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April 18, 2010

This is Ian Callaghan

Ian Callaghan with John Keith (2010) Cally On The Ball Liverpool, Trinity Mirror Sport and Media

A recent Tuesday lunchtime chat was made a little bit more interesting when a Liverpool supporting friend arrived in my very hot and airless office to chew the fat over the issues facing the Liverpool FC as this season staggers to a close. We were shooting the breeze on a range of topics such as the Europa League campaign or whether Torres’ knee could ever be the same again. I know that my friend is always interested in the books that I am reading, especially if the subject is Liverpool FC. I showed this new book from Ian Callaghan and wondered whether he was familiar with a player that had such a long period of service with one club

His face went blank with a tinge of embarrassment. He was unsure about who Callaghan was. It was obvious that he was out of his comfort zone and I did have some sympathy for him. No one likes to be found out with a slight tinge of ignorance about a key player in the club’s history. If I am totally honest, it was only after reading this book when I realised the importance of Ian Callaghan in Anfield for fifty years. This book is celebrating this half century but I would tentatively suggest that this player does not have quite the same public profile outside of Merseyside as a Keegan, St John, Dalglish or Rush figure for anyone under thirty years of age.

This book is not a full-scale biography of Ian Callaghan, and this book is all the better for adopting this different approach. You do not start off with the childhood years and nostalgia and finish off with the retirement and the regret. You will be reading a series of short tales and considered points of view, allowing this long serving figurehead to talk about anything and everything about the game, and his beloved Liverpool Football Club. A whole variety of subjects are up for discussion and although there are some tales of reminiscence, it is not another book that argues how everything was great ‘back in the day’ while modern football has ‘gone to the dogs.’

It is obvious that Callaghan has great respect for current Liverpool players. The first chapter is a discussion between Callaghan and Jamie Carragher about life as a Liverpool player, and it is obvious that both figures have the utmost respect for each other. There is no attempt to outdo each other in what can often be a tedious debate about which period was best. Fans of all ages would be interested in what is discussed. There is also much talk about Steven Gerrard who makes Callaghan’s all time Liverpool XI. The author acknowledges that “Stevie’s up there with the world’s best” but he wonders what will happen at the end of Gerrard’s career at Anfield. Callaghan hopes that new local talent is able to have their ultimate dream in the Liverpool first team like so many players from the great teams of the past.

There is a chapter on that memorable 2005 European Cup Final. Callaghan is comparing a corporate dinner at Anfield and the account talks about that well known dramatic change of mood from the utter despair at half time, to wild joy at full time. I will never get bored when I read stories from Liverpool fans or players, or think about where I was, on that May night nearly five years ago. Callaghan talks about Fernando Torres too, praising the Spaniard as a “sensational striker,” and name checking some of Torres’ fabulous goals such as the strike against Blackburn in April 2009. Torres does not make Callaghan’s top Liverpool XI due to his currently short Anfield career, but the author argues that Liverpool’s number nine could “become a legend among legends, a Kop hero to rival any of the past” if he stays on Merseyside.

Callaghan also passionately talks about the current problems facing the game in the twenty first century. The author’s solutions to these issues involve giving an automatic red card to the guilty player and installing off-pitch technology so a quick look at the camera can determine whether ‘simulation’ took place. There is a reference to David Ngog’s alleged dive during the November 2009 home fixture against Birmingham City; another example of the “win at all costs” trend that “sickens” Callaghan. It is probable that the author is not the only person who shares these views. Callaghan also talks about the decline of the FA Cup as a premier competition part of the national football heritage, and suggests that the FA Cup winners gain a place in the Champion’s League qualifiers instead of the fourth- placed team in the league. In an age when rants can be easily made about aspects of English football, this book is providing considered pieces with reasonable solutions.

Alongside the reflections on current issues, Callaghan does talk about the past, and shows utmost respect, pride and affection to those Liverpool figures that managed him during his long Anfield career. There are many references to Shankly and his iconic management at the club as well as Bob Paisley. Callaghan also talks about his frustratingly long wait to receive a World Cup medal after being part of the 1966 team. You are left wondering how such a proud footballing nation, such as the UK, allowed this delay to happen.

Alongside the football stories and debate, Callaghan talks about his career for the Littlewoods ‘Spot the Ball’ competition, which would be a job that I would have no problem in undertaking. This work included a chance meeting with Nelson Mandela who professed his support for Liverpool FC. Callaghan also talks about his discovery of the music of Tony Bennett, and many chapters talk about living in Liverpool during the sixties when the city had a Merseybeat voice in the cultural and musical life of the nation.

This book is a very accessible account to read and would appeal to Liverpool fans of all ages. You can dip in and out of the various stories, which are told in a very vivid manner, as if you had a pitch side seat to enjoy the action. It is obvious that Ian Callaghan’s love for the game and Liverpool FC has not diminished over the last fifty years. It is to be hoped that some of the current players continue to have a productive relationship with the club, because these links are what makes Liverpool Football Club so special.

March 25, 2010

The Kop: Not just any old stand and not just any football history book

Writing about web page

I love visiting Anfield. You probably know this already but whether on or off the pitch, it is a stadium that has a real atmosphere. That fact is especially obvious when you visit other concrete bowls across the UK that like to call themselves Britain’s top football ground. When you walk around the edge of Anfield and take in the various staging posts beside the pitch, within the stands or outside the ground, you realise that this is a venue for people who love their football. Anfield is one of the world’s finest football cathedrals. It is a stadium where you come to worship the game of football rather than gorging yourself on the burgers and chips throughout the game and leave before the end “to beat the traffic.”

January 27, 2010

Harry in Print

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After writing the original title of this review, I thought that I had hit a problem after only four words. The original tile was mean to be ‘Old ‘Arry In Print’ but I knew that it would not work. I dropped the disrespectful ‘Old’ and added the missing ‘H’ because I knew that some people would campaign and I would understand what they were saying. By using ‘Arry’ I would be indulging in the stereotypes that have followed Harry Redknapp to wherever dugout is he is managing at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. This manager is often portrayed as an East End barrow boy that has scrimped and saved to get a football team together against the odds. Harry’s squads have been known for holding their own in the league, although sometimes by the skin of their teeth. These teams will also deliver an occasional shock defeat on a wealthy and bigger side. To a certain extent, some of this true, but there is more to Harry and a Redknapp outfit then these clichés.

August 29, 2009

One Big Nostalgic Kick

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I may be a bit too young to admit this, but I love wallowing in nostalgia. Memories of those great moments from the past can help you deal with those dog days when everything seems to go wrong as soon as you decide to untangle yourself from the bed sheets and stare bleary-eyed at the mirror. You wonder whether that was you on the other side of the glass.

July 02, 2009

Something New to the Table

Something New to the Table

(Terry Roper and Tony McDonald West Ham in My Day Football World 2008)

It is not that hard to read a book that offers nothing more than pieces of paper with words on either side. These books are a trial to get from cover to cover, and the book will probably become abandoned on the coffee table, conveniently left on the commuter train, or discarded by the toilet for ‘loo reading.’ Some books will make you want to give up reading forever. Many football books are brought with excitement for Christmas and find themselves in the jumble sale or the bargain book bucket by mid March.  

You sense that some of these dreadful books have been designed to tick as many boxes as possible. One page will have a few grainy black and white photos to appease the over-60s fans, the central spine will be crammed with colour snaps of today’s heroes for the under fives, and some club shop adverts will be splattered onto the book covers. You wonder why someone thought that these books would sell when they are about as exciting as watching back episodes of Last of the Summer Wine. There are plenty of those books polluting the shelves of your local bookshops.

You will be pleased to note that West Ham in My Day is not one of those dreary books. This collection of interviews with former hammers communicates the passion of one of England’s most iconic football club, and this book does not read like a celebrity magazine. We do not have glossy colour pictures of ex hammers by their swimming pools in their second homes within Miami or Portugal. We get a very human ‘warts and all’ portrait of life at the club, and within the East End of London over nearly sixty years.

It is obvious that the stories within this book will reawaken a lot of memories for many Hammers fans, as well as the wider football community. It is a history of football book too. When you are reading this kind of book, it is easy to only read the profiles of the players that are familiar to you. In my case with this book, I would have read Mervyn Day’s interview as well as every chapter from Frank McAvennie onwards, but I would have failed to have got the point of this book, or understood the rich history of West Ham United Football Club.

The early tales from players that include Bill Lansdowne, Lawrie Leslie and Peter Brabrook talk about a game that seems to be totally different to the football of today. For the fan that believes that satellite television invented football and that all footballers are millionaires within their mansion pads in Surrey, the accounts make for revealing, and sometimes sobering, reading.

All of these accounts have an ‘honest’ dimension about them. For instance, many ex players talk about their frustration after being left out of the first team squad. The story of Mark Robson is one of particular heartbreak. This long standing hammers fan though that he had reached football’s version of seventh heave to play on the Upton Park pitch, but his dream lasted for only one season.

Despite the arguments, dressing room show downs, and training ground fights these interviewees always show an undying respect for the fans and the institution of West Ham United Football Club. Many of these players look fondly upon their time at West Ham, and it is not surprising that many of these legends are still living in the local area. Each story ends with an interesting insight into what the players did after leaving Upton Park and the various tales disprove the theory that all players end up either within the manager’s dugout, the pundits studio, or pictured outside a city night club for the front of the tabloids.

It is no surprise that I know more about more recent players who wore the Hammers shirt. Most of my Hammers friends had a mixture of awe, pride and slight nervousness about Julian Dicks. Dicks was a cult hero for them and you sometimes wondered if they were trying out some of his uncompromising moves during some school matches. The book talks about Dicks doing an unconventional pre-match warm up routine and opting for Coca-Cola rather than energy drinks in the final minutes before leaving the dressing room. Would that be allowed in today’s game?

The commentary about Tim Breaker covers the yo-yo years of the early nineties as well as the initially controversial changes in the management set up involving Billy Bonds and Harry Redknapp. Local lad, Mark Robson talks about his one full season at Upton Park. The book finishes with an interview with John Moncur. Like Dicks, Moncur was another cult hero amongst by Hammers friends and you wonder whether he ever got the recognition that he deserved. After opting for West Ham over Chelsea and withstanding the managerial turbulence involving Bonds and Redknapp, he became regular fixture in the centre of midfield.

The Moncur years also covered the Redknapp’s random foreign signings, the emergence of a batch of exciting young footballers including Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. The Glenn Roeder years are also mentioned when Moncur argues that “I was basically told that my age was against me and that he didn’t think I could do a job for the team.” He describes the 2003 side as the “most talented brunch of players in West Ham’s history. But they were lacking the commitment and desire you need to go with it.”

John Moncur believes that the fans “love players who would give 100% every week and also be able to put their foot on the ball and show a bit of skills,” but all of these accounts, in their different ways, seem to recognise this philosophy. Despite various on and off the field issues, the next generation of players seems to breaking into the first team and I hope that they recognise these sentiments of the fans. Without question, the stories of the next generation of players should be told in a similar book in the future.

June 17, 2009

Keen on Keane

Writing about web page

Like many of us, I take a bus journey to work every day. The atmosphere on the bus is tense and angry. No one speaks or even looks at each other. Strangers sit next to each other and cower because they believe that the slightest human touch will contract a deadly infectious disease. The atmosphere is very British and not unlike an average tube journey from Liverpool Street.

Something Different for the Bookshelf II (West Ham Site)

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Even though we like to buy them, we often discover that a number of books from football stars, have been nothing more than an effortless list of which cup did they win and when they gained their international caps. I am convinced that some fans think that being a footballer means a simple journey from the school team to the punditry studio via county trials, a procession of clubs leading to a top four Premier League outfit, a collection of international caps, a World-cup winning goal, management glory, and retirement by the pool in a Hertfordshire mansion.

The Kopite With Great Timing

Writing about web page

It might be a slightly random thought but I wish that I was in Liverpool during the 1980s. I appreciate that Merseyside witnessed dramatic socio-economic upheaval during that decade, but there seemed to be something exciting that was developing in the area. Whether it was in my mind or in reality, I wish that I had been part of the spirit of Liverpool, instead of being rushing home from junior school for Dangermouse or The Real Ghostbusters on Children’s ITV.

May 01, 2009

Walking On With Hope In My Heart

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Autobiography Review: John Wark 'Wark On' (2009)

On the way to a recent Town game, I had to explain one of my most favourite TV game shows to a few friends. I struggled to explain the point of ‘Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right,’ and rattled off the various catchphrases in a very dodgy Forsyth accent. My friends looked blank, and I suddenly realised that they just believe that Bruce Forsyth, the ‘legend’ of light entertainment, has only ever presented ‘Strictly Come Dancing.’

January 16, 2009

Something More Than Your Average Football Book

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TWTD columnist Tim Sansom reviews Mel Henderson’s Match of My Life - Ipswich Town in which 16 Blues stars of the past talk about their most memorable games.

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