‘Fergie Rises: How Britain’s Greatest Football Manager was Made at Aberdeen’ by Michael Grant (2014)

Alex Ferguson’s legacy continues to grow everyday as, over 5 years after his retirement,  Man Utd fail to live up to the standards set during the ‘Fergie era’.  Ferguson stands almost unquestioned as the greatest manager of the Premier League era with his consistent success placing above rivals like Arsene Wenger.

Fergie Rises is an in-depth look at the job which made Ferguson’s reputation and made him the obvious choice as Man Utd manager.  After a relative successful, if at times frustrating playing career, Ferguson took over East Stirlingshire for a year before a 4 year spell at St. Mirren.   Losing his job there, largely due to personal differences rather than the team’s performance, worked out exceptionally well as he was free when Aberdeen needed to replace the Celtic-bound Billy McNeill.

The scale of Ferguson’s achievement at Aberdeen is probably overlooked by many fans.  He won three Scottish League titles, four Scottish Cups, a League Cup and most remarkably the European Cup Winners Cup and the European Super Cup.  Since he left 34 years ago they have never again won the league – although this partly relates to the rising financial dominance of the Old Firm as Celtic and Rangers benefited disproportionately from the growing commercialisation of the game.

While Ferguson inherited a very strong team, his initial genius was to recognise that fact and limit his changes in the early days.  While he struggled to win over some players in his first season, he had the support of key dressing room figures and was able to mould the team in his own image through introducing young players like Alex McCleish.  Ferguson also seems to have been able to learn from mistakes – he came close to losing the dressing room on occasion but always managed to bring the team back together.

All of the characteristics that the world would see in Ferguson as Man Utd manager are evident from his time at Aberdeen – man management skills, use of youth team talent, selective use of praise, creating a siege mentality, displays of extreme anger, an eye for talent players, and above all, a relentless need to win.

Fergie Rises is brilliantly written and a great read.  Grant has read widely and picked up various of discrepancies among how certain events are remembered.  He also appears to have conducted countless interviews with seemingly every major character from the book who are open and frank in their memories of the period.   From the detailed quotes from the players it really struck me that, looking back, they all see their years under Ferguson at Aberdeen as a key period in their lives.

Overall, I highly recommend Fergie Rises for any football fan.  It works as a standalone brilliant story of the rise of a provincial football team to national and international glory.  It’s also a brilliant insight into the formation of one of modern football’s greatest managers. Grant gives a real sense of who Ferguson was at this time in his life and the influences that shaped him before he embarked on the job that would come to define him.

Fergie

P.S. Fergie has written a fair few books himself, including one covering this period called A Light in the North – I’m hoping to track down a copy and add some further thoughts to this review.  I have read his two autobiographies – one from 1999 and another from 2013.  I loved the 1999 book but found his much-hyped later book almost unreadably bad.

And here’s 12 I prepared earlier

Before starting this blog, I very occasionally reviewed books on Goodreads.  This post captures 12 long ago, and in many cases forgotten, musings on a wide selection of sports books.  Some of these are in the re-read pile and will get a fuller, updated review when I get to enjoy them again.  These 12 cover a range of topics including: Boxing’s 4 Kings, Brazilian and German football, Irish cycling and drugs in sport.

Ringside.jpg    Drama     fifa.jpg  brazil

1) ‘A Ringside Affair: Boxing’s Last Golden Age’ by James Lawton

A Ringside Affair is a love letter to boxing from one of the UK’s great sportswriters. Each chapter covers one of the great fights or fighters that Lawton had the immense pleasure of witnessing throughout his career. It’s clear that the era of the Four Kings
(Leonard, Hearns, Hagler and Duran) stands out as the golden age of the title, but it’s the career of Iron Mike Tyson which clearly shines through in the book. Lawton’s admiration for young Tyson’s talent is only topped by his disappointment at the Tyson’s eventual troubles and crimes.

Lawton’s accounts really bring the fights to life as well as placing them clearly in their time and place. His passion and love for the sport shines through. Its a work of remembrance and of celebration as Lawton reflects on his career.

For all fight fans the book is a fantastic summary of 30 years of top level boxing. It’s excellently written and will make you want to pull out the you tube videos and track down the great boxing books.  I highly recommend it.

2) ‘Drama in the Bahamas’ by Dave Hannigan

An entertaining and in-depth look at Ali’s last fight and the sad spectacle it was. The book is best enjoyed by someone well versed in Ali’s life story – it paints some characters a bit too thinly for anyone coming to Ali;s story without a reasonable knowledge of the cast of characters that surrounded the Champ.

Hannigan paints a picture of an Ali who is his own worst enemy.  It is apparent that there is no is villain guiding Ali to fight one last time. It really appears to be Ali himself and his own desire for attention and love that motivates him to take one more totally unnecessary and disproportionate risk.

Like all Hannigan’s work, it’s an enjoyable read and a welcome addition to the library of Ali books.

3) ‘The Fall of the House of Fifa: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer’ by David Conn

I greatly enjoyed this book on FIFA’s troubled history. Its extensively researched and well written. As a follower of David’s writing in the Guardian the book lives up to expectations.

Its a sad reminder of the scale of corruption and the breath of individuals involved. Blatter emerges as not quite the villain but rather the enabler and master politician. There is plenty of new material even for those following FIFA closely, especially a fascinating interview with a post retirement Blatter.

The only criticism is that it is a bit too detailed at times. Sometimes the narrative could be shortened and there is a bit of repetition at times.

All in all its a highly recommend for anyone interest in football politics or just good journalism.

4) ‘Shocking Brazil: Six Games That Shook the World Cup’ by Fernando Duarte

Very enjoyable history of Brazilian football. Examining the most successful team in history by focusing on their lowest moments, Durate paints a convincing narrative of the impact each of these games had on shaping the team.

One of many books to come out in the lead up to the Brazil World Cup, Durate captured a lessor seen angle of the 5 times champions.   Considering that the worst defeat of all was yet to come – who will ever forget that 7 – 1 – its a timely book and one that will remain relevant as Brazil try to rise again in Russia.

The writer is also a very entertaining journalist and great as a guest on football podcasts.

Das reboot   Match  vol  nowehere

5) ‘Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World’ by Raphael Honigstein

A really enjoyable read with great insight into the rise and rise of German football.  At times the narrative jumps between time periods and between the national team and domestic games in a confusing manner.   A good companion piece to ‘Tor! The Story of German Football’ by Ulrich Hesse to complete the picture of how the world champions became the world champions.

6)’Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga’ by Ronald Reng

Ronald Reng is the author of the heart-breaking, beautiful book ‘A Life Too Short’ about the late Robert Enke.

His second book to be translated to English, Matchdays, is a biography of Heinz Hoher – a real journeyman of German football – a bit of a Wes Hoolihan as a player (talented but often stuck as a flair player in second division) and a bit of an Alan Pardew as a manager (decent at bottom half/middle table teams) but a complete ****.  Hoher is quite the character – quitting jobs on a whim, drinking to the point of collapsing on first day of a new job, just missing out on Dortmund job to Hitzfeld.

Reng uses Hoher’s story to tell the story of the Bundesliga from its inception in the 60’s to current day – how it has changed and how the German public’s attitude towards it evolved.

All round an enjoyable, if slightly overlong, read.  The style takes a bit of getting use to – although I’m not sure if it that is the author’s style or a result of the translation.

7) ‘Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager’ by Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin is modern footballer’s great chronicler.  He examines the less beautiful side of English football shining a light on the real life experiences of those who live and breath the game.  Living on the Volcano focuses on the stresses of football management – showing the cost, the emotion and the real lived experience of managers at almost every level of the game.  It is an interesting and enjoyable read that offers a unique perspective of the job we all love to try on a computer game.

The book does suffer from Calvin at times being a bit too close to some of the subjects.  Its hard not to get the sense that he lets the fact he grows to like many of his interviewees/subjects as people get in the way of his objectivity as a football journalist.

8) ‘The Nowhere Men’ by Michael Calvin

Before data, analytics and youtube, talent needed to be scouted. Calvin’s book offers a fascinating insight into the enclosed world of football scouts in the UK

It chronicles a profession teetering on the edge – slowly being replaced by technology (and those who use it) yet a profession that continues to prove that data alone can’t tell you everything.

Above all, the love of football some of the scouts who work for mileage only is amazing, inspiring and heart-breaking all at the same time.

roche   Race   Running with Fire   Nike

9) ‘Born to Ride’ by Stephen Roche

Very interesting and enjoyable book. A chronicle of a time when Irish cyclists ruled the world.  Roche really was some rider had an incredible career and I wish I had been older in 1987 to have been swept up in the Roche/Kelly era.  Roche’s book is well worth a read for any cycling fan.

As with all cycling books, the issue of drugs hangs over every story like a bad smell.  Roche does at least address the drugs controversy which emerged after he retired.  His position is not entirely convincing and it is very hard not to believe his accusers.  Roche may have been part of the problem, and is definitely not willing to be part of the solution, but his achievements should not be underesimated.  If he was clean, its doubtful there has ever been a greater Irish sportsman.

Hunger by Sean Kelly is a very good companion book to give Kelly’s perspective of days that Irish cycling will never see again.

10) ‘The Dirtiest Race in History’ by Richard Moore

Moore is better known as a cycling journalist and writer.  Here, he moves away from cycling to the other sport dominated by drugs.  He crafts the story of the 1988 Olympic 100m final where Ben Johnson smashed the world record then dramatically failed a drug test.  Will there ever be another Olympic final where so many competitors had their legacies tarnished as the testers caught up with the cheats?

The book provides an in-depth look at Johnson’s rivalry with Carl Lewis and both of their journey’s to Seoul.  Johnson’s assertion that, while he was on lots of drugs, he never actually took the drug that the test found creates a bizarre and intriguing story.

It is well written, well researched and entertaining.  It provides an interesting look at drugs in sport in general – although Moore’s eagerness to believe in Team Sky over the years totally unfairly taints his comments on drugs in sport in my eyes.   Highly recommend.

11) ‘Running with Fire: The True Story of Harold Abrahams’ by Manterrk Ryan 

Very enjoyable biography of the 100m Olympic gold medalist and legend of athletics officialdom. Charts the prejudice he faced for being Jewish, his fantastic athletic career and even more successful (and interesting) administration career after he retired.

A must read for any fans of Chariots of Fire.

12) ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight.

Every long lasting company needs its origin myth.  What is unusual is the founder telling his story so long after the fact. Shoe Dog is both a sports book and a business book.  It is much better than I would have expected.

Knight tells the story of the founding of Nike and its early years before it broke into the big time.  It ticks the usual boxes of near disaster, dramatic recovery and eventually incredible growth.

What becomes clear is that for Knight, the early years are where is heart remains. It is a loving reflection on the days before he became a bazillionaire and a love letter to Steve Prefontaine.

I would have liked it to go a little further and look at the signing of Jordan and the groundbreaking nature of that change for Nike and for sport.

Bowerman and the Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore is a great companion piece to round out the story of the technical genius that combined with Knight’s business brain to change the sporting world.

 

 

Championship Manager, Kindle Unlimited and a nostalgia trip

I only read cheap books on the kindle – those that look interesting and pop up on the regular kindle sales. I now have 100’s of books on the kindle – and growing at a much faster rate than I read. I’ve been reading mostly on the kindle this week as I somehow accidentally signed up to Kindle Unlimited – a Netflix style book rental service of (mostly terrible) books. I cancelled as soon as I saw the charge but it means I have 3 or 4 weeks of access to the 1000’s and 1000’s of (mostly terrible) books.

Given that this happened just as I started this blog, it made sense to investigate the Sports books available on Kindle Unlimited.  There are a few old classics that I read many years ago that turn up on best of lists – including the excellent Morbo – The Story of Spanish Football by Phil Ball and Tor! The Story of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger both of which I read not long after they came out in 2003. I even re-read Tor! shortly before going to the World Cup in Germany 2006 (supporting the Mighty Sparowhawks of Togo). I remember reading it an wondering if I could actually be any more of a nerd, though I’ve since topped this by spending most of a lads holiday in Thailand reading Inverting the Pyramid.  Also available is The Real Deal by Jimmy Burns – a re-branded slightly re-edited version of his decent “When Beckham Went to Spain”.

There seem to be a few other interesting books available that I haven’t read – Roger Kahn’s less famous baseball books, an interesting looking book on football in North Korea by Tim Hartley and a tennis book called The Courts of Babylon by Peter Bodo. The book that jumped out the most was Fall River Dreams by Bill Reynolds – a book that I haven’t read that is often compared to The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey which I love. So it looked like my Kindle Unlimited error would at least yield one new book I really wanted to read.

But, and its the reason I’ve struggled with library books, I hate feeling like I have to read a particular book right now or I won’t be able to read it next week/month – it makes me resent the book.  So…. given a turbulent week in work, I felt like pure escapism and I knew that I couldn’t resist The World According to Championship Manager 97/98 by David Black. I can’t imagine I would ever have paid the princely €2.99 normal asking price for this – but I couldn’t resist free access.  Championship Manager is/was a football management computer game. You pick a team, buy players, set formations, then watch as the computer tells you – in text form – how your team do in each game. Its football by spreadsheet.  I loved it when I was a kid. I was addicted to it. I still remember my best save games in more detail than almost anything else about my childhood.

Champ 97

I still played the newer versions when I travel with work – until I had to stop as I was staying up till 4 am to see if I could get Exeter to the Champions League.  I couldn’t get the mighty Grecians past second in the Premiership and Champions League semi-final so I took the challenge of combining the Chelsea job with taking Ireland to 2026 World Cup. (I retired on the spot the day Ireland lost 7 – 0 to England in the World Cup quarter final and haven’t played the game since).  But I’ll never love any game as much as I loved the 97/98 version – although 2001/02 is definitely the more popular retro version.

So rather than read a book I’ve been meaning to pick up, I used my unwanted free access to delve in to a pure nostalgia fest. The book is unquestionably objectively terrible – mostly recounting matches simulated in the authors computer as he attempts to win the World Cup with an England team led by Alan Shearer and Tony Adams.  I don’t really understand why the book exists, but I enjoyed it. The names, the transfers, the memories, the emotions. It only took about an hour to read and I consider it an hour well spent.

The really shameful behaviour is that I didn’t then start Fall River Dreams. No, I opted for The World According to Championship Manager 01/02 by David Black.  Just reread the review of the last book (paragraph above) to find out what this book was like – except this book had even worse editing. As in every tenth page has a sentence that makes no sense.  But again I enjoyed it – there is something wonderful about reliving a very important part of your childhood. I can name more SerieA and La Liga players from that era than I can today – despite still watching plenty of football.

Champ 01

While on the subject of where football management computer games and books crossover, a more polished, and more ambitious book on Football Manager (the rebanded name for Champ Manager) that I read a few years back was Football Manager Stole My Life by Iain Macintosh.  This book was at its best when telling the story of the development of the game, interviewing its Founding Fathers as well as some legendary players whose real life never quite lived up to their online avatars. Some parts of the book just don’t quite land- especially the fan fiction at the end. The stories of obsessive fans of the game felt familiar and had definitely heard them before – I’m proud to say I never put on a suit for a cup final but I did hold a daily press conference in my head on my walk to school everyday.

A major weakness is that book is not as good as the very enjoyable documentary – Football Manager: An Alternative Reality – which coves the same ground but in a more engaging manner. Ultimately it feels a bit like an opportunist stocking filler – a phrase which 100% describes the dreadful The Football Manager’s Guide to Football Management also by Mr. Macintosh – who is a  better journalist/podcaster than a book writer. Ostensibly a book that is meant to explore the Game (football) through the eyes of a game (Football Manager), it isn’t really a ‘Football Manager guide’ to anything. It’s a very English bloke’s guide to football management (in a blokey FHM lads mag style mannner) with a few references to Football Manager thrown in to convince suckers like me to ask my Mum for it for Christmas (at age 30 years and 4 months).

So the moral of the story is that the great football management simulation computer game book is yet to be written.  And don’t buy Kindle Unlimited.

FM stole my life