Category Archives: Books

The Origins of the Football League

When Saturday Comes November 2013My review of Mark Metcalf’s book The Origins of the Football League: The First Season 1888/89 is in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes.

“In 1888, during the early days of professional football, clubs began to look for a way to secure a regular income beyond that generated by occasional cup ties and friendly matches. It was Aston Villa director William McGregor who proposed the solution, suggesting that ‘the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season’. 125 years later, as the Football League celebrates its anniversary, Mark Metcalf’s extensively-researched book examines the inaugural season of the game’s oldest league competition.”

Read the full review in When Saturday Comes.

Get the book: The Origins of the Football League: The First Season 1888/89.

Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 2

Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 2Goal-Post: Victorian Football Vol 2, a second anthology of 19th century football writing, is out now. I edited the book, and wrote the introduction. It contains 21 articles on various aspects of early football from 21 Victorian writers, some well-known, some less so. Several remain anonymous or hidden behind nom de plumes, as was common at the time.

One notable featured writer is the great Corinthian CB Fry, who discusses the relative merits of football versus cricket. As one of only 12 men to have represented England at both sports, he is almost uniquely qualified to comment. Fry also discusses the rise of professionalism, which, he says, “has to a large extent spoilt Association football as a recreation”. Ironically, Fry would go on to play professionally for Southampton and (briefly) Portsmouth.

RG Graham provides an early history of the Football Association, republished here on the occasion of the FA’s 150th anniversary. Honorary secretary Graham does not come across as a particularly modest writer. He ensures his own involvement is clearly recorded for posterity, while perhaps downplaying the valuable contributions of the likes of CW Alcock, Arthur Pember and Ebenezer Cobb Morley. Continue reading

The Danny Baker Show

The Danny Baker ShowI was on the Danny Baker Show on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday (24 August) talking about Victorian football and my book the Victorian Football Miscellany. The whole show was given a Victorian theme, and it was great to meet Danny and Teletext Alex and speak to them for half a hour about everything from football on ice to matches between elephants and clowns.

Danny told listeners the book was terrific, and would “make your eyebrows roll off your forehead and down your back”. To be invited on the show was an amazing opportunity for an unknown author. As Danny said on air, they don’t usually plug books, “unless the person is more famous than us”. So I was very grateful, but also nervous, and conscious of the fact that the slot is usually occupied by a celebrity guest. Hopefully my inevitable “erms” and stumbles could be excused. (Previous guests include Ant & Dec, Peter Kay, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry, Elton John..!) Continue reading

Red or Dead and Straight White Male

Red or Dead by David Peace (Faber & Faber)
Single White Male by John Niven (William Heinemann)

Red or DeadThe first three words of David Peace’s 736-page doorstopping hagiography of Bill Shankly are “Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.” Peace is known for his use of short, repetitive phrases, but at times in Red or Dead he veers dangerously close to self-parody. “Bill Shankly closed the dressing-room door. Bill Shankly took off his hat. Bill Shankly hung his hat on the back of the door. . .” Stretched out over multiple reams of pages, this inevitably becomes tiresome.

Shankly was Liverpool manager for 15 years, somewhat longer than Brian Clough’s reign at Leeds United, as covered in Peace’s excellent The Damned Utd (368 pages). The first part of Red or Dead deals with Shankly’s Liverpool career, match by match, in patience-trying detail. There are some brilliantly memorable scenes, such as the first outing of You’ll Never Walk Alone in 1963, before it had been popularised by Gerry and the Pacemakers, and two fascinating meetings between Shankly and Harold Wilson. It’s all painstakingly researched, but the suspicion is that even the most die-hard Liverpool fan will find themselves skipping pages. Continue reading