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October 10, 2009

Good Times: Bad Times

Good Times: Bad Times

Michael Henderson (2009) 50 People Who Fouled Up Football,

London, Constable

I have yet to meet anyone above the age of ten who believes that everything about British and European football smells of roses. Certain players annoy certain people, whilst a particular manager can rub someone up the wrong way by screaming the wrong choice of words, making a particular touchline gesture, or just being seen on the TV. We all have our favourite grounds; favourite TV sports presenters, favourite strikers, goalkeepers and favourite football shirts. Our favourite things form the basis of football debates, which are played out across the nation.

Michael Henderson’s book is for all of us that are coping with the ever-increasing things in life that slightly make us angry and frustrating. I sense that the number of things that slightly annoy us increases as we get older. We stop being the innocent child and teenage hormones crash together to turn us into cynical old grumps. Players move on, managers retire, worn but loved stands are demolished for the sake of a soulless steel structure full of corporate boxes with as much atmosphere as a municipal rubbish dump. Change seems to be generally distrusted by football fans and when it happens, we start to mutter in a very British way.

Henderson can distinctly remember those childhood days at Bolton’s Burndon Park and is wondering how it went so wrong for the beautiful game. Like a hapless customer making a tentative step into a high street coffee bar to be bamboozled by a never-ending range of skinny mochas topped with lumpy UHT cream and sickly syrup, Henderson is struggling to understand how football seems to have lost its soul since his childhood days in deepest Lancashire.

I have to admit that I agree with virtually every single suggestion from Henderson for the fifty people who are the warts on the face of modern football. This list is full of preening players who seem to believe that they are royalty in all but name, and chairman who live and work as if they are playing a particularly reckless game of Monopoly rather than being a trustworthy businessmen. Sequels to this book could be filled to bursting with further players and chairman whose actions caused a trail of destruction.

One-dimensional pundits and presenters are sprinkled into the mix, as well as football ‘people’ who want to hype up every single football ‘incident’ as a matter of life and death on the same level as the credit crunch. Henderson has particular contempt for those radio producers and presenters, who have presided over the mangling of the British language and a sense of perspective for the sake of a bit of ear-catching banter.

An ex BBC Radio Five Live controller have the honour of being gently, but comprehensive criticised in one particular chapter, whilst two pundits (one still at the BBC and one ploughing his trade on a rival station) are criticised for their one-track analysis. If Henderson wanted to produce another sequel to this book, it would be not that hard to find fifty pundits to be lined up in a fictitious studio of shame.

There are the comics and z-list celebrities who rode the crest of the football wave without a real understanding about what makes this game tick. One particular comic is castigated for treating the dear characters of football with a haughty and viciously cutting disrespect on a late night chat show, which sent their delirious audience into hysteria but made these ex players look like helpless fools. There are the footballer’s wives who have fought amongst themselves to gain those precious column inches in those gossip magazines. There are the ex referees living off their willingness to provide ‘good copy’ for the adoring press rather than being remembered as one of the best men to officiate the game.

Some of the criticised football people are easy, but comforting, targets. Current and previous Leeds United chairmen and managers are given a comprehensive dressing down. The presence of Don Revie in the list can allay the possible argument against this book that Henderson despises every aspect about football that has developed since the Premier League was formed in 1992.

Sir Alf Ramsey could be regarded as a controversial addition to the list but Henderson believes that Ramsey failed to adapt to the changing nature of football that was particularly defined by the Dutch during the seventies. It could be argued that England have generally failed to recognise this style during the subsequent forty years. Peter Swales, the ex Manchester City chairman and earnest TV set and record player seller of South Manchester is profiled towards the end of the book. His twenty-one years in charge at Maine Road is regarded as one of the main reasons why the City trophy cupboard remains bereft of meaningful trophies since the League Cup of 1976

The book is an enjoyable read and is impressively presented with caricatures of each rogue by Nicola Jennings of the Guardian. We will continue to grumble about the game that we love so much, but Henderson is right to note that somethings have been improved in football. He admits that there has never been “a truly blessed time for English football; no walk to the paradise garden. I am also sure that this walk will never happen in the future, but we will always have something to talk about when we rant about football.

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