Touching Distance book review

The 1995-96 Premier League season should not be fondly remembered on Tyneside, yet it remains an enduringly popular “what if?” subject of conversation among Newcastle fans. It was the closest Newcastle have come to winning the League since 1927 and the team, labelled the Entertainers, were the best the club have had since the 1950s.

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Posted 23 November 2015

Inside out

In the winter of 1905, an American entrepreneur launched an eccentric scheme to create Britain’s first indoor football league. The venue was London’s Olympia, the largest indoor arena in the country. The idea was to recruit an in-house team of famous players and invite the country’s leading clubs to compete against them for a national indoor trophy.

Read at The Guardian

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Posted 29 September 2015

Screen Test: The Game

Revisiting Danny Baker’s Sunday League football TV show The Game, featuring hungover players and forgotten boots, potato-patch pitches and taped-up goal-nets, half-time cigarettes and full-time cans of lager, and plenty of swearing. A match is called off when the ref doesn’t turn up, and at least one ball ends up under a passing London bus.

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Posted 11 August 2015

British football’s biggest crowd

John Cairney doesn’t remember much about the actual match, but he does remember the vast sea of people, the ear-splitting noise and the sort-of collective madness that surrounded him. The date was Saturday 17 April 1937, the match was Scotland versus England, and John was part of the British football’s biggest ever crowd.

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Posted 12 June 2015

Fathers of Football book review

Britain did not invent football, as Sepp Blatter would no doubt remind, but it did knock it into shape, drawing up rules, forming clubs, organising competitions, and sending the association version out into the world. In his book Fathers of Football, Keith Baker profiles several pioneering British football missionaries, many of whom remain relatively unknown in their home country.

Read at When Saturday Comes

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Posted 12 June 2015

The Lost Pirate of Blackbeard’s Golden Age

Edward Robinson lived a life of high adventure alongside history’s most infamous pirates. But was he really a murderous sea-robber, and did he deserve his brutal fate? This extract from my book Sins Dyed In Blood: In Search of the Newcastle Pirate was published in Expost Magazine at Medium.

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Posted 30 April 2015

Half-time: a history

Footballers haven’t always had 15 minutes to catch their breath. The original Laws of the Game included no reference to half-time, and instead required teams to change ends after each goal was scored.

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Posted 9 April 2015

Sins Dyed In Blood

Edward Robinson was a British pirate who sailed with Blackbeard during the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 1700s. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, Robinson was sentenced to be hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1718 . But was he really a murderous sea-robber, and did he deserve his brutal fate? This is the true swashbuckling story of the Newcastle Pirate.

Buy now at Amazon

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Posted 2 March 2015

How to become a sporting journalist

BJ Evans was a pioneer of early football reporting, and his 1946 book How to Become a Sporting Journalist reveals some of his methods, which required a bicycle and two carrier pigeons in a basket. His story also involves binoculars, a charabanc, turnips, the Blitz, and the medicinal properties of hot Oxo.

Read at The Guardian

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Posted 12 February 2015
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How to beat the winter freeze

First mooted in 1937 yet only mandatory for Premier League clubs since this season, undersoil heating has endured a chequered history – starring frost, flame-throwers and a fuming Fergie. Also in this issue – strange football tech, including electronic referee’s assistants, footballer brain stimulators, and robotic goalkeepers.

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Posted 8 January 2015

1881 and all that

A great myth associated with Newcastle United is that the club was formed in 1892 courtesy of a merger between East End and West End. In fact, the club was formed in 1881, and there was no merger. Contemporary sources and modern histories make this clear, yet the 1892 myth still persists. This article looks at reclaiming Newcastle’s lost history.

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Posted 2 December 2014

Up There book review

My review of Michael Walker’s new book, Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust, is in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes. The book is a long-overdue social history of North-East football. From the game’s earliest years, Walker shows how the industrial North-East established itself as a football powerhouse.

Read at the WSC website

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Posted 12 November 2014

Away day heyday

Away days adventures are among the many joys of being a football fan, and have been since the Victorian era. But how did fans travel to or follow away matches in the days before cars and buses, or TV and radio?

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Posted 21 October 2014

History of the magic sponge

The magic sponge is one of football’s most familiar artefacts, having being variously applied to players’ bumps and bruises for more than a hundred years. Originally used in boxing and athletics to help relieve pain and reduce swelling, the cold wet sponge became popularly regarded in football as an apparently miraculous cure for virtually any injury.

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Posted 6 October 2014

All With Smiling Faces

A wander through Newcastle’s early history to discover how the club came to mean so much to so many. Covering the first 30 years, from its foundation as Stanley FC in 1881 to the triumphant FA Cup win in 1910, the book visits the grounds, meets the players, mingles with the fans, and relives the matches that made Newcastle United.

Buy now at Amazon

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Posted 29 September 2014
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Casting the net

John Alexander Brodie was one of the most prominent civil engineers to come out of the Victorian era. Based in Liverpool, he was a pioneer in areas as diverse as motoring, prefab housing and refuse compacting. Yet his greatest achievement – by his own reckoning – was the invention, 125 years ago, of the football goal net.

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Posted 12 September 2014