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Good reads about the not always beautiful game

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

In contrast it takes quality writing, and word of mouth recommendation, to make a success of a book about a small club like Bromley or Cowdenbeath.

I’ve just finished re-reading Dave Roberts’ The Bromley Boys: The True Story of Supporting the Worst Football Team in Britain, which had been strongly recommended to me by my son-in-law Ewan, and not just because he and my eldest daughter had at one time lived in that London borough. “As soon as I started reading it,” he told me, “I thought of you immediately”. Considering it’s about the football fanaticism of a fourteen-year old schoolboy I’m not so sure I should regard this comparison as entirely complimentary but I have to admit there are very real similarities between the young Dave Roberts and my fourteen year old Third Lanark-mad self.

Reviews of The Bromley Boys, which was published back in 2008 and has since been made into a film, variously describe the book as “hilarious”, “heart-warming” and “genuinely funny”. I wouldn’t say I found the book hilarious, but it was amusing and certainly heart-warming. Suffice to say I enjoyed it so much that I purchased Dave Roberts’ 32 Programmes, an equally entertaining tale of his football obsession.

My introduction to the work of Dave Roberts got me thinking about my favourite football books. I initially plumped for three. Eamon Dunphy’s 1973-74 classic Only A Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer remains top of my list with the celebrated Fever Pitch a close second. Not far behind those two is Pointless by Jeff Connor, the story of a season with East Stirlingshire. Enjoyable though I found it, I can appreciate why it might not be such a great favourite with Shire supporters.

Written from three different points of view, that of player, fan and journalist, and covering contrasting levels of professional football in Britain, each of these three publications passes the crucial test; I have happily returned to read them more than once.

Generally, I give a miss to biographies and autobiographies of footballers, but I would strongly recommend the searingly honest Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by Ian Redford. A great player under Jim McLean at Tannadice, Ian Redford was found dead in Irvine on 10 January 2014. His son, also Ian, described the book as “the longest suicide note in history”. A sad verdict, but it’s as good an autobiography by a footballer as you will ever read.

I once raised the topic of favourite football books on a football forum website and one respondent immediately reminded me of another great book which I haven’t re-read for ages: Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, by life-long Cowden fan the Rev. Ronald Ferguson. It’s about one season in the less-than-illustrious history of the sardonically nicknamed Blue Brazil but it’s also about a club’s place in its locality; in this case a coal mining community in West Fife.

The same respondent gave a very favourable mention to Gary Imlach’s highly rated My Father and Other Working-Class Heroes, which I haven’t yet read but I suspect it’s not dissimilar to The Footballer Who Could Fly by sports journalist Duncan Hamilton, which is brilliantly written and very moving in parts.

It’s been my feeling for some time that there is a lot of dross out there in the wider world of football books, particularly those books based around clubs with sufficient supporters to virtually guarantee good sales. In contrast it takes quality writing, and word of mouth recommendation, to make a success of a book about a small club like Bromley or Cowdenbeath.

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