George Orwell keeps turning up.

It’s funny how a series of events lead you on to others. Everything I read seemed to have a reference to George Orwell.

It started when reading the fascinating ‘Slow Trains Around Spain’ by Tom Chesshyre, Published by Summersdale in 2021. During one of his 52 rides he visits the Aragon where nearby he tries to find where Orwell was shot by a sniper. Puting Orwell aside this is a book to bury yourself in, get under the skin of the true Spain and yearn for a quick return to exploring.

The Orwell reference prompted me to read ‘The Last Man in Europe’ written by Dennis Glover and published by BurlinnLtd in 2021. This is a novel about aspects of George Orwell’s life in particular his time spent on the Scottish island of Gigha just off the coast of the Kintyre peninsular where he wrote 1984. The last man in Europe was originally the name for 1984 before it was finally published. I had bought the book whilst on holiday in the picturesque coastal village of Tarbert in a shop that offers local books, paintings, gifts etc.

The novel really helped me to put Orwell in context, something I failed to do in the early 1970’s when I read most of his books. His time on Gigha was at the end of his life when he was writing 1984 but I also enjoyed a fascinating chapter on his involvement in the Spanish Civil War including being shot on the ‘Aragon Front’ and how he made it back to the UK via Madrid.

I was then reading the 21st edition of ‘Nutmeg’ ( A quarterly Scottish football journal I have described in a previous post) and up pops George Orwell again.

In an article by Michael Galagher ‘Old Firm Détente’ he recounts a time when in 1945 Moscow Dynamo visited Britain on a supposed goodwill trip to play football, one of which was a game against Rangers. The score was 2-2, Rangers having come back from a 2 nil deficit but that had no interest to Orwell.

Orwell gave his views in a famous essay ‘The Sporting Spirit’ where he stated it was “war minus the shooting”.

I reached for a copy of ‘George Orwell Essay’s’ which I still have on the book shelves. My copy was published by Penguin in 1970 and contains this three page musing.

George Orwell was dismissive of the tour that had confrontations and disputes in each game and he widened his views to the Olympic Games stating “international sporting contacts lead to orgies of hatred”. I wandered if his views were still valid and wandered hat he would make of the football Champions League with its multi country competition. More intriguingly what he would have made of the English Premiership where Manchester City (U.A.E.), Newcastle (Saudi Arabia), etc, use sport to promote an image of their country and culture.

The sporting undercurrent of “war minus shooting” seems to have subsided but there are still dark undercurrents raging. Other considerations seem to have taken over for example the nationalism of Eastern Europe is being expressed in a supremacy through racial abuse of black players. I think that George Orwell would have been pleased that Gareth Southgate, his team and players have promoted a more inclusive view of society helping to rid the national team support of some of its bigotry. However in the back ground to this the head of the U K’s football policing is organizing meetings to discuss the worrying large increase in disorder at football matches especially those below the Premiership.

Of the Olympic Games the opening ceremony of the winter games in China was a triumph in spectacle for this for this ever expanding influence. Against this though there are some key countries who are not sending officials as a protest against the treatment of minorities. So poliics are still played out in sport.

I think George Orwell would say that nothing has changed since his essay ‘The Sporting Spirit’ only that confrontation is played out in different ways and I would have to agree with him.

Moving the goalposts

Moving the goalposts – A Yorkshire Tragedy

Written by Anthony Clavane

Published by Quercus Publishing 2016

Paperback version 2017

This book is a really good read in content flow and uncomplicated English.

It is about the demise of sport in Yorkshire brought about by the reckless de -industrialisation of the county in the last 50 years whether it be cotton, steel, coal or fishing.

The decline in the involvement of communities that supported the teams whether close to the grounds, in the workplace at the local welfare club, the pub or over the fence is brilliantly portrayed. A dash to a culture of the individual enabled people to take control of sports teams allowing them to borrow against a new tomorrow leading to the liquidation of clubs or over burdening them with lasting debt of which some have not recovered. The growth of Sky and their domination through money and changes to suit their broadcasting in Rugby League Rugby Union, Cricket and Football detached the paying public often turning them from spectator/fan to consumer. Recent domination by the top teams through being owned by Oligarchs, Countries and Corporations, with no links to national or local communities has enhanced the disconnect and poor performance of the local team on top of the local de-industrialisation. This has further emphasised the left behind culture that has blighted the country particularly in Yorkshire.

There are great references to Kes, Billy Elliott and The Full Monty how their portrayals referenced the times and changing attitudes.

Leeds may have now returned to the Premiership but other clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham and Sheffield United have gone backwards and Halifax and York are no longer in the football league structure. Featherstone Rovers may never again be able to compete for the Rugby League Challenge Cup.

Definitely worth a read.

The Greatest Comeback

The Story of Bela Guttmann

The Greatest Comeback

From Genocide to Footbnall Glory

Written by David Bolchover

Published by Biteback Publishing. London, 2017

Some times you come accross something that just changes your views and knowledge that you have held for sometime and this happened to me having opened this book.

You are confronted by the fact that Bela Guttmann was the most successfull manager of his era, his ultimate achievement of many, was to lead Benfica of Portugal to two European Cup Final victories at a time when Real Madrid were most dominant. I had never heard of the man but he paved the way for the management styles of Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and many more. He perhaps invented total football before the Netherlands and his influence spread to new line up formations used today. He also managed and played throughout Europe and in North and South America, his playing career stradling both sides of the Second World War.

But this says nothing of the man himself, born a Jew in pre-war Hungary, persecuted for his beliefs and luckilly spared the Hollacust death camps through the kindness of others and his own guille and resourcefullness. Bela Guttmann was not a saint and the book covers his flaws as well.

There is more though, that increased my knowledge in that the book explains the persecution of Jews through time but what hit me was the array of countries where persecution took place both before and after the war and the devastation that all of this had along with the horrors of Nazi fascism. David Bolchovers research and writting style are trully magnificent.

I try not to say too much about a book so as not to spoil it for future readers but I must say that if you want to open your mind, be beguilled by a human story and learn about the evolvement of football then this is the book for you.

She Stood There Laughing.

She Stood There Laughing – A Man, His Son and their Football Club

Written By Stephen Foster

First Published in Great Britain in 2004 by Simon & SchusterUK Ltd

This book is about Stephen Foster, a fan of Stoke City, being loyal to his home team even though he had moved away to Norwich. His journey is through the ups and downs of the lower Leagues and a brief flirtation with the Premier League, but he maintains his long commute to both home and often away games.

He takes his son to a Stoke game and he is surprised that he is bitten by the bug even though his local Norwich City are performing so much better.

The beginning of the book had me smiling, giggling at some of the crazy day and night time visits to see Stoke as it reminded me of some of the mad journeys my son and I made.

For me though the book seemed to peter out in the middle and the unnecessary swearing made me tired of the book. It also seemed odd that the final match in the book, a typical Stoke survival from relegation, which they won, does not get a report on such a vital match.

Sorry I became detached from a book that does give some good fan wisdom of how a club will always be there creating new memories of new players and owners and in many ways many of those gone before will just be a statistic of the past.

How Football Explains the World

How Football Explains the World – (An Unlikely Theory of Globalisation)

Written by Franklin Foer

First Published in the UK by Arrow Books in 2005

This is an interesting book written by Franklin Foer, American writer and editor, who looks into the game of football in various countries and explains how he see’s it gives an insight into what is going on in the world and the character of different groups within countries.

What struck me most was that that Foer was writing obout his experience that globilisation had not changed local identity or culture well before the backlash to globalisation itself. The rise of nationalistic leaders and nostalgic politics have followed his book and perhaps his bold title of ‘How Football Explains the World’ was a very insightful predictor of the future or was the secondary title of ‘An Unlikely Theory of Globilisation’ completely off the mark.

The chapter about Nigerian footabllers being sought by clubs in the Ukraine widening out about Ukraine’s society and their football scene in general was for me was the most interesting.

A chapter on football in Iran gave the impression that there was an udercurrent through football fans that would overthrow the Islamic revolution. Hmmmm.

The British comment regarding fans of Celtic, Rangers, Chelsea and Tottenham gave me a miserable feeling of continuing intollerance and anger which I had thought had diminished. Has it just been controlled in the grounds but not on the streets or in general society.

An interesting book to gain knowledge but not one to uplift your spirits.

Life’s a Pitch

Life’s a Pitch (The passions of the Press Box)

Compiled and Edited by Michael Calvin

Published by Integr8 Books 2012

I put this book down half read because for Christmas I had been given the latest tale about John Rebus by Ian Rankin. Having read all the previous adventures I had to quickly keep up to speed and as usual I was not disappointed.

I started to rediscover this book but with little enthusiasm as I couldn’t remember much of what went before. I am one of those people who once you start a book you have to finish it. This has meant I have struggled through some poor and difficult books.

Much to my surprise I found I enjoyed the second half.

The book is a collection of selected writings of 18 leading football writers and as explained by Marc Watson in the ‘Afterword’ they were all known to him through their work for BT’s football website.

My favourite chapter ‘Egg and Chips for Two’ by David Walker explains the behind the scenes ownership and management of Leeds United’s last great period, particularly their encounters with the European elite who tried to put them down but were firmly put in their place. Some may argue but most would see the advantage of them being back in the echelons of English football.

The other chapter that fascinated me was ‘The Tony Soprano of Old Trafford’ by Rob Smyth about his love for Rot Keane which was an unusual admission because of Roy Keane’s ‘Marmite’ personality and views. It gave me more respect for the man and his ability to play football and motivate his teammates. He’s subsequent management achievements have not matched his footballing ones but this may all change with the rumours that he is in the running for the vacant Celtic Management job.

A interesting book that brought back memories of the time and shows how football changes so quickly in a decade.

The Turning Season

The Turning Season: DDR-OBERLIGA REVISITED

Written byMichael Wragg

Published by Pitch Publishing 2020

This is a great read in that it captures you in a journey back to the breaking up of the wall and frontier between the two Germany’s through the 14 football clubs that made up the then DDR-Obeliga. It then whisks you forward to tody and where those teams now fit into a unified German football system.

It is not just about football as it also charts what has happened to the towns, fans and players in the intevening years. It is sad to see that like in some British cities the de-industrialisation has meant a drift to more affluent areas and a feeling of left behind. However the left behind has some times meant new horizons or a longing for the past.

Michael Wragg gets across his own emotions in visiting the 14 grounds and the changes he sees. Of the 14 teams that were in the top East German League none are now in the top Bundeliga, 2 are in the second tier, 5 the third, 5 the fourth, 1 the sixth and 1 as low as the seventh tier. The crowds have also dwindled and the grounds have in some cases fallen away.

This book is a really easy read and when you get to the end you are sad that you have finished it, which tells me it was good.

Thank you Michael I will look out for your next journey.

Working Class Heroes

Working Class Heroes – The Story of Rayo Vallecano Madrid’s Forgotten Team

Written by Robbie Dunne

Published by Pitch Publishing2017

Robbie Dunne moved to Spain in 2016 following a Spanish girlfriend. As an avid sports fan and with an appetite to travel he found that a fascination with one of Madrid’s other teams Rayo Vallecano enabled him to immerse himself in the language and culture. He produced the book about the club that he strung together around their 2016/17 seasons games and has fashioned a career as a sports journalist.

Having been relegated the season before from La Liga there was great expectancy that they may swiftly return. On field troubles with players, three manager in the season and with a vociferous campaign against the owners it all goes badly wrong until rescued at the end.

That is the background story as Robbie tells a story of a club from Vallecas the last real Barrio in Madrid that holds on tenaciously to its working class heritage. The area was subsumed by Greater Madrid in 1950 but has resisted the gentrification that has gone on elsewhere.

Rayo Vallecano were formed in May 1929, and are known for its many ups and downs in the Spanish League system having been in La Liga a few times but mostly in the Segunda Division. It’s arguably best times were finishing 9th in the top league in the 1999/00 season qualifying for the UEFA cup through the Fair Play League. They did magnificently reaching the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup and as always with a limited budget but some inspired low price signings and loans.

Rayo’s working class credentials comes from the area but is also from a section of the fans called the Bukaneros who often display anti fascist, racism and the commercialisation of football banners and songs at games. There have also been players who have identified with the area and its working class struggle.

An example of the clubs social awareness was in 2014 when the Manager, Paco Jemez and the team hearing of the plight of a local 85 year old woman being evicted from her house clubbed together to ensure that the bailiffs did not evict her and covered her housing costs for the rest of her life.

During the time that Robbie Dunne was writing the book the Rayo management signed Roman Zozulya who lasted only one training session because of his alleged political views. I have used a piece from ‘Football Espana’ that I have highlighted in blue to explain much better than I could.

https://www.football-espana.net/

History between Rayo and Zozulya

Zozulya and Rayo Vallecano have history – the player was briefly on the books at Rayo in January 2017, when he lasted just half a training session before fans made it abundantly clear he was not welcome at the club. They attended the training session he took part in, and displayed a banner outlining that “Vallecas is no place for Nazis.” Very shortly after, the loan deal was terminated.

The fans at Rayo are proudly and strongly left-wing, and promote anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic, and anti-misogynistic values. When their club signed the attacker on loan in January 2017, the idea of seeing a person they believed to harbour far-right views wear the famous red sash jersey of Rayo was simply unacceptable.

In the build-up to the announcement of the signing, fans researched the background of the player, and found an abundance of evidence that links him with the far-right paramilitary organisation Azov Battalion in his native Ukraine. There are also many photographs of the player posing with Nazi, fascist, and white supremacy symbols and figures. Shortly after the incident gained national headlines, Rayo fans published a nine-page dossier on the historical ties between Zozulya and far-right groups and organisations, to explain to the world exactly the reasons behind their rejection of this signing. For his part, Zozulya completely denies the accusation he is a Nazi, and explains his political leanings and past involvement with paramilitary organisations as solely “patriotic.”

This was a Christmas present and a good one although I found reading it at night and trying to absorb all of the Spanish names a challenge. As yet Robbie Dunne has not published a further book, I am looking out for it.

‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’

‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’ Written by Neal Heard

Published by ‘A Lovers Guide Publishing’ 2016

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This was again a Charity Shop find and what a find. Neal Heard has put together a book about football shirts that was 25 years in the making in his head. He had intended to write a book about the development and history of football shirts back to footballs inception but it has turned out to be his personal view of a subject he feels passionate about. It starts in the mid 1960’s when he explains that the viewing of football became a worldwide phenonium due to more televised games even if some were in black and white.

It is fascinating how the sports brands took over football shirts and tried for domination through changing styles, designs and the use of their own name and logo’s to further this cause. From the clubs getting income from the shirt brands came the bigger income stream of sponsorship on shirts. Football shirts have also been used to push political allegiances but the thing that came through to me was the designs that represented the times in which they were worn. Some have become iconic and hugely collectable and Neal points out that this is sometimes not due to the shirt but a specific game, season or individual.

Neal has also written a new book on shirts in 2017 and had previously published ‘Trainers’ in 2003.

Neal is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable people on football design and culture and is best described by himself on his Twitter feed.

“Brand Consultant – Pop Culture Historian – Author of: Trainers’ & ‘The Football Shirts Book – A Connoisseurs Guide’ – I’m not as boring as I make myself sound.”

To pick the best ever football shirts is all very subjective and everyone will have their own favourites often on partisan lines depending on who they support. The book made me think what my three favourites are and I have chosen the following.

No.1 Juventus 

I perhaps should have chosen Real Madrid’s all white strip of the 1960’s but to me the Juventus strip was top. This non branded, non logoed shirt states that they are Italian and the vertical stripes gave their players stature that reflected their no nonsense style of play. To me this says we are who we are.

No2 Huddersfield Town FC away kit !991/92

Huddersfield Town 1991/92 away strip is in Neal’s book. It just says to me flair, different, lets just be fun. Also worn in Disco’s of the time.

Classic Football Shirts | 1991 Huddersfield Town Old Vintage Soccer Jerseys

No 3 Aston Villa home and away kit 1993/94

Excuse me an indulgence in picking a season for my third choice Aston Villa’s 1993/94 season of which the black red and green one was my favourite. The claret and blue one will be remembered for Villa’s 3-1 League cup final win over Manchester United and the amazing semi final two legged 4-4 draw and a victory through penalties. The Villa fans at Wembley were in good spirits and put their more fancied rivals in the shade, this was brought to a higher level when they noticed Gary Shaw sitting amongst them just two rows down from me. As Gary Gary Shaw rang out he stood and waved to his adoring fans and all seemed good. Villa never looked back as the silky smooth Dalian Atkinson loped through on the right for the lead.

For me the most memorable part of the game was with the final whistle a bunch of jubilant fans went off on a Conga but with my ten year old son on one of their shoulders. My fear of how I would explain that I had lost her son to my separated wife was banished when in great spirits they returned him some minutes later.

Aston Villa 1994 Shirt | eBay
Aston Villa 1994 Away shirt | Aston Villa FC Retro Jersey | Score Draw

Great book Neal, great memories.

‘Paying on the Gate’

‘Paying on the Gate’ by Jason McKeown

Published in 2011 by Peakpublish

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With the blog named ‘payonthegate’ I couldn’t resist this book. It was not my usual charity shop find and I had to pay over the cover price to get a copy.

The book is about a schoolboy Manchester United fan who has little if no chance of ever getting a ticket for Old Trafford and by chance gets to go to Bradford City then in the championship. He is immediately smitten and embarks on a journey into the Premiership and then a quick decline to end up in league 2. This roller coaster of the clubs journey, that includes near death experiences for the clubs finances, is mirrored by Ian’s schoolboy to college, to Uni, to looking for a job, finally getting a job he enjoys, girlfriends to marriage all in a little over 10 years.

It is breathless but shows how the passion for your team grips you and determines your mood and life. It was worth paying over the odds for it and I applaud Ian’s frankness in the writing. Supporting your local team through thick and thin is certainly not boring and is more rewarding than clicking up trophy win after trophy win with a team you will never experience the physical relationship with the club.

Jason has written some of the history of the club since but again the prices seem too harsh for me so I will not follow that up. I wish Jason well and Bradford City who are now down there at the foot of League 2 with a very real danger of dropping into the National League. Their near neighbours Halifax will attest to the difficulty of getting out of that League.