24 October 2014

Shortlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014

The shortlist for the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award was announced today.

After deliberating over the 15 titles named on the longlist at the end of last month, the judges have whittled the field down to seven.  The winner will be announced on November 27.  The shortlisted titles are:

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full, by Matt Dickinson (Yellow Jersey Press), in which Times journalist Dickinson explores the sometimes dark personal story behind the sporting success of the World Cup captain.

Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play, by Simon Inglis (English Heritage), in which the author combines his rich knowledge of sport and architecture in a fascinating and wonderfully illustrated history of sport in the capital through the places it has been played.

Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones (Bloomsbury). Writer and documentary maker Bill Jones charts the brilliant, troubled and tragically short life of Olympic skating champion John Curry.

Run or Die, by Kilian Jornet (Viking). The autobiography of Spanish endurance athlete and 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Kilian Jornet, which began mountain hiking when he was only 18 months old and ultimately became the fastest person to run up and down Mt Kilimanjaro.

Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien (Yellow Jersey Press), in which the Australian writer takes the high-profile rape trial of a young Australian Rules player as the starting point for a wider examination of the murkier recesses of sport.

Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, by Rob Steen (Bloomsbury).  The writer, a sports journalist and university lecturer, explores the intrinsic place in culture occupied by spectator sports in a thematic history of professional sport.

Proud: My Autobiography, by Gareth Thomas and Michael Calvin (Ebury Press).  The story of Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas, the first professional rugby player to declare himself to be gay while playing, sensitively ghosted by Independent on Sunday journalist Michael Calvin.

Calvin himself won the 2014 British Sports Book Awards book of the year title with The Nowhere Men, his journey into the world of football's hidden army of talent scouts.

Simon Inglis, Rob Steen and Bill Jones have previously been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

William Hill spokesman and co-founder of the award, Graham Sharpe, said: “In this year’s rich and varied shortlist lie compelling explorations of the personal struggles and triumphs of some of our most esteemed sporting figures, an enquiry into the dark side of sporting culture and not one, but two fascinating social histories.

"The quality of writing speaks for itself – it’s an extremely exciting time in sports-writing.”

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable sports-writing prize. As well as a £26,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races.

The judging panel for this year’s award comprises: retired player and former chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd.

The chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop, the once much-loved haunt of sports book lovers.

The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday November 27.

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22 October 2014

Impressive cast of top authors appearing at four-day London Festival of Sports Writing

Lord's cricket ground this week hosts an event the organisers hope will become an important annual fixture on the sports books calendar as the home of cricket stages the London Festival of Sports Writing for the second time.

A host of authors will take part in four days of fascinating conversation over a series of talks, panel discussions, book signings and masterclasses.
Top-of-the-bill Roy Keane's appearance on Saturday evening, when he will be discussing his hard-hitting new autobiography, The Second Half, with co-author Roddy Doyle has already sold out, but there plenty of other opportunities to listen to other authors talking about their work.

Brian Moore, the former England and Lions hooker, appears on tomorrow's programme with the Mail on Sunday's Alison Kervin to discuss his latest book, What Goes on Tour Stays on Tour, due out next month, a memoir that happily promises not to live up to its title.

Moore, now a columnist and pundit, won the 2010 William Hill Sports Book of the Year for Beware of the Dog.

Also tomorrow, Sunday Times journalist Simon Wilde, author of On Pietersen, a fine, objective account of the career of Kevin Pietersen published just ahead of KP's own story, takes part in a three-way chat with the Daily Telegraph's Nick Hoult and The Sun's John Etheridge in the company of Wisden editor Lawrence Booth, of which the subject, naturally enough, will be English cricket's greatest enigma.  A question and answer session with the audience follows.
An exciting programme on Friday includes several Festival highlights, among them an appearance by the former Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas, the first professional rugby player to announce that he was gay, who will talk about his autobiography Proud in conversation with Independent on Sunday sports writer Michael Calvin, who has already won praise for his sensitive handling of Thomas's story in his collaboration on the book.

Also on Friday, Times journalist Matt Dickinson sits down with former West Ham and England footballer Sir Trevor Brooking to talk about Bobby Moore, England's World Cup-winning captain, who is the subject of a superb biography by Dickinson, entitled Bobby Moore: The Man in Full.  Brooking has recently published his own autobiography, My Life in Football.
They will be followed on stage by Observer football writer and Arsenal fan Amy Lawrence in the company of former Arsenal vice chairman David Dein and central defender Sol Campbell, who will talk about the so-called Invincibles, the Arsenal team of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires that went unbeaten throughout the 2003-04 season.  Amy's book Invincible: Inside Arsenal's Unbeaten 2003-04 Season is published tomorrow.

Apart from Keane and Doyle, Saturday's programme includes what promises to be a fascinating discussion between the Dutch journalist Hugo Borst, writer and broadcaster Gabrielle Marcotti and Dutch football expert David Winner on the subject of the Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, about whom Borst wrote a best-selling biography.

The Festival concludes on Sunday with a day devoted to cycling, which has seen an explosion in literature in the last few years.  Speakers and panellists include Emma O'Reilly, former masseur to disgraced Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong and the former World and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, whose autobiography, The Breakaway, lifted the lid on a host of dirty tricks, underhand dealings, self-serving officials and, most vehemently, the drug cheats she encountered in her career.

The London Sports Writing Festival at Lord’s, which takes place this week from Thursday October 23 to Sunday October 26, is jointly hosted by David Luxton Associates and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), in partnership with the London Evening Standard.

For full details of the Festival programme, with details on how to buy tickets, visit www.londonsportswritingfestival.com. 

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16 October 2014

Stuck in a Moment: tragic story of Arsenal star Paul Vaessen brilliantly told in new biography

Football is not short of poignant tales of players struck down by injury in their prime, potential unfulfilled, dreams left slowly to evaporate.  Yet it is difficult to imagine one quite so desperately sad as the story of Paul Vaessen, which is retold with great feeling and skill by Stewart Taylor in a brilliant biography.

In a career that comprised only 39 first-team appearances, Vaessen scored nine goals for Arsenal, but one of them ensured him a permanent place in the club's history, when he came on as substitute in a European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final against Juventus in Turin and scored the goal, with two minutes remaining, that put Arsenal into the final, 2-1 on aggregate.  It was the first time the Italian team had lost at home to a British opponent.  Vaessen was an 18-year-old forward suddenly with the world at his feet.

Scarcely two years later, after three operations, a knee ligament injured suffered in a north London derby forced him to retire, not yet 21.   It was a crippling blow in more than one sense.  He would always have physical pain but it was the mental anguish that took its toll.  Feeling abandoned and forgotten, he turned to drugs and alcohol, slipping into a life of petty crime and addiction that destroyed his life and the lives of people around him.

He survived a stabbing in 1985, knifed in a side street off the Old Kent Road.  He lost a considerable amount of blood and doctors had to restart his heart twice on the operating table, yet he was so addicted he walked out of the hospital, still attached to a drip, a catheter and a colostomy bag, in search of another fix.  In the hospital, he worked out how he could bypass the pump controlling the hourly dose of morphine he was receiving for pain and give himself a six-hour hit in one go.

Afterwards, though he was rarely off drugs for long, he spent seven years with his girlfriend, Debbie, with whom he had a son.  They married, but eventually she left him and his life spiralled steadily downwards, his addiction regularly landing him in court because of the crimes he committed in order to fund it.  He moved to Hampshire, finding work as a paint sprayer and meeting another girl, Sally, with whom he had another son, but that relationship collapsed as well.  He had hoped to begin a new career as a physiotherapist but his plan to go to college never happened.  At around the same time, he had to give up work because of the pain from his knee and if ever he needed an excuse to numb himself with drugs and alcohol he felt he had one then.

He moved again, to stay with his brother, Leon, in Bristol.  It was there, in August 2001, he was found dead in the bathroom of the house they shared, the victim of an accidental overdose, aged only 39.

It was 21 years since the most famous night of his life, the one that would forever be his legacy, the moment from which he would never escape.  Had he lived, it would doubtless have been talked about today, on what would have been his 53rd birthday.

The author, who has been writing, mainly about Arsenal, since the mid-90s, spent five years in research, spending much time with Paul Vaessen's mother, Maureen, whose courage and resilience shines through and without whose co-operation the story would not have been complete.  Other family members confided in him too, as did many of Paul's friends as well as former team-mates and coaches.  Tony Adams, who battled his own addictions, provided a foreword as heartfelt as any you could read.

Taylor handles their input, some of it deeply personal and harrowing, with considerable sensitivity and he can be proud of the end result.  Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen has been longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2014.

Buy Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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10 October 2014

Keane story nudging ahead of Pietersen in battle of the sports biography big hitters

You have to hand it to Roy Keane, he has done his best to steal a few headlines from Kevin Pietersen after the two most controversial sports books of the year appeared in the shops on the same day this week.

After sitting back and allowing KP the first round of media calls ahead of the publication of KP: The Autobiography,  Keane made the most of his chance with a powerful response at the launch of Roy Keane: The Second Half.

Both books are already selling in thousands, with online retailer Amazon this afternoon placing them at second and third in their bestsellers chart, with Keane nudging just in front of the former England cricketer.  Only Awful Auntie, a children's novel written by David Walliams, is currently attracting more sales.

Keane's big selling point is his scrap with Sir Alex Ferguson, from whom he famously parted on bitter terms after 12 years of enormous success at Old Trafford and who he claims fed deliberate lies to the media in order to discredit him. Indeed, he admitted that his first book, written with Eamonn Dunphy in 2002 and updated a year later, might have been as much as he wanted to say about his career had not Ferguson attacked him in the former Manchester United manager's own autobiography last year.

"We had our disagreements and I departed," Keane said at the launch of his book in Dublin. "I have no problems with that, it's fine.

“It was the way it was handled, the statements and stuff coming out about me. I'm pretty sure I know the source. I know the source of where it was coming from.

“Obviously Ferguson had friends in the media. He was pals with them and he put little snippets about me out there. It was lies, basic lies. So I had to come out and say 'Listen' -- and now is the time. I had to bide my time and I've waited long enough.”

He specifically accused Ferguson of rounding on the very players who had brought him wealth and enhanced his fame.

“For Alex Ferguson, not just to criticise myself, but other players who were part of a team that brought some good days to lots of supporters, for him to criticise that when you think of what he made out of it – he made millions of pounds out of it, he's got his statues, he's got his stand named after him.

"I said at the time, I wasn't too bothered about myself, but to criticise people who brought him success was just ridiculous.

“The stuff that has been said to me over the years, even from ex-team-mates, is a pack of lies, just lies and lies and lies and sometimes you just say, 'Listen, I have got to get up and say something myself and defend myself a little bit', and hopefully the book will reflect that.”

Keane's ghost, although hardly an invisble one, is the Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist, Roddy Doyle, who spoke about what was an unusual assignment for a writer with no connection with sport.

"I wondered what could I bring to the job," he said. "There’s no doubt at all that we like listening to Roy, we like what he says, but we also like the way he says it. I thought the challenge might be to make the book seem like almost a monologue, a theatrical monologue. I wasn’t writing a profile of him, I wasn’t trying to catch him out in any way, I always felt I was kind of an amplifier for him.

“And I felt my outsider status could be an advantage, I could ask questions that would be obvious to lay people, but ones that a sports journalist might bypass. So, in a way I thought that weakness would be a strength.

Asked if he had found Keane to be a fascinating subject, Doyle said: “Not fascinating, no. But interesting. And what I really liked, as a story teller, I wanted it to be more than just a book with anecdotes, I wanted to have a bit more than that. I think his readiness to openly acknowledge errors that were made, and learn from him, yeah, it was great. I thought business students should be reading this.”

Roy Keane: The Second Half,  is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Buy Roy Keane: The Second Half from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

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8 October 2014

If somehow you didn't catch a KP interview, pop along to Cheltenham on Sunday

Just in case anyone has somehow failed to see or hear any of the Kevin Pietersen's interviews promoting his book -- or more accurately giving several former teammates and coaches a good kicking -- there is a chance to witness his anger and dismay close up when the ostracised England batsman appears at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday (October 12).

Pietersen will be talking about his colourful and controversial life and the elements of it that make up KP: The Autobiography in the company of his ghostwriter, the Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, in The Times Forum marquee in Montpellier Gardens.

The event begins at 7.30pm and is due to last an hour and a quarter.  Tickets are available from the Festival's own website, priced at £16.

Incidentally, setting aside the nature of the content, which will appeal to Pietersen's supporters and confirm to his detractors why they loathe him, the book is superbly written by Walsh, whose style perfectly captures Pietersen's mood and voice.

Walsh is best known for his work in cycling, notably his brilliant book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.

KP: The Autobiography is available to purchase tomorrow (Thursday).

Walsh is also on the Festival bill this evening (Wednesday October 8, 6.15pm), chairing an appearance by the former England footballer Sol Campbell, another troubled sporting maverick, who will be joined by his biographer, Simon Astaire, to talk about his life story as told in Sol Campbell: The Authorised Biography, published earlier this year.

Buy KP: The Autobiography from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith

Buy Sol Campbell: The Authorised Biography from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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7 October 2014

Why Keano may have to content himself with sitting in Keven Pietersen's shadow

When Roy Keane's publishers chose this Thursday -- October 9 -- as the date to release the controversial client's new autobiography, did they not know that they were clashing with a certain Kevin Pietersen?

If there is one person who could trump Keano for headline-making revelations, then it is KP.

Pietersen's first major pre-publication interview appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, prompting just about every national newspaper to clear their pages for the inevitable reaction.

The Times have exclusive extracts to the Keane biography, The Second Half, which is ghosted, interestingly, by the Booker prize-winning Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, and give them due prominence.

Elsewhere, however, he barely gets a look-in as cricket correspondents and chief sports writers get to grips with KP's revelations and the fall-out, which has already reached levels unprecedented in the long history of cricket books.

Keane was helped when a Tesco store in Greater Manchester inadvertently -- or so we are to believe -- put The Second Half on their shelves three days early, enabling the contents quickly to find their way into the media.

But next to Pietersen's version of the events that led to his acrimonious parting of the ways with England's cricket team, there is a danger that none of Keane's revelations, quite a few of which cover old ground anyway, will seem that exciting.

In short, a book that would have sold itself had it appeared on October 9 last year, next year or in any other year, in all probability, will need an extra push.

Meanwhile, Pietersen's attacks on Andy Flower, on Matt Prior, on England's supposedly bullying bowlers, his opinions on Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Peter Moores and Paul Downton -- all make compelling reading.

Ironically, so much has been revealed and so much comment passed in just a few hours that quite a few potential purchasers may conclude, with seemingly little of the juicier content not already in the public domain, that there is not much point in parting with £20 to buy the book.

Perhaps that will work to Roy Keane's advantage.

Buy KP: The Autobiography (Sphere) from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Roy Keane: The Second Half (W&N) from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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2 October 2014

"10 for 10" named Book of the Year by the Cricket Writers' Club as Waters wins another award

Chris Waters, whose biography of Fred Trueman won three prestigious awards, has scored another hit with his excellent work on another Yorkshire cricketer, Hedley Verity.

10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket’s Greatest Bowling Feat was named Book of the Year by the Cricket Writers’ Club at their annual members’ lunch at the Plaisterers’ Hall in London.

The judges were impressed with the skill with which Waters was able recreate the atmosphere around cricket in Verity’s era, the 1930s, and in particular the match against Nottinghamshire at Headingley in July 1932 in which he took all 10 wickets to fall in the visitors’ second innings at a cost of only 10 runs, a world record analysis in first-class cricket that remains unsurpassed.

While that great feat of bowling is the book’s centrepiece, Waters revisits Verity's past and takes the story on, beyond the outbreak of war that ended his career to his death in Italy in 1943 from wounds sustained in battle.  It is a story told with warmth and affection and highlights the author's talent as a writer.

In his day job, Waters is the cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, the position notably occupied for more than four decades by the great cricket writer J M "Jim" Kilburn, who was appointed to the job during Verity's time and kept it until his retirement in 1976.  It remains the most prestigious position in provincial cricket journalism.

The award for Waters completed a Yorkshire hat-trick.  Members of the CWC named the county's opening batsmen, Adam Lyth and Alex Lees, as County Championship Cricketer of the Year and Young Cricketer of the Year respectively.

Buy 10 for 10: Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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1 October 2014

Rugby star Gareth Thomas's autobiography Proud on longlist for 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year

The autobiography of Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas – the former captain of Wales and the British Lions and the highest-profile sportsman in the UK to come out as gay – is among 15 titles on the longlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2014.

Thomas’s book Proud, published last month, tells the full story of his struggle with his sexuality, which he kept from his now ex-wife Jemma and teammates through much of his career, and how several times he contemplated taking his own life before deciding to make his homosexuality public in 2009.

Biographies and autobiographies dominate the list, from which will be selected the 26th winner of the award, the most valuable and prestigious prize in sports literature.

Mike Tyson‘s no-holds-barred Undisputed Truth is among them, alongside Alone, the story of the tragically short life of John Curry, the figure skater who had 20 million Britons glued to their TV sets as he changed the perception of ice skating from marginal sport to high art, written by Bill Jones, author of The Ghost Runner, a wonderfully crafted book about the athlete John Tarrant, who became a sensation in the 1950s by gatecrashing races from which he was barred because expenses paid to him as a teenage boxer led to him being labelled as a ‘professional’ athlete.

Football life stories include Matt Dickinson’s Bobby Moore: The Man in Full and Stewart Taylor‘s Stuck in a Moment, the poignant story of Paul Vaessen, the former Arsenal striker who achieved fleeting fame on the back of one famous goal against Juventus in Turin but whose career was ended early by injury and who subsequently died as a drug addict.

Olympic gold-medallist Nicole Cooke, the first British cyclist to have been ranked World No.1, makes it with her autobiography The Breakaway, as does Paul Reese for The Three Degrees, the story of the West Bromwich Albion footballers Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson, who did so much to further the drive against racism in football.

The longlist in full (alphabetically by author’s surname):

The Breakaway: My Story, by Nicole Cooke (Simon & Schuster).
Bobby Moore: The Man in Full,  by Matt Dickinson (Yellow Jersey Press).
An American Caddie in St. Andrews: Growing Up, Girls and Looping on the Old Course, by Oliver Horovitz (Elliott & Thompson).
Played in London: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play, by Simon Inglis (English Heritage).
Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, by Bill Jones (Bloomsbury).
Run or Die: The Inspirational Memoir of the World's Greatest Ultra-Runner, by Kilian Jornet (Viking).
Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien (Yellow Jersey Press).
In Search of Duncan Ferguson: The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma, by Alan Pattullo (Mainstream Publishing).
The Incredible Adventures of the Unstoppable Keeper, by Lutz Pfannenstiel (Vision Sports Publishing Ltd).
The Three Degrees: The Men Who Changed British Football Forever, by Paul Rees (Constable).
Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, by Rob Steen (Bloomsbury).
Stuck in a Moment: The Ballad of Paul Vaessen, by Stewart Taylor (GCR Books).
Proud: My Autobiography, by Gareth Thomas (Ebury Press).
Undisputed Truth: My Autobiography, by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman (HarperSport).
Love Game: A History of Tennis, from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon, by Elizabeth Wilson (Serpent’s Tail)

William Hill spokesman and co-founder of the Award, Graham Sharpe, said: “There is something for everyone on this year’s longlist; from the inspirational, surprising and sometimes troubling stories behind some of our best-known sporting stars, to masterful social history and the more unusual subjects of ultra-running and golf-caddying. This diverse range of topics is testament to the fact that sports-writing is in rude health.

“I am also very pleased to see that three of the 15 longlisted titles are written by women – a first for a William Hill longlist – though I’d like to see an even greater share of voice for female writers in the future”.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing prize. As well as a £25,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a free £2,500 William Hill bet, a hand-bound copy of their book, and a day at the races.

The judging panel for this year’s Award consists of: retired professional footballer and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the Award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The shortlist will be announced on October 24 October. The winner will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday November 27.

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23 September 2014

New e-book taster brings together some classic Cloughie stories

Nottingham Forest and Derby fans have been paying tribute to the memory of Brian Clough in the last few days, 10 years on from his death at the age of 69 on September 20, 2003.  

Supporters set aside their differences joined in a minute's applause when the East Midlands rivals met at the City Ground while at Forest's match with Fulham last week, the players entered the field with a guard of honour made up of Forest season ticket holders, all dressed in the green sweatshirt that was the great manager's matchday uniform.

Hundreds of Forest fans at the Capital One Cup match against Tottenham wore green sweatshirts provided by the competition sponsors, who are based in Nottingham.

Everyone who encountered Cloughie seems to have a favourite story about him, among them the Midlands journalist Dave Armitage, who gathered together 150 of them -- some of his own and a great many shared by others -- in a book cleverly titled 150 BC and had enough left over to follow up with a second volume, Clough Confidential.

Both are now available as Kindle e-books.  Alternatively, readers can sample a flavour of both books in Clough Gold, which draws on both in a collection of 50 stories as a taste of the entertainment on offer in the full versions.

Armitage has been covering football in the Midlands since the 1980s and was still a young and inexperienced reporter when he set foot in Clough's office at the City Ground for the first time.  Subsequently, he became on good enough terms with the maverick manager to be invited to his home in Derbyshire, although not on the occasion of one his own personal Clough stories.

That was the time he surprised Clough with an unusual gift of a couple of packets of seeds.  They were for a variety of sweet pea named 'Brian Clough' that he had spotted at the Shrewsbury Flower Show.  The young Armitage feared the gift might bring him only ridicule but in fact it was accepted graciously and gratefully by Clough, who recalled being asked some years earlier for permission to use his name and how beautiful the blooms were.

Months later, Clough spotted Armitage in the City Ground car park and hailed him in customary style. "Hey, shithouse," he said. "My missus was talking about you this morning.  You know those sweet peas you gave me.  She's grown them all up the back of our house and they are absolutely beautiful.

"She said 'You ought to ask that nice young man around to come and see them now they're out.'

"'Hey', I told her, 'I'm not having shithouse reporters up at my house'.  But thanks very much anyway!"

Clough Gold is available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book

Buy 150 BC from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

Buy Clough Confidential from Amazon or Waterstones.

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9 September 2014

FA Cup memories recreate the experience of bygone eras on and off the field

Books that fall into the category of football nostalgia can sometimes become a little tedious, particularly if the author is simply banging on about how the game was better in 'his' time and it is clear that his view of the past comes with a filter for the bad bits.

Readers might be forgiven for expecting Matthew Eastley's two-volume offering to be more of the same, a lament for a lost era by a writer who finds it impossible to see any virtue in the football of today.

But to suggest that Eastley's look back on the FA Cup finals in the 60s and 70s -- there is another about the 80s on the way -- amounts merely to an outpouring of discontent at the decline of a football institution would do his work an enormous disservice.

A corporate journalist by profession, and a lifelong Charlton Athletic fan, Eastley has told the story of two decades of Cup finals not by rehashing the well-worn details of what happened on the field but by revisiting each match through the memories of supporters who were there and for whom the occasion remains a highlight of their lives.

It is true that there is an element of 'things were better then' in his tone.  He notes that the FA Cup once occupied such a special place in the national psyche that people would dress up just to watch the final on the television and clearly feels a little sad that this is no longer the case. "In 1974, just after we had acquired our first colour television, my grandfather came over wearing a suit and tie, because it was FA Cup final day," he says.

You can't dispute Eastley's assertion that the Cup final stopped the nation, an event regarded as so important in the calendar that it would probably need war to break out for it not to be the lead story on the teatime television news.  Nor can you quibble with the fact that nowadays the teatime news is done and dusted almost before the Cup final gets under way, the traditional 3pm kick-off time seemingly consigned to history in the interests of TV scheduling.

Yet he has gone way beyond writing a book that is merely a feature-length grumble.  He has taken the Cup finals of both decades and constructed a back story for each one, based on countless hours of interviews with fans and extensive research, interweaving the fans' stories, some of them joyful, some deeply poignant, with the action from the game and all manner of other material, from snippets of family history to the music that was topping the charts.

The end result is fascinating and engagingly readable, a piece of social history as well as a football book and a credit to the author's journalistic skills.

From Barry Stobart to Neil Young: When the FA Cup Really Mattered: Volume 1 - The 1960s, by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing).  Buy from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

From Ronnie Radford to Roger Osborne: When the FA Cup Really Mattered: Volume 2 - The 1970s, by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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