Raheem Sterling! Gareth Bale! Wayne Rooney!


Another football season is about to begin and the biggest superstars in the world have been preparing for months. In fact, they’ve been working hard all of their lives to make it to the very top. To succeed as a professional footballer, you need talent but you also need focus and courage. There will always be difficult times – growing pains and injuries, coaches thinking you’re not quite good or strong enough – but the best players in the world battle on to achieve greatness.

Raheem Sterling, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney are three of the best and most expensive British footballers ever. This season they’ll be playing in front of thousands of fans, aiming to win league titles and perhaps the biggest prize of all, the Champions League. But how did they get to where they are now? What challenges did they face along the way? What were the key moments in their incredible journeys?

There’s only one fun way to find out! Raheem Sterling: Young Lion, Gareth Bale: The Boy Who Became a Galáctico and Wayne Rooney: Captain of England are fictionalised stories for football-mad kids, aged 9 years and up. Come and share their highs and lows and learn what it takes to become a superstar. What are you waiting for?!


To buy the books, click here

Ben Thatcher in the Rye


I guess the first thing you’ll want to know is where I was born. I’m not really up for all that autobiography crap – my childhood, the time I put that bastard Pedro Mendes in hospital. That stuff goddam bores me, but I’ll answer that first question. Swindon – home of XTC, WHSmith and that kid from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It was pretty depressing, but no-one gets to choose where they start out.

No, I wasn’t born in Wales but Mark Hughes knew that when he called me up to the squad. My grandma was Welsh. Hughesy knew that, and I guess he knew that after playing for the Under-21s, England just didn’t want to know about me. We didn’t talk about that, though. They had Psycho, then Graeme Le Saux, then Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole, hell even inbetween they preferred Pip Neville’s right foot at left back. I knew when I wasn’t wanted.

It was Vinnie Jones who first suggested it, back when I was at Wimbledon. I’d just arrived from Millwall and Euro 96 was making everyone a little football crazy. To tell you the truth, I was pretty sore to have missed out. I should have been out to impress at my new club but pre-season was boring as hell. Sure I was young, not yet 21, but I was highly thought of in FA circles. I was the classic old school British defender, all take the man and find row Z. The smug old blazers left me cold but everyone said I was taking the right route, shaking the right hands – Lilleshall like Sol Campbell and Nicky Barmby, then the Under-21s with Richard Rufus and Kevin Gallen. Very big deal. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before I joined the seniors.

‘What happens if Psycho gets injured? Are you telling me Steve Howey is going to do the business on the left?’

We were doing a passing drill and I was shooting the bull, acting the cock of the walk. Vinnie liked it that way, so that he could take you down a peg or two. The guy was intent on keeping that damn Crazy Gang spirit alive, even if Fash was long gone.

‘You think you’re next in line to the throne, boy? Forget it, you ain’t all that. You’ve got no chance in hell playing here and that England team’s cursed anyway. If I was you, I’d start looking into your family history. You think I give a fuck about Wales? I was born in bloody Watford!’

JFK kicked a ball in my face. He was hot as a firecracker, always yelling. The gaffer was in cahoots with Vinnie, but I was fair game. ‘Oi Thatcher, wakey wakey! You think you’re still on fucking holiday? Kimble is 30 going on 80 and his right foot has seen even less action than your dick, but I’ll still pick him over you!’

I wasn’t too crazy about Old Kinnear, to tell you the truth, but that wasn’t unusual with me and my managers. I’ve hated pretty much every one of them – they never act like people. Sometimes I worked really hard on my game but they never notice anything.

Thatcher 1


So Vinnie got me thinking back then but it wasn’t until seven years later that I did anything about it. Inbetween, things hadn’t exactly gone to plan. There were no big trophies, and most importantly no England caps. I had a reputation as a hardman, a ‘dirty’ player with a habit of swinging elbows. I can’t say I was misunderstood exactly but that wasn’t all I was about. Then in 2000, Wimbledon got relegated. It was sad to see but things really soured once JFK left. The old brute had health issues, and they replaced him with this weird Norwegian with tiny little eyes. He tried to introduce football science to the Crazy Gang and boy did he learn his lesson. It was like trying to teach a fish to walk.

I went to Tottenham for £5million and at first everything was pretty great. There were some big players around the place and I got a bang out of that. Tim Sherwood had a Premier League winner’s medal and he would play all manner of pranks. One day he called Stephen Carr’s wife, pretending to be her husband’s rent boy. That killed me. George Graham was a nice guy but he wasn’t the cleanest and he ended up paying the price for that.

Hoddle arrived and boy did he think the sun shone out of his arse. He was a real phony and one of the biggest bores I ever met. He made his mind up early on and he chose Taricco and Ziege over me. I got the axe and I was really hot about that. I was playing well when I got the chance but it made no difference. I had plenty of dough but it didn’t feel right taking it for just sitting my ass on a bench each week. Goddam money; it ends up making you blue.

I kept thinking about my days at Lilleshall when it felt like I was going places. What a deal that was. I started getting sorry for not working a little harder, for not keeping my cool a little more. One thing I have, it’s a terrific temper. I was damn near ready to just quit and become a physiotherapist or something.

‘That Hoddle’s a real bastard. Some day somebody’s gonna bash his-’

Stephen Clemence didn’t even bother to listen; he wasn’t on the gaffer’s naughty list yet. We were in the club car park and he just shut the damn door and drove off.

I needed to get out of White Hart Lane. I thought of giving JFK a buzz but I wasn’t sure he even had a phone. Maybe the poor old guy was dead; I never read the news. Instead I walked the streets of London, just for the hell of it. It was a cold February evening and I wished I’d brought my gloves with me. I looked for an HMV to buy the latest Ja Rule record but everything was shut. Covent Garden was mobbed and messy, revellers everywhere. I was damn lonesome. I thought about going to the movies but there was nothing good on.

In the end, Leicester came in for me. Micky Adams was a class act and he made me feel welcome. I knew damn well that I could still make a name for myself – I just needed first-team football again. I got that but I’d joined another team on the slide. The Leicester squad was like a who’s who of footballing mediocrity, the Eastbourne of the Premier League, where old prospects go to die. Les Ferdinand scored 12 goals but we were relegated for the second time in my career. I felt sorry as hell for Micky – he wasn’t to blame for it all. To most, I looked like a curse but it wasn’t my fault either and I told Andy Impey that.

‘Thatcher, when are you going to grow up and take some responsibility? You’re not a prospect any more. You’re 29 and you’re an average player like the rest of us.’

That was crap but he got me thinking. It was time for me to up my game.

I got a move to Manchester City and I was first choice. It was before the big ‘Sheikh up’ as I like to call it but we had David James, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve McManaman, Nicolas Anelka, Robbie Fowler, Trevor Sinclair – loads of big names in one place, even if some of them were getting on a bit. And Joey Barton; he was a fun guy to be around. Joey could be a pain in the ass, but he certainly had a good vocabulary.

Keegan was in charge and that was exciting. But then that jerk Stephen Jordan came along and stole my spot. He wasn’t a bad guy but where is he now? Fleetwood Town, that’s where. I didn’t deserve to make way for him. Luckily, I had bigger concerns by then; you see, I was an international footballer.

Ben Thatcher, Manchester City

Ben Thatcher, Manchester City


I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw. It’s awful. When I want to, I can charm the birds out of the trees. When I threw an elbow at Wimbledon, I denied it wholeheartedly and JFK just nodded and told me to get the hell out of his office. I caught the guy right in the face; he’d been riling me all game and I didn’t even look behind me as I did it. It was a good shot but I felt sorry as hell about it later. That temper of mine, it can really get me into trouble.

When Hughesy asked me if I wanted to play for Wales, I thought back to Vinnie and I told him it would be a dream come true. I told him that I’d been really close to my grandma and this would mean the world to her, God rest her soul. I told him I’d spent some lovely summers there as a kid, some of the best of my life. In fact, I’d only met her once and knew nothing about her. But the chance to play international football, and with Giggsy and Gary Speed no less, was too much. Hughesy nodded and told me he’d be in touch.

I made my debut against Hungary and we won 2-1. It was a fiery match in Budapest and I got a real bang out of that. The tackles were flying and I picked up a yellow on the half-hour mark. Robbie Savage looked over admiringly – that’s what I was there for, no doubt. ‘Ben Thatcher, international footballer’ – that had a nice ring to it.

It was all going swimmingly until Toshack took over. There was something about him that didn’t sit well with me. I think he resented me for not being Welsh – fair enough, I suppose, but I was a damn fine asset. Injuries and suspensions kept me away from the team, and I could tell that he was really questioning my commitment.

When Tosh called me up for the games against England and Poland, I was just coming back to fitness. I wanted to say yes, of course I did, but we had the Manchester derby three days later. Psycho made it clear that he needed me to start that game and it was hard to say no to him. So I had a hell of a decision to make.

‘Boss, I’m not recovering as quickly as I’d hoped. The injury is still playing up, so I’m not gonna be able to play. I’m bummed out about that.’

I felt damn sorry to have to lie to him. Old Tosh nodded and told me to rest up. I did but a few days later, he watched me play the full 90 minutes against United. We drew 1-1 at Old Trafford and I played pretty well but that wasn’t the point. After that, Tosh kicked me out for good.

Thatcher 3


That’s all I’m going to tell about. I could probably tell you what I did after that – the last years at City, the year at Charlton and then the way I ended things at Ipswich with Keano. But I don’t feel like it. It doesn’t interest me too much anymore.

I work for a sports management company now. It’s nice, easy work and I have a lot of time to spare. Chris Perry keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself, go back into football as a coach or something, but it’s such a stupid question. I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? There’s a reason they always called him ‘The Rash’.

‘You know what I’d like to be?’ I told him the last time just to shut him up. ‘I keep picturing this football field but instead of grass, it’s a big field of rye. Rye up to your knees, the kind of stuff that’s really hard to run through, and improves stamina no end. Hundreds of kids are running around, playing a massive game, and I’m on the edge of the pitch. What I have to do is shout encouragement, give them water, and stop the ball if it goes over the touchline. If two kids get a little hot and start to fight I have to come out and stop them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be Ben Thatcher in the rye and all. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.’

Chris was quiet for a moment. ‘Thatcher, you’re a strange, strange boy. That just sounds like youth coaching on a large and pretty intense scale.’

I knew he wouldn’t understand. If you want to know the truth, I sort of miss the game, the fame, and the people. I think I even miss goddam Toshack and Hoddle. It’s funny.

Don’t ever tell your story. If you do, you start missing everything.

Football Books 2015

The football season is drawing to a close and the holiday season is just beginning. For those that can’t bear to leave the beautiful game behind, there’s only one solution: beach reading. With the help of the best sports publishers around, we’ve collated the best football books around so you don’t have to…

BackPage Press

Neil White: We’re working with Arena Sport on ‘DIEGO COSTA: The Art of War’, translated and updated from Fran Guillen’s Spanish edition of last year to include the World Cup, Costa’s transfer to Chelsea and this season’s dramas. Due out 16th July, more info here


We’re really excited about ‘The Five-a-Side Bible’ which we’re developing with Freight Books and 5-a-side.com for an October release. That’s going to have lots of funny stories from the world of 3G, as well as tips from the best fives players in Britain, a five-a-side bucket list and much more. If you play short-sided football, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.

Around the same time, we should have ‘PUSKAS: Madrid, Magyars and the Amazing Adventures of Football’s Greatest Goalscorer’ done. We’re working with Freight Books on that, and it’s written by Gyorgy Szlossi, who heads up the Puskas Academy in Budapest, founded the Puskas Award with Fifa and remains a close friend of the Puskas family.

Pitch Publishing

Paul Camillin: The first half of 2015 sees a variety of titles being added to Pitch Publishing’s ever-growing football list​, including biographies, autobiographies and club-specific titles.

For those who lament the modern game, and feel somewhere along the way football took a wrong turn, losing touch with fans. The Ugly Game by Martin Calladine is a passionate, funny book of essays, and sets out to put football right by comparing it, often unfavourably, with American football, a sport, perhaps surprisingly, that’s showing how money need not destroy fairness and competition.

Ugly Game

Soccer in Stilettos by Liam Newman is a definitive look at the rise of women’s football, telling the inspirational story of how the female sport has slowly but surely stepped out of the shadow of its male counterpart to become the truly beautiful game that it is today. With the future of the sport looking brighter than ever, how did football finally show sexism the red card?

Of the club titles, one is already proving popular with Leeds United fans, and flying off the shelves. Jon Howe’s The Only Place For Us is the A to Z history of Leeds United’s Elland Road home, revealing the stories behind its past uses, famous features and characters – plus fires, gypsy curses and escaped pantomime horses. Using archive research, insiders’ insights and fascinating photos, Jon Howe retraces the intriguing historical journey of one of Britain’s most iconic football grounds.

Then on the autobiography front we have Moody Blue, the self-told-tale of former Rangers legend Marco Negri and Luggy, the story of journeyman manager Paul Sturrock.

Ockley Books

This Yorkshire-based publisher’s small but finely-crafted football list is one of the best around. Current highlights include Adam Digby’s Juventus: A History in Black and White and Roger Domeneghetti’s From the Back Page to the Front Room: Football’s Journey Through the English Media.

I think the best, however, may be yet to come. It’s pretty rare these days that you hear of a football book and think ‘Wow, why has no-one written about that before?’ The Agony & The Ecstasy: A Comprehensive History of the Play-Offs by Richard Foster is definitely one of the most exciting ideas I’ve heard in a long time. You can read an extract here.


Trinity Mirror Sports Media


Danny Higginbotham Rise of the Underdog, RRP £16.99

Danny Higginbotham has always been honest. What he lacked in natural ability as a footballer, he made up for in raw passion and commitment.

He started his football education under the greatest – Sir Alex Ferguson – at his beloved Manchester United. After a headline-making loan spell in Belgium, he embarked on an eventful career journey, taking in stops at high-flying Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke City.

Sharing Premier League dressing rooms and pitches with some big names, he experienced both sides of the modern game – from the gut-wrenching agony of relegation to the champagne moments of reaching Wembley. Along the way, he worked under charismatic bosses like Jim Smith, Harry Redknapp and Roy Keane – who delivered the most bizarre team talk he’s ever heard. At Stoke, he learned about the team-bonding tricks of Tony Pulis.

As honest and whole-hearted as his career on the pitch ‘Rise of the Underdog’ is the entertaining inside story of how an ordinary lad worked his way up the professional ladder, learning the lessons it takes to survive at the highest level of the English game.



Sergio Aguero Born To Rise, RRP £8.99

‘A must-read for any football fan’ Daily Mirror

Sergio Aguero is one of the top strikers in world football, but his rise to superstardom hasn’t always been smooth. Born into poverty, his life story Sergio Kun Agüero: Born to Rise is fascinating and a real story of talent, desire and the guidance of good people helping him to overcome adversity.

The book features a foreword from his best friend, Lionel Messi, and includes colourful dressing room revelations about his fellow countryman and other stars he’s encountered on his journey. This is a book every Manchester City fan will want to read, but also any football fan who is fascinated by that elite group of world greats who were touched by destiny and born to rise.

Leon Osman My Autobiography, RRP £8.99

“Fascinating” Liverpool Echo

LEON OSMAN has been at Everton FC since he was ten years old and in that time has witnessed major changes at the club and within football. A fixture in the Blues’ team for the past decade, Osman’s humour and thoughtful nature shines through in his revealing and entertaining autobiography.

Osman provides a unique insight into Moyes – the man and his methods – as well as many of the big personalities he has played alongside, such as Duncan Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Tim Cahill, Thomas Gravesen, Mikel Arteta and Phil Neville.

Filled with entertaining tales and anecdotes from his life at Everton, Osman’s story is fascinating and inspiring.

Best of the Rest – top 5 new releases

  1. Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin
  2. Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga by Ronald Reng
  3. Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide by Stefan Szymanski
  4. Eibar the Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of La Liga’s Smallest Team by Euan McTear
  5. Balotelli: The Remarkable Story Behind the Sensational Headlines by Luca Caioli


Best of the Rest – top 5 paperback releases

  1. Thirty-One Nil: On the Road with Football’s Outsiders by James Montague
  2. Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick by Ben Lyttleton
  3. ¡Golazo! : A History of Latin American Football by Andreas Campomar
  4. Louis van Gaal: The Biography by Maarten Meijer
  5. In Search of Duncan Ferguson: The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma by Alan Pattullo

Twelve Yards

The Premier League in Books – Part One


With such rich literary connections, Arsenal is a nice easy place to start. For historical accounts, try Patrick Barclay’s The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman, or Nick Hornby’s 90s classic Fever Pitch. If it’s modern player portraits you’re after, you’ll find few better than Tony Adams’ Addicted (with Ian Ridley), Dennis Bergkamp’s Stillness and Speed (with David Winner), and Lonely at the Top, Philippe Auclair’s biography of Thierry Henry. And if all that’s not enough, Amy Lawrence’s Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season is undoubtedly one of 2014’s best Christmas gifts.


Aston Villa

Despite being one of the Premier League’s perennial few, the Villains have made little contribution to the literary canon. In my humble opinion, that’s because the likes of Mark Draper, Julian Joachim and Alan Wright have so far steered clear of the confessional. A few, however, such as Gareth Southgate (Woody and Nord), Stan Collymore (Tackling My Demons) and Dwight Yorke (Born To Score), have been more communicative. Paul McGrath’s candid Back From The Brink is the pick of an average bunch. Perhaps Gabby Agbonlahor will one day right this wrong.



Same colours, same dearth of books. Thank goodness for Clarke Carlisle. His You Don’t Know Me, But… is an excellent, warts-and-all look at the realities of lower league football. Carlisle’s happiest and most successful years were at Turf Moor: ‘Owen [Coyle] came in and completely shifted the dynamic. His focus was on total enjoyment. It was fun at training, something a lot of the squad hadn’t encountered for a few years. This change led to a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is a productive one…We were definitely a classic example of a team whose total was greater than the sum of its parts.’



It always surprises me how little of note has been written about the Russian revolution at Stamford Bridge. Until the arrival of beige autobiographies from John Terry and Frank Lampard, we’ll have to make do with the managers. Ruud Gullit: The Chelsea Diary and Mourinho on Football are entertaining reads, but Carlo Ancelotti: The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius is the pick of the bunch. Although largely based around his time in Italy, the book ends with the brilliantly named chapter ‘Summoned by Abramovich’.


Crystal Palace

Where the Eagles are concerned, Simon Jordan’s Be Careful What You Wish For soars head and shoulders above the rest. Mobile phone entrepreneur Jordan bought Palace in 2000 at the tender age of 36 and took them back to the Premier League. Ten years later, he was bankrupt and his club was in administration. This explosive and revelatory book will appeal to all football fans with an interest in what goes on behind the scenes, but it will mean the most to the long-suffering Selhurst Park faithful.



This year has seen the publication of four books about Toffees heroes: Kevin Kilbane’s Killa, How Football Saved My Life by Alan Stubbs, Ossie by Leon Osman and best of all, In Search of Duncan Ferguson by Alan Pattullo. Here’s a juicy sample from the beginning: ‘Everton got under his skin. He would never ever forget how it felt to soar into the air, to head that first goal against Liverpool, before sinking to his knees with joy and relief in front of the Gwladys Street End; the legend before the player, the rise before the fall. On the same date 12 months later, he was languishing in jail.’


Hull City

If a book could ever be said to sum up a football club, it would probably be Bend it like Bullard, nearly 300 pages of cult, no-frills entertainment. Here’s Jimmy on his motorway-side scrap with teammate Nicky Barmby: ‘I’d love to be able to say that I sorted him out, but the truth is that it was little more than explosive grappling for a few seconds. As the gaffer said later, it was hardly Ali-Frazier. We both ended up lying on a bush with no real leverage to get out of it.’


Leicester City

The Foxes are back in the top flight again but it’s their 90s heyday under Martin O’Neill that provides the literary goldmine. Steve Claridge’s Tales From the Boot Camps is an underrated gem, while Savage! is as entertaining as you’d expect. Apparently, everything slotted into place when he joined Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet in the centre of the park: ‘With those two at my side, I produced my best forty-five minutes in a Leicester shirt…At the final whistle, everyone came over and hugged me. Martin had his arms around my shoulder. “Thank Robbie for getting us to the final”, he said to the others…That was the day I became Robbie Savage, Leicester City footballer. I was accepted by the lads from that moment on, and I still believe we were the best midfield that Leicester have ever had.’



As befits a club with such history, there’s a long list of options here. For the nostalgics, I’d recommend David Peace’s Shankly epic Red or Dead and Tony Evans’ I Don’t Know What It Is But I Love It: Liverpool’s Unforgettable 1983-84. But this Christmas, it’s all about the controversial ex-strikers: Craig Bellamy’s GoodFella (featuring the winning combo of John Arne Riise and a golfclub) and Luis Suarez: Crossing The Line. The Uruguayan’s story promises to be as explosive as his finishing.


Manchester City

Unlike Chelsea, City have an excellent book on their recent rise: David Conn’s Richer Than God: Manchester City, Modern Football and Growing Up is a brilliant look at how the football times are a changing, for better or for worse. Beyond that, there’s Blue Moon by Mark Hodkinson about the 98-99 promotion season, and Paul Lake’s I’m Not Really Here, a powerful and cautionary tale which you really don’t need to be a Sky Blue to enjoy.