like a bit of a goldmine. I’ll get back with a proper review once I’ve read the book.

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