How a defeat for England on the football field was a metaphor for national decline

A review by Anthony Clavane

When I was a history teacher, I would have killed for a contemporary historian like Dominic Sandbrook. Or a contemporary history book like State of Emergency. The likes of Eric Hobsbawm and Arthur Marwick would often produce great masterpieces, but they failed to engage with popular culture. And they particularly failed to engage with the sporting events that shaped people's lives.

So three cheers for Sandbrook who, entirely predictably, has been labelled "middlebrow" by that breed of earnest, high-minded academic who once dismissed the mighty AJP Taylor as a populist. AJP, of course, would never have dreamed of viewing popular culture through the prism of sport. Nor of describing an England football defeat, as Sandbrook does, as summing up the country's "wider economic and political decline".

The defeat in question was the first leg of the 1972 European Championship quarter-final against West Germany. The following year's home draw against Poland, which cost Alf Ramsey's side a place in the World Cup, would have been a more obvious emblem of decline. But Sandbrook has no great love for the obvious. Every page is full of original insights and telling detail. Did you know that Tory prime minister Edward Heath supported Arsenal? Or that he nursed a secret ambition to run a hotel? Or that Carry On star Kenneth Williams thought Don Revie would "make a better impression" as PM than either Heath or Harold Wilson? No, neither did I.

When lazy contemporary historians are not airbrushing the much-maligned Revie from history, they are gleefully casting him as the devil incarnate. A bit like the Thatcherites' treatment of poor old Ted. I remember one study of the era declaring that Revie's Leeds were, "in part responsible for everything bad about British sport and sporting attitudes" during this low, dishonest decade. In this brilliant third instalment of his ambitious social history of modern Britain, however, the Wolves fan sticks up for The Don. 

The dour, sinister Revie portrayed in the film The Damned United might appear to be a perfect fit in an age of miners' strikes, tower blocks and political corruption. Sandbrook, to his credit, challenges the dominant view, hailing him as a pioneer, a flawed revolutionary. So, as a Leeds United fan, I salute him. And as an ex-history teacher, I congratulate him for repeatedly looking at the bigger picture. Like Heath, Revie was a neurotically-insecure social climber. Like Ted, he was a product of the Depression years. Both were awkward misfits who rose from humble origins and were often crippled by self-doubt. It is fashionable - as, say, Alwyn W. Turner argues in 'Crisis? What Crisis? Britain In The 1970s' - to attack 'Don Readies' for his greed. "But the key factor," writes Sandbrook, "was surely not avarice but anxiety." The same thing could also be said of the Trade Unionists who were ritually accused of bringing the country to its knees.

The Heath-Revie era was a time of transition, an age of both anxiety and affluence. The post-war settlement had collapsed and the Thatcherite service economy had yet to take shape. "The old is dying and the new cannot be born," as Antonio Gramsci remarked of an earlier time. "In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears." 

One man's Morbid Age is another's Golden Age. As Sandbrook points out, this was an egalitarian moment, a period when unfashionable, provincial football teams could come from nowhere to win trophies. "Between 1970 and 1981," he tells us, "seven different clubs won the league title, while ten different clubs won the FA Cup." Contrast this with the post-Sky era -- and weep. Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United have won every championship since Blackburn Rovers' triumph in 1995. 

But Sandbrook is no nostalgist. Nostalgia is airbrushing of the mind. It sucks away at the deep and jagged lines of a country's divided and fraught history. Back in the Seventies, Britain was ripping itself apart. Football, like politics, was in ferment. Fans chanted "We hate humans" and hooliganism became "out of control". The optimism of the 60s had dissolved and the classless, meritocratic experiment was about to implode. "As is so often the case," wrote the Daily Mirror's Peter Wilson after the Poland game, "we have been content to dwell in the past and rest complacently on past triumphs until events - and other nations - overtake and surpass us."

You could argue, what with our present penchant for all things Seventies, with the success of novelists such as David Peace and Jonathan Coe, and with the popularity of TV series like Life On Mars and films like The Damned United, that we, today, are stuck in the past. There is a pining for the good-old-bad-old-days when clubs spotted footballers in local schools rather than imported them from Estonia, Serbia and Mexico. When British, not foreign, talent dominated the top flight. When teams outside the top three had a chance of glory.

"Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?" asked Sam Tyler in Life On Mars. "Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet." Sandbrook's stunningly rich narrative transports us back to a world of the three-day week, IRA atrocities and muddy sport. There are at least fifty references to football, most of them reminding us what the 'beautiful game', with its galactic wage bills and overpaid primadonnas, has lost. 

Planet Seventies has a bad reputation: part joke, part nightmare; economic decline, poor industrial relations and Jason King's "extraordinarily effeminate attire". For those of us who came of age during the era, however, it was an age of affluence and social mobility. State Of Emergency is a reminder of this lost, disappearing world.

Anthony Clavane is a sports writer with the Sunday Mirror and author of Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United.

Read more about Promised Land.

Follow the link to buy State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974

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As an Ashes series beckons, England's greats recall The Toughest Tour

Having broken Australia’s stranglehold on the Ashes with two consecutive home wins, England’s cricketers will board the long flight Down Under this Friday confident they can return in the New Year with the famous urn still in their possession.

Much newspaper space will be given to assessing the relative strengths of the rival nations between now and the first Test in Brisbane on November 25th but in terms of raw statistical history England’s prospects are easily measured.

Based on results in the 16 Ashes series completed in Australia since the war, England’s chance is one in four.

Four wins in 16 attempts -- an uncomfortable record that demonstrates why the title chosen for Huw Turbervill’s history of England’s post-War adventures in Australia is only too apt.

The Toughest Tour, published on October 26th by Aurum Press, charts the story of all 16 Ashes series -- as well as the extra non-Ashes Tests of 1979-80 -- through the eyes of those who took part.

As is inevitably the way, the book is the culmination of many hours of labour by the author, albeit pleasurable ones. For Daily Telegraph journalist Turbervill, whose fascination with Ashes history is matched by his love of writing, it was a welcome opportunity.

“In my present position, I don’t get the chance to write about cricket as much as I used to so,” he said.

“I always enjoyed doing interviews with players, past and present. Indeed, much of my writing for the Telegraph, Express and Wisden Cricket Monthly had been pieces about players.

“No one had really done a book about every Ashes tour in the way I had in mind and I knew I would enjoy tracking down and talking to players about their tour memories. I still had the numbers of many players I had interviewed previously and I decided I’d see where I could go with the idea.”

One of those precious numbers belonged to Sir Alec Bedser and his decision, logically taken, to start at the beginning was timely. Bedser was the only survivor from the 1946-47 series and passed away in April this year at the age of 91, shortly after becoming England’s oldest living Test cricketer.

“I’d interviewed him three years earlier when he had still been quite sprightly,” Turbervill said. “This time he had some health problems and he was fairly frail, although mentally he was still incredibly sharp and had clear recollections of that tour, as well as the 1950-51 and 54-55 tours.

“Given that, sadly, he passed away only six months or so later, I was so glad I caught him. I think it was the last interview he gave.”

With Bedser’s memories in the bag, Turbervill presented his sample chapters to publishers Aurum Press and was delighted to be given the go-ahead to write the remainder.

By the end of the project, he had interviewed 23 players, from Trevor Bailey and Frank Tyson of the early touring parties to Nasser Hussain and Ian Bell of the more recent England sides. Finding current players with time and inclination -- not to mention contractual freedom -- to talk about teammates, was one of the more difficult parts of the process but the England and Wales Cricket Board allowed access to Bell.

“It meant a six-hour round trip for a few minutes with him at Loughborough (home of the National Cricket Performance Centre) but it was worthwhile in the end,” Turbervill said.

Imposing deadlines on himself to complete each 3-4,000-word chapter, Turbervill wrote for three to four hours each day before going to work at the Telegraph. Working on the production side of a daily newspaper at least means that his day job is effectively a night job, with shifts starting in the late afternoon.

“I loved doing it,” he said. “The ex-players who agreed to speak were very good. Brian Close, who is 79 now, remembered things that happened when he was 19 with remarkable clarity.

“Geoff Miller (England’s chief selector) was excellent. So too were Dean Headley, John Crawley, Angus Fraser… and Chris Broad was superb on the 1986-87 tour, which was the last time England won.

“And it was not just talking about cricket where their memories were so fascinating. After the war, for example, players were amazed at how plentiful food was in Australia compared with at home, where rationing was still in force.

“And while modern players think nothing of long flights, there were deep reservations when the tourists travelled the full distance by air for the first time in 1965-66.

“It was thought that the long sea passage the players had to embark on previously was important in allowing them to acclimatise more gradually to warmer conditions and there was a mistrust of aeroplanes as posing a risk to health.

“A number of maladies suffered by the players in 1965 -- colds and stomach upsets, for example -- were grandly labelled as ‘virus diseases’ and blamed on the flight.

“There were several tours I did not really know a lot about, so the research was a learning process for me. I hope that people who read the book will have a similar experience.”

Follow the link information on how to buy The Toughest Tour: The Ashes Away Series Since The War.



Hamilton in hunt for William Hill treble -- but Clavane a surprise non-runner

Duncan Hamilton is in the running to land an unprecedented hat-trick of William Hill Sports Book of the Year awards after his musings of the state of cricket in A Last English Summer was named on the long list for the 2010 prize.

The former Nottingham Evening Post and Yorkshire Post journalist won in 2007 for Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years With Brian Clough and again last year with his biography of Bodyline fast bowler Harold Larwood.

Hamilton’s latest was among 13 titles chosen by the award organisers from an entry of more than 130.  A shortlist will be announced on October 26th.

Andre Agassi’s tennis confessional Open, Zimbabwe cricketer Henry Olonga’s Blood, Sweat and Treason and former boxer Errol Christie’s No Place to Hide, a disturbing tale of growing up as a black person in the Britain of the 1970s and 80s, are likely to be leading contenders.

The standards are high and competition tough but the absence of Anthony Clavane’s brilliant sociological sports history, Promised Land, is a surprise nonetheless.

It would certainly seem every bit as worthy as Blood Knots, in which the dance critic of The Observer (Luke Jennings) recalls being taught fly fishing and falconry by an intelligence officer (Robert Nairac) subsequently killed by the IRA, and which seems to have somewhat tenuous qualifications.

And it is difficult to imagine that John Nicholson’s We Ate All the Pies carries more intellectual weight, however wittily the widely-followed football blogger sets out his theories on the enduring popularity of football as an English cultural phenomenon.

Two Times journalists make the long list.  Matthew Syed’s Bounce: How Champions Are Made is recognised for the depth of the former Commonwealth table tennis champion’s investigation into the factors that lead to success in sport.  And Simon Barnes -- who might have written Syed’s book, one suspects, if he’d had the idea first -- indulges himself by assembling 50 inspirational sports men, women (and horses) from the last 50 years in A Book of Heroes.

Boxing has another contender from the accomplished journalist and prolific author Bob Mee, who focuses in Liston and Ali: The Ugly Bear and the Boy Who Would Be King on the two fights between the then Cassius Clay and the erstwhile world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, and how they had significance in a political and cultural context in America during the 1960s.

Sport is something of a sub-plot in Trautmann’s Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend, in which BBC television producer Catrine Clay concentrates more on the former Manchester City goalkeeper’s Nazi past than his career in football. Bert Trautmann, who famously played on with a broken neck during City’s F A Cup final victory over Birmingham City, had been a loyal member of the Hitler Youth who became a paratrooper and did not conceal his contempt for enemies of the Third Reich before winding up in a POW camp in Lancashire.

Rugby fans will be rooting for Tom English’s The Grudge: Scotland v England, 1990, which captures the gripping drama of the extraordinary encounter at Murrayfield in 1990 in which the Calcutta Cup, Triple Crown, Grand Slam and Five Nations championship would be decided simultaneously.  Brian Moore’s Beware of the Dog: Rugby’s Hard Man Reveals All is also listed.

If the distance running community had its way, their would be only one winner: Rob Hadgraft’s Tea With Mr Newton. Subtitled 100,000 Miles, The Longest Protest March in History, it tells the story of Arthur Newton, a Englishman who settled in South Africa in the years before World War One and who launched his athletics career by accident when he decided to run a marathon in the hope of garnering support in a land dispute with the South African government.  He won the race by a wide margin and went on to set a string of long-distance records before becoming a renowned coach.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, the world’s longest established prize for literary sports writing, is worth £22,000 to the winner, supplemented by a £2,000 bet with the sponsors, who will also present the champion author with a hand-bound copy of the winning book and be his or her host for a day at the races.

This year’s judges are the BBC’s John Inverdale, sports writing legend Hugh McIlvanney, broadcaster Danny Kelly and another Times writer, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award.  The winner will be announced on November 30th.

The full long list (click on the title for details on how to purchase):

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi (Harper Collins)
A Book of Heroes: Or a Sporting Half Century by Simon Barnes (Short Books)
No Place to Hide: How I Put the Black in the Union Jack by Errol Christie with Tony McMahon (Aurum)
Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend by Catrine Clay (Yellow Jersey)
The Grudge: Scotland vs. England, 1990 by Tom English (Yellow Jersey)
Tea with Mr Newton: 100, 000 Miles - The Longest 'protest March' in History by Rob Hadgraft (Desert Island Books)
A Last English Summer by Duncan Hamilton (Quercus)
Blood Knots by Luke Jennings (Atlantic Books)
Liston and Ali: The Ugly Bear and the Boy Who Would Be King by Bob Mee (Mainstream)
Beware of the Dog: Rugby's Hard Man Reveals All by Brian Moore (Simon & Schuster)
We Ate All The Pies?: How Football Swallowed Britain Wholeby John Nicholson (Biteback)
Blood, Sweat & Treason by Henry Olonga (Vision Sports Publishing)
Bounce: How Champions are Made by Matthew Syed (Fourth Estate)

For more sports books, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Start shopping for Christmas

Okay, the clocks haven’t gone back yet and it’s still light at 6pm but that doesn’t mean it isn’t nearly Christmas.  Which means, of course, there are presents to be bought.  

A good sports book under the tree is always welcome, so to help you choose -- or help someone else who might need to know what’s on your wishlist -- here is The Sports Bookshelf’s selection of new releases from the last week or so.

Football - Bloody Hell!: The Biography of Alex Ferguson

Patrick Barclay’s penetrating biography of Sir Alex Ferguson, written with the insight of those who know Ferguson best -- fellow managers, former players, colleagues and commentators -- whom Barclay has interviewed to reveal Ferguson to be a relentless character whose ability to intimidate, control, cajole and encourage has driven his unparalleled success.
Only now, as Ferguson nears the end of his career, can conclusions can be drawn about an extraordinary career.

Thanks, Johnners: An Affectionate Tribute to a Broadcasting Legend

An affectionate tribute to Brian Johnston from his former Test Match Special colleague, Jonathan Agnew.
The pair worked together for only three years but their special relationship -- immortalised when Agnew’s on-air description of Ian Botham's attempt to avoid stepping on his stumps – "He just couldn't quite get his leg over" - reduced Johnston to uncontrollable giggles -- spawned many moments that demonstrated how Johnston’s wit, warmth and sense of fun was a feature not only of his cricket commentaries, but also the way he lived his life. "Aggers" recalls many here in a book that blends biography and anecdote in a feast of remembered pleasures.

The Iron Duke: Bobby Windsor – The Life and Times of a Working-Class Rugby Hero

Co-written with veteran rugby journalist Peter Jackson, the story of Lions legend Bobby Windsor, who enjoyed triumphs beyond the dreams of most international players as the best hooker in the British Isles during the second golden era of Welsh rugby in the 1970s.
It is a tale of blood and thunder on the pitch as well as riotous incidents off it, along with  revelations about illegal payments during the so-called amateur era and what Windsor did to upset the Establishment and become blackballed by one of the most famous clubs in the world. But Windsor also suffered tragedy, tipping him into a personal crisis that drove him to plan suicide.

Please Don't Go: Big John's Journey Back to Life

Former Celtic and Wales soccer star John Hartson’s harrowing but uplifting story of his fight for life after being diagnosed in July 2009 with testicular cancer, which subsequently spread to his lungs and brain.
Interwoven with the poignant recollections of his pregnant wife, Sarah, as well as with extracts from his sister Victoria's personal diary, the book covers the five-week period during which his survival was most in jeopardy and presents a remarkable account of how he has managed to overcome a very aggressive form of cancer in a manner that will offer hope and courage to others affected by the disease.

Botham's Book of the Ashes: A Lifetime Love Affair with Cricket's Greatest Rivalry

Sir Ian Botham charts a lifetime’s relationship with cricket’s oldest and most treasured prize, revealing how it has shaped his life.
From the moment he first watched the likes of Ken Barrington stride to the wicket in jaw-jutting defiance to the day he flayed Australia’s bowling attack around Headingley as if playing with his mates in the park, and then onwards to his role in commentating on what was arguably the finest series of the lot, in 2005, Sir Ian has a rich and varied connection with the Ashes, and he tells all here.

European Football Yearbook 2010/11

Widely regarded as the last word on European football, Hammond‘s tome contains information on every major match played across the continent in the 2009-10 season at club and international level, right up to the end of June.
Full details of every European league's premier division - with each club's individual results listed - complemented by an seasonal perspective of football in each country. As well as club football, each nation's international progress is covered, with a list of every player to represent the particular nation and their performance in each game.

The Best Views from the Boundary: Test Match Special's Greatest Interviews

‘Views From the Boundary' - the Saturday lunchtime interview - has always been a highlight of the BBC's Test Match Special, in which famous names who share a love of the game are subjected to the gentle interrogations of Brian Johnston, Jonathan Agnew, Henry Blofeld and others.
Interviews personally selected by long-time TMS producer Peter Baxter include John Cleese, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Gary Lineker, David Essex, John Major, Peter O'Toole, Brian Johnston, John Paul Getty Jr., Dennis Skinner, Stephen Fry, Nigel Havers, Elton John, Boris Johnson, Piers Morgan, Daniel Radcliffe, David Cameron, Lily Allen, Bill Wyman and more.

Pacman: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao - The Greatest Pound-for-pound Fighter in the World

A biography of the only boxer to ever win seven world championships in seven different weight classes.
Manny Pacquiao, 30, is considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and was recently named the 'fighter of the decade' by the Boxing Writers Association. But Pacquiao grew up in a cardboard shack in General Santos City in the Philippines and ran away from home at 14, reaching the United States to hook up with trainer Freddie Roach in 2001 and from there his fighting career took off. Now the fighter, who has a photographic memory and learned to play the piano in one week, donates millions to charities in the Philippines.

The Thoughts of Chairman Moore: The Wit and Widsom of Brian Moore

Brian Moore made his name as a take-no-prisoners hooker at the heart of the England rugby team's pack, one of the game's original hard men at a time when rugby was still an amateur sport.
Since his retirement he has become a similarly unforgiving pundit, never afraid to tell it like it is.  In this controversial, funny and forthright collection of thoughts and writings, Brian Moore shares his insights and frustrations on topics ranging from the problems with the England rugby team today to the 'soap opera' that is the FA, the feeble state of British tennis and the threats posed by corruption and drug-taking.

Charles Buchan: A Lifetime in Football

An engrossing autobiography, originally published in the 1950s, from a character once synonymous with the game.
Born in London in 1891, Buchan enjoyed a successful playing career with Sunderland before enlisting as a soldier in the First World War, after which he picked up with Sunderland before being capped by his country and transferring to Arsenal. Gradually he moved into journalism, writing the first football coaching manual and reporting on the sport for the BBC. Then, in 1951, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly was set up, reaching sales of more than 100,000 at its peak.

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Engaging tale of Kiwi heroics

A review by Andy Wilson

In this lull between the summer and the Ashes, the intriguingly-titled What Are You Doing Out Here? is a diverting, informative and enjoyable read.

Norman Harris, who I first encountered as a sub-editor at the Observer and in recent years has become a regular and welcome presence in the Durham press box, has detailed a remarkable sporting story of which I suspect most readers would have been completely unaware - I certainly was.

It surrounds the Christmas Test of 1953 between New Zealand and South Africa in Johannesburg, and a brave last-wicket stand between Bert Sutcliffe and Bob Blair.

What's so remarkable about that? First, Sutcliffe had been forced to retire hurt, and taken to hospital, after being struck on the head by Neil Adcock early in the New Zealand innings, but insisted on resuming - fortified by a glass of whisky, and with bandages resembling a turban - as they struggled to avoid the follow-on.

Blair, meanwhile, had discovered in the early hours of Boxing Day morning that his fiancée, Nerissa Love, was one of 153 people killed in the Tangiwai train disaster that had shocked Kiwis all over the world. Yet later that afternoon, he insisted on batting at number 11, receiving a standing ovation from the Ellis Park crowd.

"What are you doing out here?" Sutcliffe asked him, giving Harris the title of his book. "We're in trouble, so I'm out here," Blair replies, and the pair put on 33, with Sutcliffe taking four sixes off a single over from Hugh Tayfield.

Harris tells the story in the present tense, having conducted interviews with a number of participants including Blair, who contributes the foreword.

Published in New Zealand by Last Side Publishing, What Are You Doing Out Here? is available in the UK from Ian Dyer Cricket Books (01748 822786; www.cricketbooks.co.uk), at £9.99.

Andy Wilson writes about cricket and rugby league for The Guardian newspaper.

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Is Kenny ready to manage Liverpool again?

Those with an eye for coincidence among the Liverpool fans hoping to see Kenny Dalglish reinstalled as manager at Anfield will already be seeing the first Merseyside derby of the season in a portentous light.

It was only hours after an extraordinary FA Cup match with Everton in February 1991 that Dalglish stunned the Liverpool board by submitting his resignation.

Liverpool had not lost.  The match, a fifth-round replay, ended 4-4. But Liverpool had been in front four times and Dalglish, his health already suffering through the stress of the job, blamed himself for the result.

In the present circumstances, Roy Hodgson might happily take another 4-4 when the rivals re-engage at Goodison on Sunday. Anything worse and the signs of faltering terrace support that surfaced in the embarrassing home defeat to Blackpool will surely gather momentum.

Dalglish recalls his decision to quit in My Liverpool Home, a new autobiography published last month, some 14 years after he and collaborator Henry Winter, the Daily Telegraph’s football correspondent, teamed up for Kenny Dalglish: My Autobiography.

“My nerves were shredded long before February 20, 1991,” Dalglish writes, recounting days when he would snap at his children and seek solace in “a few glasses of wine” that “took the edge off me.”  He describes himself frankly as “a mess.”

Given those vivid and painful memories and the emotional turmoil he made no attempt to disguise when he announced his decision to quit, his decision to apply for the manager’s job last summer as Liverpool sought to replace Rafa Benitez seems extraordinary.

Dalglish had to deal with unique circumstances during his five and a half seasons in charge.  Elsewhere in the book, he talks about Hillsborough in harrowing detail and there is no doubt the disaster took a huge toll.  But essentially it was a successful period in the club’s history.

The Dalglish of today is older and wiser, no doubt, while the 21 years that have elapsed since Hillsborough will have healed some of the psychological wounds.

But one wonders, nonetheless, why he would consider putting his wellbeing on the line again with a team that has failed year after year to recreate his title-winning success and which he would probably have to rebuild almost in its entirety.

Roy Hodgson may find himself in the right place at the wrong time when the battle for ownership is concluded but it might be better for Liverpool and their former manager if the return of King Kenny goes no further than a little romantic fantasising on the Kop.

My Liverpool Home, by Kenny Dalglish, is published by Hodder and Stoughton.

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Ecclestone invites Bower spotlight

Tom Bower, famous for unearthing dark secrets in the corridors of politics and business, is turning his attention to sport for the second time in his career.
The renowned investigative journalist, who won a William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for Broken Dreams, his study of corruption in football, has been working on an authorised biography of Formula One motor racing supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
The UK and Commonwealth rights to No Angel: The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone have been bought by Faber, who plan to publish in March 2011 to coincide with the start of the 2011 F1 season.
Bower, 64, has earned a fearsome reputation for doggedly uncovering every aspect of his subjects’ lives, favourable or otherwise. He focused his attentions on spies and Nazis in the early part of his literary career before finding fame with his exposé of Robert Maxwell, the now disgraced and deceased former owner of the Daily Mirror.
He went on to get his teeth into former Lonhro businessman Tiny Rowland and Mohamed al-Fayed before moving on to tackle Virgin boss Richard Branson, the controversial New Labour sponsor Geoffrey Robinson, then-chancellor Gordon Brown and another fallen newspaper tycoon, Conrad Black.
But if Bower seems entirely the wrong man to tackle a project to which the subject has given his full approval, do not be fooled.
When Ecclestone, who will be 80 later this month, gave Bower the go-ahead to speak to friends and business contacts, the author warned him not to expect a frothy tribute.  "I’ll accept your facilities, but if I find evidence of wrongdoing or hear any criticism, it will be published,” Bower told him.
Ecclestone replied “Tom, I’m no angel” and instructed everyone in his circle to “tell him the truth, good or bad.”
We should expect, then, that every story in Ecclestone’s journey from used car salesman to billionaire F1 boss -- his personal highs and lows, his marriages, his deals in Downing Street and his successes and failures on the track -- will be told in unpolished rawness.
If it makes Ecclestone look less than saintly at times, Bower’s subject is clearly prepared.  Indeed, as a figure who has not exactly shied away from notoriety, he may well enjoy seeing himself portrayed in that way.

Broken Dreams: Vanity, Greed and the Souring of British Football won the William Hill prize in 2003.

More books by Tom Bower

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Ferguson -- the greatness and the flaws

Sir Alex Ferguson is not known for taking a temperate view in the face of disapproving comment and it is fair to say that author Patrick Barclay will not be expecting a case of the Manchester United supremo’s favourite red win to arrive on his doorstep after his biography of Britain’s most successful football manager is published later this month.

In Football - Bloody Hell!, the widely respected Times journalist attempts to make an evenhanded assessment of Ferguson’s qualities and achievements and inevitably some of his observations are less than favourable.

“I think it is quite a balanced book although some things do not reflect on him so well as others,” Barclay told The Sports Bookshelf.  “I tried to be fair and if he reads it -- and I think he will -- I think there will be a grudging acceptance that it is fair.”

To a certain extent, Football - Bloody Hell! sets out to be an antidote to Ferguson’s 1999 autobiography, Managing My Life, which was a comprehensive and powerfully written record of an exceptional career but which had time for only one point of view.

Managing My Life was an admirable book which was interesting and written with the considerable benefit of Hugh McIlvanney’s collaboration but is an account written from the perspective of the most one-eyed man in Britain,” Barclay said.

“You could not find a better sports writer than McIlvanney but you could have hired William Boyd or any of the finest living writers in Britain and you would still have ended up with a highly partial account.

“So my intention was to write a two-eyed account of his life that tries to be as fair as possible.”

Unavoidably, this has required Barclay to scrutinise some of the more difficult areas of Ferguson’s career, not least the thorny subject of football agents in relation to his management.  Ferguson at times has expressed an undisguised disdain for agents yet has a son, Jason, who became one. He has not spoken to the BBC since their refusal to apologise for a 2004 documentary which portrayed his Jason as someone who exploited his father’s influence and position to his own ends.

Barclay, whose work across a spectrum of the English broadsheet press -- he wrote for the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph before joining the Times in February 2009 -- has earned him wide respect in the game, says that he “couldn’t care less” if Ferguson decides to shun him as he has the BBC.

“The story of Jason Ferguson’s relationship with the club is in the public domain and largely tells itself and I agree that there is an apparent contradiction with Sir Alex’s expressions of disapproval of agents,” he said.

“But I took the view that I could not afford to be constrained if I was going to produce the best possible work and I’m not too bothered if Sir Alex does not like it.”

Barclay describes his own relationship with Ferguson as “non-existent” although it was not always that way and for a while he believed he was writing his book with the United manager’s blessing.

“I first saw Ferguson when he was 18 and was playing for St Johnstone against my own beloved Dundee on the day in 1962 that St Johnstone were relegated and Dundee won the league.  I was a 13-year-old fan,” he said.

“Of course I was not working for a newspaper, although I did have a job as a delivery boy and I remember I did not get back to do my evening round until 8pm because of the traffic congestion.  Luckily, everyone was so happy because Dundee had won that I didn’t get admonished.

“I did not come across Ferguson in my professional life until he was a manager.   Although I never worked in Scotland, I covered Scottish football for the Guardian and got to know him to an extent as manager of Aberdeen and Scotland.

“I actually drank champagne from the Cup-Winners’ Cup on the journey home from Gothenburg after the victory over Real Madrid, which seems quite unbelievable when you consider his relationship with the press today.

“I can’t imagine him offering a journalist a drink from a cup these days unless it contained hemlock.

“I got to know him reasonably well and he was nice to me and that carried on as I progressed in my career in that he would grant me interviews from time to time.  I’ve found him to be intelligent and amusing and, when he wanted to be, very considerate. He was considerate with people that he went back a long way with.”

With that in mind, Barclay wrote to him early in the project, hoping that if he made Ferguson aware of what he was doing, and even gaining approval, it might head off problems further down the line. 

“I sought his acquiescence because I did not want people that knew him as well as knowing me to feel compromised, people like Gérard Houllier, Arsène Wenger and Andy Roxburgh.

“At first he was against it but after I had written to him he changed his mind and wrote back in the early part of 2009 saying ‘yes, fine, go ahead.’”

By the late summer of the same year, however, when some interviewees became less comfortable about sharing their views, it became clear that Ferguson had become opposed to the idea again.

“He did not have the decency to tell me, which caused me a few difficulties.” Barclay said. “I was not particularly impressed by that.

“It preceded the announcement that he was writing another biography of his own which will no doubt be another one-eyed book giving his own highly partial view, much the same as his first one.

“Since then I have had no relationship with Ferguson at all.  And while I have an enduring respect for him and consider him almost a hero, I can’t say I would want to spend much time with him.”

Barclay has interviewed widely in order to form a rounded assessment of his subject, letting the project absorb him to the extent that he found it to be the most fulfilling assignment of his career.  “It was immensely enjoyable and I’d love to do another,” he said.

He spent many hours with Michael Crick, the BBC journalist whose biography, The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson, also delved into previously unexplored territory.  “I wanted to check that some of the aspects of the story that were contentious did not need revision and Michael and his researcher, Alex Millar, were kind enough to give several hours of their time on several occasions.”

In his conclusion to the book, Barclay acknowledges that Ferguson’s achievements place him at a level in management that no other individual has matched yet cannot entirely nullify his flaws.

“He comes out of the book as someone who has not improved with time as a person but who nonetheless is remarkable and by my definition is a great man,” he says.

“Perhaps his greatest achievement as a manager, when you think of others who have been haunted and inhibited by the shadow of their predecessors, was to go to Manchester United, where one of the greatest of all time in Matt Busby had created something extraordinary, and not only replicate it with the emphasis on youth and on flowing, attacking football but make it even more successful.

“But if you were asked to say which was the more dignified man -- Busby or Ferguson -- there is no argument at all.”

Football - Bloody Hell!, which takes its title from Ferguson's first words to a television reporter, moments after Manchester United's last-gasp win over Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, is published by Yellow Jersey on October 14th.

Follow the link to buy Football - Bloody Hell!: The Biography of Alex Ferguson

Patrick Barclay is also the author of Mourinho: Anatomy Of A Winner.

For more on football, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Gould takes to the road to witness birth of his life story

Novelist John le Carre once compared writing a book to giving birth to a child and while there may not be many mothers who would identify with that description (particularly at the end of a long and painful labour), it probably strikes a chord with Bobby Gould, the former Wales football manager.

Having thrown himself with enormous enthusiasm over the last 10 months into writing the story of his life, the 64-year-old celebrated the first print run by making a 300-mile round trip so that he and wife Marge could be in the delivery room, so to speak, as the first copy came off the press.

Although published by the Shropshire-based Thomas Publications, Gould’s 272-page autobiography is being printed by T J International in Padstow, Cornwall.  And even though Gould is based in Portishead, where his home overlooks the Severn Estuary, the journey to the fishing town made famous by Rick Stein still takes the best part of three hours each way.

Undaunted, Gould said: “My attitude is that I will only release one autobiography, so I want to make a proper job of it.”

Given that Gould, who played for eight League clubs and managed seven, has been one of the game’s more colourful characters, it is a wonder that 24 Carat Gould has been so long making it into print.

Indeed, the project came about only after publisher and ghostwriter David Instone interviewed Gould for his Wolves nostalgia website www.wolvesheroes.com.   A popular player at Molineux, striker Gould scored 39 goals in 93 games in the old gold shirt during two spells in the 1970s.

Proud moment: Bobby and wife Marge
 with the first copies
“I only needed enough material for a nine or 10-paragraph piece but we got on so well I ended up filling half a note- book,” Instone said.

“When I asked him if he had considered doing his life story he told me he had tried once before but had not been able to find a publisher.

“I offered to do it if he were still keen and the project began there.  It has been a pleasure working with him.  He has been very diligent and caring about the book all the way along, paying attention to detail and pointing out where corrections needed to be made.”

24 Carat Gould, which the author describes as containing “plenty of laughs as well as some revelations”, is published next Thursday and Gould is embarking on an interesting round of engagements to mark its release.

“He is kicking off at Caludon Castle school in Coventry, which was his secondary school, and I believe he has invited a number of his boyhood mates to join him there,” Instone said.  “Then there is a launch dinner in Coventry on Thursday evening.”

Well known now for his expert analysis for talkSPORT, Gould has further dates lined up in London and Bristol and will make a poignant return to AFC Wimbledon to celebrate his greatest achievement as a manager -- winning the FA Cup in 1988, when Lawrie Sanchez scored the goal that stunned Liverpool at Wembley.

Daringly, he is also going back to West Bromwich Albion, where he was never the most popular manager among Baggies fans, to meet some of his former detractors at a fans’ forum.

24 Carat Gould is a first autobiography for Thomas Publications, which was started some 15 years ago after Instone, a former Express and Star football writer, saw the potential in the nostalgia market and is now well established in the field.

Books with a Wolves connection have been the bedrock of their success but they have also published titles on West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa and an unauthorised biography of Matt le Tissier.

Follow this link to order 24 Carat Gould.

For more on football, visit the Sports Bookshelf Shop

To see more titles from Thomas Publications visit their site at www.thomaspublications.co.uk