George Best and Manchester United: the story behind the break-up

As the ‘ghost’ assigned to write George Best’s newspaper column in the early 1970s, journalist John Roberts was in an enviable position as Best’s career at Manchester United began to unravel.

With unparalleled access to football’s original superstar when Best first walked out on United in 1972, Roberts enjoyed exclusive, inside knowledge -- perfect material for a book about those turbulent years in the Irishman’s life.

Those unique insights are published this week.  But should you be wondering how it took almost 40 years for Roberts to reveal the secrets he knew about an extraordinary story, The Sports Bookshelf can reveal that it didn’t.

Sod This, I'm Off to Marbella - George Best, published on July 1 by Trinity Mirror Sport Media, enjoyed a brief life -- under a different title -- in 1973 but while there was undoubtedly an audience that would have lapped it up, the book effectively failed to reach them.

“It was published independently as George Best: Fall of a Superstar,” Roberts told The Sports Bookshelf. “But we couldn’t get the right deal with a wholesaler and apart from a few copies sold under the counter at the United souvenir shop, very few were circulated.

“Thankfully, when I told Trinity Mirror about it, they said, ‘let’s do it’.”

The story recalls the night that Best invited Roberts to dinner and made the confession that marked the beginning of the end for him at United.

It was February 1972.  Roberts was a football writer on the Daily Express, for whom one of his assignments was to ghost Best’s weekly column. It was an enviable job. Best was 25, and still at the peak of his powers despite an already established, alcohol-fuelled taste for the high life.

On the night in question, Best summoned Roberts to The Grapes, a favourite Manchester watering hole, bought him a steak and, as his journalist confidant lifted his fork to his mouth, uttered the words that Roberts could only visualise in massive black type on the back -- maybe even the front -- of the Express: 'I’m sick of United'.

"It would have been a sensational headline," Roberts recalls. "He told me that he had reached the point at which he was ready to leave United.

"He had become disillusioned.  The team in which he had won the European Cup in 1968, which probably reached its peak a year before that, had gradually fragmented and he was really the last survivor.

"He was having to carry the team and while he was capable of brilliant, virtuoso performances, on the days that he did not play so well there was no one else to step up.  It was a team he felt was going nowhere yet if things went badly it would be he -- and his lifestyle -- who attracted criticism.

"United had some good young players yet they were years from reaching their peak and Best felt he couldn’t wait that long.  He would have gone anywhere that would have brought him success.’

It would have been the scoop of the decade.  Yet, incredibly, the Express declined to chance to run it.

“George was willing to go public,” Roberts said. “But he knew the aggravation the story would create, with reporters outside his home, round the clock.  He wanted the Express to make him an offer.

“So I went back to the office in Great Ancoats Street and told them what he’d said.  But they didn’t want to be seen to be interfering in a dispute between Best and United and declined to pay.”

In the weeks that followed, Best’s disillusionment only deepened.  It reached the point when, infamously, he really did ‘sod off to Marbella’.

“He should have been joining up with the Northern Ireland squad but instead he fled to Spain,” Roberts said. “That was the inspiration for the new title for the book.  It seemed just right to sum up his attitude at the time.”

It was the Sunday Mirror that ultimately broke the story of Best’s desire to quit Old Trafford, which he eventually did early in 1974, after a brief but unsuccessful reconciliation.

Best played his last professional game a decade later, by which time he was making only cameo appearances.  He had enjoyed a brief renaissance at Fulham between 1976 and 78 but otherwise was never the same player, although Roberts wonders if his career might have been followed a different path if the Express had been bold enough to run with his dinner-table scoop.

“He simply wanted success and if a big club had come in for him at that time, who knows?  But after he walked out clubs were wary of what they would be taking on.”

The common perception is that by quitting when he did, at the age of 27, Best squandered his talent but Roberts, who had some sympathy for his subject, does not hold entirely with that notion.

“If you look at the records, he spent 10 or 11 years at United, played 470 games and scored 179 goals -- that’s not a bad career.”

John Roberts wrote for the Daily Express, The Guardian, the Daily Mail and The Independent, where he was the tennis correspondent for 20 years. He collaborated with Bill Shankly on the Liverpool manager’s autobiography, ghosted Kevin Keegan’s first book, and has written books on George Best, Manchester United’s Busby Babes (The Team That Wouldn't Die) and Everton (The Official Centenary History).  Now freelance, he edits Tennis Life UK magazine and writes fine pieces for http://www.sportingintelligence.com.

Shankly: My Story by Bill Shankly, which was banned from sale in Liverpool’s club shop when first published in 1976, has also been reissued by Trinity Mirror Sport Media.

For more by John Roberts and more on football, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.




England v Germany: is the tide turning?

If the outcome of England’s World Cup match against Germany in Bloemfontein is to be determined by whichever set of players is the strongest mentally, it is to be hoped that the English players do not share the thought processes of the average English supporter.

England’s last competitive encounter with the Germans resulted in a 5-1 victory in the Olympic Stadium in Munich in September 2001 in qualification for the 2002 World Cup finals.

Yet how much have we dwelt on that result compared with the semi-finals at Italia ‘90 and Euro ‘96, both of which England lost on penalties, or even the quarter-final in the Mexico World Cup in 1970, when England led 2-0 but wound up beaten 3-2 by Gerd Muller’s extra-time winner?

Between the 1966 World Cup final and the 2000 European Championship finals in Holland and Belgium, England did not win a single competitive match against Germany and even the victory in Charleroi in 2000 was a hollow affair, given that neither side qualified for the knock-out stages.

This dismal record persuaded the author David Downing, whose portfolio includes some acclaimed works of 20th century history and some political thrillers, to write a history of the nations’ rivalry that revealed much not only about the development of football in each country but about how the culture of both countries is reflected in the performances of their football teams.

The conclusions he reached were depressing in that they were difficult to argue with, explaining as they did the inevitably of the barren years for England that followed 1966, after which Germany’s progressive re-examination of their technique contrasted with England’s stubborn adherence to outdated attitudes and beliefs.

The question today is whether England can show that the 5-1 scoreline of 2001 was a turning point or merely a freak.

To buy The Best of Enemies: England v Germany click on the link.

For more books on football or the World Cup visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Tennis's most incredible moments (minus one)

Among the many tennis books that now have one serious omission after the history-making epic contest between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, here’s one that is scarcely less worthy for being overtaken by the incredible events on Wimbledon’s Court 18.

101 Incredible Moments in Tennis: The Good, the Bad and the Infamous is an entirely subjective collection of classic matches and milestone events in the history of the game, although it is hard to imagine author Joshua Shifrin would exclude Isner’s extraordinary victory by 70-68 in the fifth.

Shifrin, a tennis fanatic who was a junior player and has coached in the United States for more than 20 years, spent many hours deciding which 101 moments were worthy of inclusion and assembles them in ascending order.

He starts with Anne White’s appearance in an all-white figure-hugging body suit at Wimbledon in 1985 and concludes with Rafael Nadal’s defeat of Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final, widely regarded as the greatest match ever played.

Its format makes it a nice book for dipping in and out but Shifrin’s writing style is light and amusing and dipping out may not always be easy.

Click on the text or cover image links to buy the book. For more books on tennis, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Capello "fell out with many players" -- Ancelotti book

Fabio Capello should brace himself for more critical scrutiny of the disciplinarian man-management style that has seen his approval rating as England coach begin to slide for the first time during the team's stuttering World Cup campaign.

It will come with the English publication later this year of Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti's candid memoir, Preferisco la Coppa.

The book's content attracted headlines in England with its release in Milan because it revealed candid details of Ancelotti's meetings with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich while he was still negotiating to become manager at Stamford Bridge.

His views on Capello received an airing in some newspapers, but it was the descriptions of what Abramovich said and did in supposedly secret liaisons that was the talking point, raising suggestions that it might jeopardise Ancelotti's move to London.

That is unlikely to be the case this time after tensions surfaced between Capello and his players in the wake of England's poor performance against Algeria, culminating in a public rebuke for ex-captain John Terry.

Ancelotti's last season as a player at Milan coincided with Capello's first there as coach and Preferisco la Coppa contained the following observation:

He [Capello] was very serious, meticulous and I don't think there is anybody better than him at reading a game. On a human level, well, that's a different story. He didn't have a dialogue with us, he just told us what to do. And, unsurprisingly, he fell out with many players. For example, I remember Ruud Gullit pinning him up against the wall. The rest of us intervened to break it up, even though, secretly, I think many players were cheering for Ruud.

The book, Carlo Ancelotti: The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius, will be published in September by Rizzolo International Publications.

Co-written with Alessandro Alciato, the book looks at Ancelotti's career, first as a midfielder for Milan, where he won consecutive European Cups, and then as manager, in which time he won the Champions League twice and lost the final in Istanbul to Liverpool on penalties after the English side's extraordinary comeback from 3-0 down.

The Italian title Preferisco la Coppa was translated here as "I prefer the Cup" although it had less to do with football than with coppa, the salami typical of Ancelotti's home town, Parma, the eating of which tends to be associated with ordinary, working people, in contrast to the more expensive and fashionable prosciutto di parma.

It reflects both Ancelotti's sense of humour and the strong connection he feels with his background, as emphasised by the phrase "an ordinary genius" in the subtitle.

The publishers say Ancelotti is 'fearless in his portrayals of friends and foes alike' and that 'the many candid stories of mischief and locker room antics will appeal to all who follow the game.'

To pre-order Carlo Ancelotti: The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius, click the link.



World Cup good news for football books

Sports book sales have not been immune in a generally sluggish year for non-fiction sales but interest generated by the World Cup has seen some sharp increases in figures.

According to Nielsen BookScan -- as reported on www.thebookseller.com -- some football titles have enjoyed spectacular surges.

For example, Torres: El Niño: My Story, the autobiography of Liverpool and Spain striker Fernando Torres, published by HarperSport, has become the top-selling football memoir, with sales up to more than 1,200 copies per week, an increase of a massive 7,450 per cent on pre-World Cup figures.

The bestselling new World Cup book -- Keir Radnedge's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Official Book(Carlton) -- has been jumping off the shelves at a rate of around 3,000 copies per week, some 55 per cent better than a month ago.

Meanwhile, sales of Radnedge's FIFA World Football Records 2010(Carlton), published in September 2009, leapt from just 47 copies sold during the week ending May 22 to 431 in week ending June 12.

Other titles, including Parragon's World Cup 2010 Superstars (World Cup Superstars), and Terry Crouch's World Cup 2010, a complete history of the tournament (Aurum), have also enjoyed improved sales.

Interest in the England team has prompted improved figures for Sir Bobby Charlton's 2008-published My England Years: The Autobiography (Headline), up 115 per cent compared with mid-May sales.

A discount campaign at W H Smith has helped several titles in  John Blake's World Cup Heroes series of short biographies. Adam Cottier's biography of Steven Gerrard has been the most popular with sales of 915 copies in week ending June 12 (up from just 68 copies four weeks earlier). Ian Cruise's biography of Fernando Torres and Sue Evison's of Wayne Rooney sold more than 500 copies each.



Will Fred Perry's status come through another Wimbledon intact?

Jon Henderson might have taken a calculated gamble when he chose 'The Last Champion' as the title for his biography of Fred Perry.  Then again, he probably didn't. 

Andy Murray has still some way to go, it seems, if he is to succeed where Tim Henman failed in emulating Perry's feat in winning the Wimbledon championships, which he did three times.  In any event, Murray is Scottish.  Perry will remain the last Englishman to win Wimbledon for some time to come.

Perry suffered the fate that seems regularly to befall British sporting champions in that the more successful he became, the less popular.  Winning requires a certain single-mindedness that British audiences often mistake for aloofness or arrogance, as golfers such as Nick Faldo or racing drivers such as Nigel Mansell discovered. We prefer our sporting heroes to be modest, self-effacing and only quietly confident; Perry was none of these.

Quite the opposite.  Jack Kramer, the American player who would win Wimbledon a decade after Perry, described the Englishman as 'opportunist, selfish and egotistical' and his gamesmanship was notorious.   It did not endear him to the All England Club, who had reservations about him anyway as the son of a socialist politician from Stockport in Cheshire.  When, in 1934, he became the first Englishman to win in SW19 for 25 years, a club official was overheard telling the beaten Australian, Jack Crawford, that the 'better man lost'.

When Perry turned professional in 1936, the All England Club, it seemed, couldn't wait to be rid of him.  The feeling was mutual, apparently, and it was not long before Perry renounced Britain and became an American citizen, attracted by what he perceived as a society not divided by class.

Perry wrote two autobiographies but The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry is the first balanced account of his life.  Jon Henderson, an excellent writer on tennis and other sports, was painstaking in his research and presents an account that has sympathy for the subject but which does not skip over his faults.

Published in hardback last year and shortlisted at the British Sports Book Awards, The Last Champion is now available in paperback.   Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open, spent several weeks among sport's best-sellers, largely on the back of his drug-taking confession, but for a pre-Wimbledon tennis read, Henderson's book probably beats it.

The Last Champion: The Life of Fred Perry is published by Yellow Jersey.

For more books on tennis, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Maradona's shirt on view again

The choice of title for a former England World Cup star's book of football memories has led to a surge of interest in the shirt worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the infamous "hand of God" goal that helped to end England's participation in the 1986 tournament.

Steve Hodge picked The Man With Maradona's Shirt as a suitable name for a book based on diaries kept during his career in the game because he really is "the man with Maradona's shirt", having swapped tops with the Argentine genius shortly after the infamous quarter-final in Mexico City.

The shirt, which spent more than 15 years in Hodge's attic after the 1986 finals, will be on display in Nottingham Castle for the next three months.

Hodge, now 47, hopes that allowing people to look at the shirt in his home city will help raise Nottingham's profile as a potential host city at the 2018 World Cup, should England's bid to stage the tournament be successful.

The former Nottingham Forest player, who made more then 250 League appearances for Brian Clough's team and won 24 senior England caps, approached Maradona outside the dressing rooms in the Aztec Stadium, unaware at the time that the first of his opponent's two goals -- set up by his own skewed backpass -- should not have stood.

"I felt it was the pinnacle of my career and I just wanted a souvenir," he told the BBC. "I shook hands with him after the final whistle but there were press and cameras all over the place and they [the Argentine players] were in high spirits so I was just going to leave it.

"But then I saw him again in the changing room area inside the stadium and he agreed to swap shirts."

Hodge's England teammate Terry Butcher once famously said that if he owned the shirt 'I wouldn't even wash my car with it' but while Hodge was soon aware of the injustice of Maradona's opening goal, he kept the garment all the same.

Not that he took particular care with it.  Back in England, it soon joined his other memorabilia in the loft.

"It stayed there for 15 years, untouched and unwashed, along with some Forest shirts from my European days, from my time at Leeds and from two World Cups with England.  It was just another piece of memorabilia from my career.

"It was only about 10 years ago, when I heard that an old shirt of Pele's had sold for quite a lot of money, that I wondered if it better go somewhere a bit more secure, and for six years it was in the National Football Museum at Preston."

The Pele shirt to which he referred, worn in the 1970 World Cup final, also in Mexico, realised £157,750 at auction at Christie's in 2002.

Its value enhanced not only by the notoriety of the "hand of God" but by the brilliance of Maradona's second goal, scored only three minutes later, when he jinked round six England defenders before sliding the ball past goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Hodge's prized possession has been estimated to be worth around £200,000.

The National Football Museum closed its Preston site in April in preparation for a move to Manchester next year.  Rather than leave the shirt in a bank vault, Hodge -- raised in the Gedling area of Nottingham -- liked the idea of bringing it back home.

It will be part of an exhibition of sports clothing at Nottingham Castle that also includes the costumes worn by the city's ice dancing duo, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, when they performed their gold medal-winning Bolero routine at the 1984 Winter Olympics.  Curators of the Castle Museum expect to see a sharp rise in visitor numbers.

The Man With Maradona's Shirt is published by Orion.

For more books on football, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Five for Father’s Day

The Sports Bookshelf offers some timely advice for anyone stuck on what to give the sports-loving man/boy in their life on June 20 with a selection of five sports books new in the shops. Follow the highlighted links to buy.

No Holding Back: The Autobiography(Michael Holding; W&N)

The former West Indies fast bowler wrote about his career in cricket in his 1993 autobiography Whispering Death.  In this new look back, Holding retraces his time on the field but devotes equal priority to his views on many issues in the game from his position as respected media commentator.  He is particularly forthright on Sir Allen Stanford’s ill-fated involvement with England and the West Indies, on illegal bowling actions, on the decline of cricket in his native Caribbean and on the consequences of Twenty20’s seemingly unstoppable growth.

Why England Lose: And other curious phenomena explained(Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski; Harper Collins)

Written by a football writer (Kuper) and an economist, this is a fascinating book that seeks to explain not only the question posed by the title but many others for which no one seems yet to have found a convincing explanation.  In doing so it challenges many a tired assumption or age-old cliché, using data analysis to support many fresh but entirely plausible ways to look at football and show that the seemingly inexplicable is often all too easy to predict.

Anyone for Tennis?: The Telegraph Book of Wimbledon (Daily Telegraph; edited by Martin Smith)

In the 133 years since the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club launched its Championships, what we now know as Wimbledon has become the most prestigious tennis event on the world calendar
and, some would argue, Britain’s biggest sports and social festival.  In this new history, former Daily Telegraph assistant sports editor Martin Smith has trawled the archives and skilfully assembled some of that newspaper’s best writing on tennis to present a wonderful portrait of the Championships from 1877 to the present day.

Boy Racer (Mark Cavendish; Ebury)

Just out in paperback, Boy Racer tells the story of the British cyclist who has stormed to fame through the Tour de France over the last couple of years, winning four stages -- unprecedented for a British entrant -- in 2008 but eclipsing that feat by winning six in 2009.  Regarded as the fastest sprint cyclist in the world, Cavendish is favourite to take the Green Jersey at this summer’s event.

Death or Glory! - The Dark History of the World Cup (Jon Spurling; Vision Sports Publishing)

Spurling, hitherto known as the author of several books about Arsenal football club, has gone well beyond north London to research a dramatic and disturbing tale of political involvement in the world’s greatest football events, and how both recognisable despots and more covert political manipulators have used the tournament to further their own dishonourable aims.

For more sports books visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



The story of the 1950 US soccer team

It goes without saying that defeat for England against the United States when their World Cup campaign kicks off in Rustenburg tomorrow would come as a surprise, although not, of course, on anything like the scale of the 1-0 loss in Belo Horizonte during the 1950 finals in Brazil.

Today, no shock is ever ruled out, but a win for USA then was regarded as not so much unlikely as out of the question.  No photographer captured the winning goal, for example, because all of the snappers sent to cover the contest were positioned behind the American net, expecting a deluge of scoring from the England team.

In the press box, meanwhile, there was only one American journalist, Dent McSkimming from the St Louis Despatch, who funded the trip to Brazil himself after the newspaper declined to pay his passage.  His report was the only one to appear in any major American newspaper.

The match kicked off at 9pm London time and communication was primitive to say the least. When first notification of the 0-1 scoreline arrived in Fleet Street newspaper offices, it was assumed there had been a typographical error in transmission.

Sports desks were understandably preoccupied by the England cricket team's defeat against West Indies at Lord's on the same day -- another seismic shock in that it was the first against that opponent on home soil -- and some papers assumed that the real scoreline from the football match must have been 10-1 or even 11-0, in England's favour.

The American team had been assembled mostly from semi-professional players who supported their families through other jobs.  Some were drafted in at the last moment and the group had not trained together until the day before they left for Brazil.  Joe Gaetjens, the mature student from Columbia University who was to score the winning goal in Belo Horizonte, was not even a US citizen, being born in Haiti, but was allowed to play because he had declared his intention to become a US citizen.

In the event, he never did attain citizenship and was assumed to have died in prison in Haiti in the mid-60s, having been arrested by the regime of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier because of his familial association, through a number of brothers, with a group of Haitian exiles in the Domican Republic who were planning a coup.

His story and that of the other members of the United States team were told by the American author Geoffrey Douglas, in a 1996 book The Game of Their Lives: The Untold Story of the World Cup's Biggest Upset, which was reissued in paperback in 2005.

The book is sketchy on football but offers an intriguing picture of life in America in the late 1940s through the eyes of first-generation sons of immigrants, particularly in the area around St Louis, where soccer enjoyed particular popularity.

For more on football visit The Sports Bookshelf shop.



World Cup 1966: a classic collection

It is probably no surprise that much of the best writing about England's history in the World Cup has been focused on the personalities of the 1966 finals. 

The Sports Bookshelf has picked out five titles as recommended reading -- three autobiographies and three independent studies.

Naturally, autobiographies tend to be written from a subjective viewpoint but a couple from members of the victorious 1966 England team are worthwhile reads.

Geoff Hurst's 1966 and All That published in hardback in 2005 with a paperback released the following spring, delivers an engaging account of how it felt to be a forward with only seven international caps, chosen ahead of the prolific Jimmy Greaves, who suddenly found himself a national hero.

Forthright in his views, particularly about manager Alf Ramsey, Hurst is also strong on period detail, recreating the atmosphere of Britain in the 1960s.

Nobby Stiles also offers something more than rose-tinted memories in his 2004 memoir After the Ball - My Autobiography a bitter-sweet recounting of a life that saw him fall from footballing 'royalty' as the jigging, gap-toothed anti-hero of the 1966 team to a life struggling to make ends meet on the fringes of the game.

It is a story that is pretty bleak at times but which offers some powerful insights and a good deal of dark humour.

Acclaimed sportswriter Jim Lawton, who helped Stiles assemble his memories for After The Ball, was also the collaborator with Sir Bobby Charlton on a two-volume autobiography published in 2007-08, hailed as "unmissable", "unstoppable" and "compelling" by its reviewers and widely regarded as a tour de force.

Volume Two: My England Years covers the 1966 tournament in considerable detail, with some noteworthy observations on the ruthless nature of manager Ramsey and the cold objectivity that left even players of Charlton's stature feeling a constant need to prove themselves in the build-up to the finals.

Charlton's knowledge and authority, combined with Lawton's ability to draw out his subject and add colour, depth and context to his memories, makes for a work of considerable merit.

Leo McKinstry wrote an exceptional work on the Charlton brothers, entitled Jack and Bobby: A story of brothers in conflict which cast light on the deep animosity between the two stars of 1966 of which few were aware at the time.

But it is McKinstry's study of Sir Alf Ramsey that wins this site's recommendation.

Sir Alf, subtitled as "a major reappraisal of the life and times of England's greatest football manager" is as comprehensive as that description, tracing Ramsey's roots, his career as a player and his life after football, when his reputation tended to diminish rather than grow, even though no subsequent England manager has been able to match his success.

McKinstry is a painstaking researcher, prepared to conduct extensive interviews and unearth countless stories, with a willingness to check their authenticity that not every author shares.  Republished in paperback only last month, Sir Alf is a balanced account that seeks not to judge Ramsey but nonetheless offers a sympathetic account that may so some way towards restoring Ramsey to his proper standing in English football history.

Finally, mention should be made of Jeff Powell's portrait of Bobby Moore published a decade ago.  While undoubtedly coloured by his friendship with and affection for Moore, the former Daily Mail football correspondent presents an eloquent account of the career of the man who still holds the distinction of being the only England captain to lift football's most coveted trophy.

Click on these links to order any of the titles:

1966 and All That: My Autobiography
Nobby Stiles: After the Ball - My Autobiography
My England Years: The Autobiography
Jack and Bobby: A story of brothers in conflict
Sir Alf: A Major Reappraisal of the Life and Times of England's Greatest Football Manager
Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero

For more books on football and the World Cup, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



The Tesco carrier bag and what lies within...

If there was only one promotion success story that really mattered to football writer and Leeds United fan Phil Shaw in the season just gone, there was another that prompted a quiet cheer.

Blackpool’s elevation to the Premier League means that Ian Holloway, the man behind the tangerine dream come true and a manager with no peers when it comes to off-the-wall observations on the game, will at last have a national audience -- and for Phil that can only mean good news.

That’s because, as a sideline to the serious business of reporting on the national game for The Independent and other publications, Phil is an avid collector of witty, pithy and pertinent football quotations.  And if there is anyone almost guaranteed to be worth listening to next season, it is Blackpool’s loquacious Holloway.

“He says he wants to be taken seriously but I don’t think he can stop himself,” Phil says. “It is people like Holloway and Gordon Strachan whose interviews you read with particular attention because you can be sure they will shoot from the lip.”

Phil has been noting down quotes or tearing them out of papers since the late 1970s, when he worked for Time Out magazine.

“My sports editor at Time Out, the late Peter Ball, was impressed with a quotes column called ‘They Said It’ in the American magazine Sports Illustrated and wanted to do something similar.

“Later, when I joined The Independent, the sports editor, Simon Kelner, wanted suggestions for things we could fill the sports pages with and I put forward the idea of a ‘Quotes of the Week’ column.  So it continued there.”

Phil and Peter Ball -- who ghost-wrote former Millwall player Eamonn Dunphy’s groundbreaking 1974 diary Only A Game? --  collaborated on The Book of Football Quotations in 1984 and found there was a considerable appetite among readers for comments by the famous and not-so-famous about the game. There have been seven or eight editions under that title.

Inevitably, the wittier observations have been among the most popular, which is probably why publishers Ebury asked Phil to pick out some of his funnier favourites for a new collection, entitled Tell Him He’s Pele: The Greatest Collection of Humorous Football Quotations Ever.

The title is borrowed from a comment originally made during a game by John Lambie, who was Partick Thistle manager in the early 90s, when his trainer explained that striker Colin McGlashan had taken such a blow to the head he couldn’t remember who he was.  ‘That’s great,‘ Lambie reportedly said. ‘Tell him he’s Pele and send him back on.’

As football has evolved as a high-tech business played for increasingly high stakes, with legions of PR people seemingly assigned to teach managers and players to be as bland as possible when faced with microphone or notebook, you might have thought the supply of memorable quotes would have diminished.

But with the aid of friends and colleagues, as well as knowing where to look as he scans the daily papers, Phil keeps gathering new material.  And now, of course, there is the internet, giving access to publications all over the world.

“You would have thought that everything that could be said had been said by now but there is always new material, or new slants on old quotes.

“I was reading some stuff on the USA Today website the other day, for example, when I came across some comments made by Argentina’s team doctor on the subject of whether players should have sex during the World Cup.

“ ‘It’s fine,’ he said, ‘as long as it’s not at 2am with champagne and Havana cigars’.

“Which was a nice line but only a variation, really, on one a former coach of Nigeria came out with when he said it wasn’t sex that tired out his young players, it was being out until five in the morning trying to find it.”

There are so many gems in the latest book that the Pele line was one of only 20 that could have made it to the cover.

“There are about 2,000 quotes all together, with lots of gallows humour as well as the weird and zany, plus a section on broadcasters’ gaffes.  And I remain grateful that so many pundits still don’t know the meaning of the word ‘literally’.”

Phil has lost count of the quotes he has saved over the years but reckons he has a couple of thousand ready for another book, should his publishers want more.

As a journalist of more than 30 years’ experience, Phil cut his teeth in the days of notebooks, pens and squiggly shorthand rather than laptops and voice recorders, and while he is no dinosaur when it comes to today’s technology he maintains a nice link with the pre-computer age in the way he stores all his words of wit and wisdom.

Rather than being filed away in some vast digital database ready to be accessed in a few keystrokes, they are stuffed into a Tesco carrier bag -- either scribbled on scraps of paper or torn from a newspaper -- that hangs from a door handle in his office.

“When it gets full I empty it on to the floor and start picking out the best,” he says.

Tell Him He's Pele: The Greatest Collection of Humorous Football Quotations Ever!and The Book of Football Quotationsare published by Ebury Press.

The classic Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer was reissued by Penguin in 1998.

For more books on sport, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.