The Bromley Boys – Dave Roberts

5449759m I got this book at Christmas and devoured it in about a day. if you’ve ever followed a useless football team you’ll relate to this book. The author documents one season at the end of the 1960s following his local team Bromley FC. While his other friends in school support top flight teams like Arsenal or Crystal Palace, he is attracted to his local club Bromley.

Falling in with the team’s devoted but strange band of followers, Roberts’ life revolves around the fortunes of Bromley for the whole season. He weaves his growing pains effortlessly around each home and away game – music, girls, school, trying to play football himself. This book is testament to why so many are attracted to the romance of lower and non-league football. It’s not about success on the pitch but triumph over adversity, a sense of belonging,  being able to be yourself, and the odd moment of glory.

I recommend checking out the author’s blog. It documents the book’s entire process from initial idea to drafting, pitching to publishers, publicity, and reviews.

The Discovery of France – Graham Robb

31cx3euulxl_sl500_aa180_Accompanying me on our short trip to the Languedoc in France last week were two books: The Shack by William P Young (more on this later maybe) and The Discovery of France by Graham Robb.

The latter was a fascinating insight into the people of France (mostly outside of Paris) and their role in creating the modern-day state. The author spent four years researching the book by cycling through France and he has produced a gem that is equal part historical novel and quick reference book (although once picked up it will be hard to put down again).

The prose has a rhythm that suggests it was written on the go, and Robb describes in great detail the cost and impact of travel across France on its “peasants” with particular wit and attention. The development of the French language, colonisation, work patterns, and the sad slow erosion of the individuality of each region’s pays for the sake of a modern nation are all covered in a gripping read.

It’s also crammed with interesting and quirky facts, like how increased use of the bicycle increased the average height of the French population, and that a whistling language was widely used in the Pyrenees until the 1930s. It was versatile enough to convey the front page of the day’s news and was most notably used to help smuggle Jewish refugees across the border into Spain during Nazi occupation.

Highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in France and French culture. While on holiday it made me want to stay even longer and hop on a bike.

Book Review: The Protestant Revolution – William G. Naphy

It’s taken me a while to get through this but it was worth it. I was given this spin-off from the BBC Four series for Christmas last year and, while not the most addictive book I’ve ever read, it’s been really useful for filling in some gaps in this lay person’s knowledge. Particularly enjoyable was the chapter on the great awakenings, and a concise section on the origins of the social gospel movement.

Hopefully the series will make a re-appearance on the BBC iplayer in the near future.

The Damned United

One of the books I read while on holiday was The Damned United by David Peace. It convincingly mixes fact and fiction to tell the story of Brian Clough’s short-lived reign as manager of Leeds United in 1974. It’s a brilliantly written account – flashing back to Clough’s previous success with Derby County while documenting each of his forty four days in charge, seemingly intent on wrecking a club whose footballing ideology he despised. I was too young to really know much about Brian Clough but this book paints a fascinating picture of a flawed but immensely charismatic man. Whenever people in football say there are no “characters” in the game anymore – compared to this guy there definitely are very few.

It’s being made into a film at the moment. I’m looking forward to watching the scene where Clough takes an axe to previous manager Don Revie’s desk.

This week I have been mostly reading

Finished off some great books recently:

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

A poignant book written by Steinbeck as he journeyed across America from Maine to California with poodle Charley in his battered camper van “Rocinante.” in the late 1960s. Lots of snapshots of disappearing small-town life, amid evidence that the “old, weird America” can still be found in ther somewhere- delivered in typical elegaic fashion.

 

The Social Entrepreneur – Andrew Mawson

A brilliant book from the man behind the Bromley-by-Bow centre in East London. it’s a fantastic story of taking urban regeneration like a bull by the horns. A Minister with the United Reformed Church – he challenges the sanctimonious attitude of many churches towards regeneration, and drives a truck through the process-obsessed “do-gooding” of the voluntary sector and government departments that in his opinon is doing local communities more harm than good. You may not agree with all he says but the arguments are convincing.

Building on his non-conformist Christian heritage and stressing “learning by doing” – his application of business ideals to social questions needs to be heard by a wider audience. One of the most challenging books I’ve read in a long time.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Loved the film Atonement, and this is the first McEwan book I’ve read. Based around a newly-married couple’s first night of their honeymoon in early 1960s England, he weaves a compelling novel together about their anxieties and hopes for the future. It’s almost a novella but despite it’s brevity I felt really attached to both characters and missed the book when I finished it. The detail he packs into the final chapter in particular is beautifully written and heartbreakingly sad. Recommended!

The Glory Game

the-glory-game.jpg The Glory Game was written by Hunter Davies and follows the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur during the 1971-72 season. He gained unparalleled access behind the scenes at the club – something which no author has been granted at any top-flight since.

It’s a fascinating book and a perfect companion to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. The Glory Game focuses on the whole club (players, board members, training staff, supporters clubs) while Hornby’s book follows the ups-and-downs of supporting a team. Plus – one’s about the Spurs and the other’s about the Woolwich Wanderers!

Davies writes more about time spent with the manager Bill Nicholson than any other character at the club, and poignantly portrays this older statesman of football struggling to come to terms with a game that is changing faster than he is comfortable with. The final chapter covering the end of season UEFA cup final victory over Wolves is sadly elegaic, hinting that this was the end of an era for the way the club was run.

The fascinating appendices contain comparative Q&As with the 1972, 1985, and 1997 squads. There may be more money swimming around the game’s elite now than ever before but one thing remains the same – (British) footballers definitely aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

kite.jpgFirst book of 2008!

I finished it a few days ago hopefully in time to catch the film in the cinema. Not exactly the “coolest” of books but a terrific old-fashioned story of growing up with guilt and then acheiving final redemption. It’s great that tales like this still strike a chord with mass audiences.

The issue of male sexual contact (sorry to anyone who hasn’t read the book) in Arab culture is a fascinating one. There is a history of bi-sexuality, although out-and-out homosexuality is a strict taboo, as long as marrying and raising families as well as other societal duties are fulfilled.

The portrayal of the Taliban is revealing in the book, and is described in such graphic literary detail that you have to remind yourself that it is rooted in contemporary reality. This aspect of the book was uncomfortable.

Looking forward to seeing the film.