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.

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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

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Los Demás: Spanish Football Stories

Sometimes football journalism can feel pretty two-dimensional. If isn’t the mainstream media reporting on the biggest stories, it’s those awful click-bait sites reporting on the biggest ‘stories’. So thank goodness for the less fickle storytellers like These Football Times, The Blizzard, The Football Pink and now Los Demás.

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This exciting new, long-form journalism project, focusing on the best stories from all across Spain, is the brainchild of Nick Dorrington, Colin Millar, Euan McTear and Pål Ødegård. I caught up with Nick to learn more about the idea, the inspiration and the plan of attack. If you like the sound of Los Demás, don’t forget to back the Kickstarter project!

1. Talk me through the inspiration for this project. I know all four of you are very experienced Spanish football writers but was there a breakthrough, meeting-of-minds that kickstarted (pun intended) this?

The initial idea was mine. I was in Argentina researching a piece on the origins of Mauricio Pochettino. The ex-president of the youth team in his hometown of Murphy said something that really resonated with me. He said that many people think football is just about the big clubs, about Boca Juniors or River Plate, but the reality is that it is in small towns like Murphy that football lives on a day-to-day basis. There was something attractive about that idea to me, and Spain seemed like the ideal setting in which to explore it further.

There are journalists based in Spain doing excellent work but the reality is that the majority of mainstream coverage is focused on Barcelona and Real Madrid. We wanted to offer something a bit different and in Colin, Euan and Pål, I found three superb writers who shared my vision for the project.

2. Am I right in thinking that the content will be mostly historical and social, rather than match reports and current updates? Do you have any examples of the sort of content that subscribers will be receiving?

Yes, that’s right. We will be looking for stories that shed a light on the clubs, communities, players and personalities who best represent the vibrant and diverse culture of Spanish football. For example, there are stories to be told of the grassroots supporter movements at clubs who were or are in danger of going out of business. Or of a small, otherwise unremarkable, town that has produced a number of Spanish internationals. Or of a supporter who is older than the club he supports. Stories like these, stories about people and communities, will be at the heart of our work.

spain3x

3. I’m interested in the production values – will there be images/illustrations alongside the text?

The plan at the moment is for the focus to be on the quality of the writing. The presentation will be clean and simple.

4. Is your aim to cover all Spanish clubs except Barcelona and Real Madrid, or will the content be audience-driven? Will subscribers get a say in what you write about?

Our aim is to cover the most interesting stories we can find from all over Spain – be that player, team, city or region-specific. I think it will be a largely organic process for the first year or so. But perhaps after that we will sit down and mark out the teams and regions we haven’t yet covered in order to ensure that our coverage is as widespread as possible. We will, of course, always be open to story tips from readers.

5. Would you say that this project is in some ways the result of a mainstream sports media that is rejecting long-form journalism?

Yes, I think it can be seen as a reaction to that, which isn’t to say that there aren’t outlets out there for long-form journalism. For example, The Lab at Bleacher Report has produced some excellent pieces. But these outlets are mainly interested in content that relates to big-name teams or players. It can be hard to find somewhere to place more character-driven pieces that don’t rely on an established name as a hook.

6. Again on the subject of long-form journalism, what made you decide on the crowdfunding subscription model rather than the traditional print book?

We felt that the crowdfunding model offered us the best chance of making a sustained success out of the project. Publishing on a monthly basis will allow us the freedom to explore interesting stories as they develop, instead of being tied to a single deadline as we would be for a book. It will hopefully also serve us in building our readership over time as word spreads about our early pieces.

7. Finally, do you have a 140 character sales pitch for potential subscribers?

Love Spanish football? Then help support in-depth, long-form journalism on the untold stories of the Spanish game by backing Los Demás.

Click here to learn more and back the Kickstarter project

Eibar The Brave

Eibar The Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of La Liga’ s Smallest Team

Euan McTear

Pitch Publishing, 2015

9781785310362I blame Castel di Sangro. Joe McGinniss’ 1999 classic set the bar too high for tales of sporting underdogs. Those expectations just aren’t realistic and the clue is in the title; ‘The Miracle of Castel di Sangro’ refers not just to the on-field triumphs but also to the once in a lifetime off-field access. Will we ever see the like again? Judging by Euan McTear’s Eibar The Brave, the answer is probably not. What is sadly missing from this excellent book about Spanish football’s greatest overachievers is the voice of the actors themselves. What was it like to go from playing in Segunda B to Primera division in just two seasons? I don’t really know. We hear from La Liga experts Sid Lowe, Guillem Balague and Jason Pettigrove but with the exception of Derby County’s Raúl Albentosa, the players are largely silent. Eibar is described as ‘the most relaxed football club in Spanish football’s top flight’; the Ipurua Municipal Stadium is never locked, and yet the closest we really get to the action is the crazy fans.

Rant over because despite this, against the odds, Eibar The Brave succeeds in bringing this incredible story to life. Like Eibar manager Gaizka Garitano, McTear does a fantastic job with somewhat limited resources. His match reports/diary entries are full of character, humour and affection, even when the scoreline doesn’t deserve it. The will-they-won’t-they story of their 2014-15 La Liga debut is neatly woven throughout, with space in between to delve back into the history books. Eibar The Brave is brilliantly researched, taking in the post-civil war founding of the Basque club, its promotions and relegations, its heroes (Xabi Alonso and David Silva amongst them), its stadium, its enterprising president and, most importantly, its fans. The Eskozia La Brava group in particular gets the airtime it deserves for providing such amazing ánimo in a stadium of 6,000 people, in a city of just 27,000.

In less than 200 pages, McTear even finds time to explore the wider issues at play in Spanish football, touching on financial regulations (with Eibar and Elche at opposite ends of the debt scale), TV rights, cup competitions, fan violence, regional politics and la cláusula del miedo. As such, Eibar The Brave is an informative guide to a league that you may watch but not necessarily always understand. The ins and outs of relegation head-to-heads, for example, take a bit of explaining to those schooled in goal difference.

This overall picture that McTear paints so engagingly serves to reiterate the special, if not unique, nature of Sociedad Deportiva Eibar. A debt-free, ‘family’ club that acknowledges its ‘natural home’ is in the third division, and yet finds itself playing against goliaths like Ronaldo and Messi on a weekly basis; a team that respects and involves its fanbase and gets undying love in return from all over the world. The unbelievable tale of Eibar certainly isn’t over, and hopefully McTear will be on hand to narrate the next instalment, perhaps with some new friends to keep him company.

Buy it here

Graham Hunter Interview

Guillem Balague and Graham Hunter

Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh

On Thursday night, the Scottish capital played host to two giants of the Spanish football media. Calling upon their wealth of knowledge, experience and connections, Messrs Balague and Hunter compered a lively, entertaining evening of anecdotes and debate. Treating Messi’s emergence as the catalyst in a major turning point in Spanish football, they traced the fascinating Barcelona journey from Cruyff to Luis Enrique, taking in Laporta, La Masia, Ronaldinho and Guardiola along the way. The second half of the show saw them field an array of questions from the audience. Suarez, Fabregas, Neymar, De La Peña, Van Gaal, Almeria: you name it, they discussed it.

Afterwards, I caught up with the inimitable Graham Hunter, author of Barca and Spain.

Q. Thanks for your time, Graham. What a great event! You looked like you were having fun up there – how do you find talking about a book compared to writing it?

When you talk about something you’ve done, it does feel a bit embarrassing. You certainly do it to the best of your ability but I certainly don’t do it to garner appreciation. You do it intensely to try to communicate something. Since the first minute I’ve written about football, that’s what I’ve done. I remember it was an enormous surprise when anybody thought anything of what I wrote – you never lose that sense of something being worthwhile.

It’s not through any sense of false modesty that I say that I found the books really hard to do. I was trained as a newspaper man and it’s only subsequently that I’ve gone on radio and television. When you’re a newspaper man, you’ve got blank pages every day and part of the adrenaline is planning how to fill them, not just filling them with shite but working out what’s important, what’s a feature, what’s an interview, what’s a news story. Books take a fucking hell of a long time to come to fruition. I was saying to Guillem at lunch that he either assimilates facts more quickly or writes more quickly than me. I find it difficult.

When I talk on stage, it would be an outright lie to say it’s not a pleasure to talk to people about football all night, but you’re nervous. You watch a sea of faces and you’re worried, have they heard it before, am I being boring, do they feel like I’m repeating what they’ve already read? You worry about that. But when you connect with people because they ask you questions, then that’s untrammelled joy. Above all, what I come away with is the sheer joy of connecting with other people who feel the same about Spanish football as I do.

Q. The BackPage Press guys were saying that when they first approached you to do the Barca book you said no.

A thousand times! They spoke to me on the phone having read an article in The Sunday Herald about Xavi. They explained to me over and over again their passion about why they needed a book written about this subject. I said to them, ‘Everybody knows these stories, I’ve got nothing that people don’t know!’ The two things that convinced me were their persistence but above anything else, they told me ‘We’ve got this dream, we’ve started this company, against the odds, we’ve taken out a loan, we’re working part-time because we’re working as sub-writers for newspapers to finance the company. You’re the second book that we’ve asked anyone to do.’ Bascially, they suckered me into it! I didn’t believe I had anything new to say but now it’s been published in 13 or 14 countries, I was wrong and they were right. That’s the only time in my life I’ll say that about them!

Q. Where Guillem has focused on individual figures, you’ve focused on the team element. Do you feel each requires a different approach?

There’s no way to compare. I think he [Balague] is a lot shrewder than me. If you pick Pep and Messi, that’s extraordinarily astute. Both them and their entourages fully participated with him; he picked well. He’s also been more proactive in what he’s chosen. With BackPage Press, I’ve been led to my projects. Guillem has been sharper and good luck to him for that.

Q. In terms of that fascinating ‘access all areas’ approach to sports journalism, what advice would you have for someone looking to find their way?

Leave England. Things in Spanish football have become a little more closed than they were when I moved over, but England has a very closed football society. It doesn’t mean that players and managers don’t talk to journalists, because they do when they want them to write their books! In terms of the culture, of explaining their art and their philosophy, England is Neanderthal. It’s all about secrecy; you won’t be allowed in because you’re the enemy. Whereas in the advanced countries, there’s a symbiosis between football directors, managers, players and journalists. It doesn’t always work, it’s not always harmonious, but it does lead to more intelligent and open debate.

Q. If you could write a ‘behind the scenes’ biography on any footballer or football manager, past or present, who would it be?

I think the second Sir Alex Ferguson book is distinctly less well written and distinctly less well interpreted than the one he did with Hugh McIlvanney. So it’s very tempting to say Sir Alex Ferguson, from 1999 to now. But my ultimate choice would be Cruyff because I still believe that he’s the single most influential man in football ever – player, coach, football director, philosopher. Not all his ideas were original, but pound for pound he’s the most important personality.

Q. And finally, is there a next project in the pipeline?

There have been two suggested to me, but it would be naïve of me to share them with you. I would only accept one that was right for me because I’ve found these two tiring on top of my other work. Ollie Holt, Matt Dickinson, Henry Winter are exceptional at what they do, carrying on their work as brilliant frontline journalists and still writing well. I find it hard to do, so I’ll take my time in choosing.

Fear and Loathing in La Liga

Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid

By Sid Lowe

Yellow Press, 2013

With Atletico Madrid winning La Liga this year you can forgive Sid Lowe for finding their success a bit of a nuisance. Having written about the rivalry of the second and third-placed teams, he recently tweeted, tongue firmly in cheek, that his book was ‘pointless bollocks’. Fear and Loathing in La Ligais in fact neither pointless nor bollocks, especially after Real Madrid’s ‘La Decima’ triumph in Europe. Instead it’s an informative, engaging, and enjoyable look at what remain Spain’s two biggest clubs. The success of Atleti this year has been astonishing, and their efforts in breaking the Barca-Real duopoly only further highlight the dominance of the big two in the past decade and throughout the history of the Spanish game. Atletico are still a long way behind as the third most successful team in the history of the Spanish league, winning only their 10th title compared with Barcelona’s 22 and Real’s 32. The last nine winners of the Ballon d’Or plied their trade at these two giants, and they are the two clubs with the most Champions League trophies since the competition’s rebranding in 1992. Individually, Barcelona and Real Madrid are both European giants; but as enemies, they’re the most famous clubs in the world.

From the start Lowe is keen to highlight the complexity of the rivalry, dismissing the common-held dichotomies: Madrid bad, Barca good, Madrid facists, Barca freedom fighters. Dealing with the common accusation that Madrid were Franco’s team, for example, Lowe points out that the city of Madrid suffered greatly through, and as a consequence of, the Second World War, and that the club that emerged was weak and failed to win a single league title in the first 15 years of Franco’s dictatorship. Not that Barca’s ‘victim complex’ is without some foundation; the controversial 11-1 Copa del Generalissimo defeat in 1943 is explored in detail, and the sole surviving member of the Barca team from that day tracked down and interviewed about the military intimidation. Lowe’s considered argument is that the establishment’s support of Madrid was a result of their success rather than the cause of it. A government seeking international recognition needed popular representatives and Real with their five consecutive European Cup victories in the late 1950s embraced their role as ‘the best embassy Spain had’. This level of balanced analysis is found throughout Fear and Loathing, as Lowe sifts through the mass of myth and folklore.

The rivalry – and thus the book itself – is also full of interesting parallels and contrasts. Both clubs lost their Civil War-era presidents to the Republican cause but whereas Barca’s Josep Sunyol became a martyr figure, Real’s Rafael Sanchez Guerra is largely forgotten. Barca’s ill-fated appointment of the original ‘Special One’, Helenio Herrera, to break Real Madrid’s dominance, is mirrored fifty years later by Jose Mourinho’s unsuccessful attempt to oust Guardiola’s Barcelona. In the transfer market, the constant attempts to outdo each other turn out to be nothing new. For Neymar and Gareth Bale in 2013, think the likes of László Kubala and Alfredo Di Stéfano in the 1950s. If anything, the rivalry is less hostile today; the Spanish government was forced to intervene in the Di Stéfano saga.

In amongst these stories, the sheer breadth and depth of research is plain to see. Lowe, an historian by trade, trawls the archives to uncover fascinating documents about the Di Stefano transfer and Sunyol’s death. He also gains unprecedented access to many of the protagonists in each club’s story – Zidane, Di Stefano, Cruyff, Iniesta, Joan Laporta, and best of all Figo, who offers a very interesting insight into his (in)famous transfer between the two clubs. Lowe has stated that he had to trim about a third of his original draft for the book and that would certainly explain the sparse references to greats such as Maradona, Henry and Gravesen. Here’s hoping for a director’s cut to further the education.

All in all, Fear and Loathing is a great achievement and a very worthy addition to the Spanish football canon. It’s accessible and full of facts and anecdotes that will be new to even the most knowledgeable of football fans. One often gets the sense from reading Lowe’s articles and listening to his contributions on The Guardian’s ‘Football Weekly’ podcasts that he tires of reporting on these two Spanish giants but that doesn’t come across in this book at all. The Michu epigraph – ‘Barcelona or Madrid? Oviedo’ – highlights Lowe’s awareness that though this rivalry does dominate Spanish football, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Though hopes of a book about Getafe and Valladolid’s rivalry are slim, one does hope that we see another Sid Lowe masterpiece in the not too distant future.

John Mottram

Buy it here