On The Brink

On The Brink: A Journey Through English Football’s North West

By Simon Hughes

deCoubertin Books, 2017

On The Brink

‘I love being in a region where everything smells like football,’ Jürgen Klopp says in On The Brink. The Liverpool manager is talking about Merseyside but the sentiment can be applied to the whole North West, the subject of Simon Hughes’ brilliant new book.

The project is an ambitious one. Michael Walker’s Up There focused largely on the North East’s Big Three (Middlesbrough, Newcastle United and Sunderland), while Anthony Clavane’s A Yorkshire Tragedy looked at 8 sporting powerhouses in the region. On The Brink ups the ante, by aiming to give equal coverage to 22 football clubs, from Liverpool right through to Barrow-in-Furness. Somehow, Hughes manages to cover the key geographical, political, historical and football points in tight 15-page sections. It’s impressive to say the least.

What On The Brink lacks in depth, it makes up for in characters. As he has shown with his Liverpool Players’ Stories series, Hughes is an excellent interviewer. He picks interesting people and then gives them the stage. ‘Jimmy and James are talking between themselves now,’ he says in the Accrington Stanley chapter. ‘I am listening.’ His experts range from current club chairmen like Preston North End’s Peter Risdale to old club managers like Oldham Athletic’s Joe Royle.

The anthology approach of On The Brink works to highlight the common experiences. Some struggles, like the rise of social media and the Premier League, feel more universal but some feel more North West-specific. Themes of isolation, suffering, spirit and scepticism recur again and again. With the exceptions of Liverpool and Manchester, these are football communities battling to stay relevant.

At one point, Hughes asks, ‘How does a football club exist in a place where there has been years of economic decline, where the possibility of regeneration was snuffed out by the blow of recession?’ He is talking about Morecambe but again, the sentiment can be applied to much of the region. On The Brink isn’t the most uplifting book you’ll read this year but it offers a fascinating survey of north-west life and football in the 21st century.

Top 5 New Football Titles – August/September 2017

August

Outside the Box: A Statistical Journey through the History of Football by Duncan Alexander (Century) – 10th Aug 2017

As the co-founder of the OptaJoe Twitter account, Alexander has the best football data at his fingertips. So, he’s perfectly placed to tell the story of the first 25 years of the Premier League through facts and figures. If OptaJoe’s Football Yearbook 2016 is anything to go by, Outside the Box should make fascinating reading.

Outside the Box

Keegan & Dalglish by Richard T. Kelly (Simon & Schuster) – 10th Aug 2017

In 1977, Kenny Dalglish became Liverpool’s replacement for Germany-bound Kevin Keegan. Despite never actually playing together, these two British football legends have been intricately linked throughout their careers as players and managers. Kelly is best known for his novels but this looks like a fascinating joint biography.

Keegan & Dalglish

The Billionaires Club: The unstoppable rise of football’s super-rich owners by James Montague (Bloomsbury) – 24th Aug 2017

Thirty-One Nil: On the Road with Football’s Outsiders was named Football Book of the Year at the 2015 Cross British Sports Book Awards. Two years on, Montague is back with a book about the super-rich owners of the football clubs we love. The Billionaires Club is more travel football investigative journalism from the man who invented the genre.

Billionaires Club.jpg

September

On The Brink: A Journey Through English Football’s North West by Simon Hughes (De Coubertin Books) – 7th Sept 2017

Hughes is one of the most prolific and insightful football writers around, so this book comes with a quality guarantee. On The Brink is his personal and geographical journey through England’s most successful football region and its characters, places and changes. Think Michael Walker’s brilliant Up There, but for the North West rather than East.

 On The Brink

Hijacking Laliga: How Atletico Madrid Broke Barcelona and Real Madrid’s Duopoloy on Spanish Football by Euan McTear (Pitch Publishing) – 22nd Sept 2017

McTear’s first book, Eibar the Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of la Liga’s Smallest Team, came out in 2015. For his second, he looks at a success story on a bigger, European scale. This is the story of Atlético Madrid’s unbelievable rise from mid-table mediocrity to La Liga champions and Champions League finalists.

Hijacking La Liga