Football/Soccer

Pitch Publishing provide more sports books to savour

The Beautiful History: Football club badges tell the story of Britain (by Martyn Routledge & Elspeth Wills, illustrations by Adam Forster; Pitch Publishing, 192pp, RRP £16.99)

A great idea, wonderfully executed. ‘The Beautiful History’ looks at the designs of and symbols on football club badges and explains their origins, in an interesting and informative fashion.

The book’s timeline ranges from 330 millions years ago, with Dumbarton Rock the only remnant of a volcanic eruption around that time, to 1989, when the invention of the world wide web inspired the more recent formation of Hashtag United.

In between the brilliant book, suitable for both children and adults, is packed with fascinating facts. Did you know Liverpool FC’s avian representation, the Liver Bird, was originally a cormorant? Or that Crawley Town FC are the original Red Devils?

There are references to Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ - and Malcolm in particular - mention of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin’s connection to Crusaders, and King Henry VIII’s commemoration by Hemel Hempstead FC.

Now for someone - or two - to illustrate the history of Ireland through GAA crests…

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 Euro Summits 1960-2021: The story of the Uefa European Championship (by Jonathan O’Brien, Pitch Publishing, 509pp RRP £19.99)

From the opening page where the author describes Michel Platini as “for so many years the arrogant and untouchable dauphin of European football” you know you’re in for a treat.

Dublin-based O’Brien writes with terrific verve and wit, going in studs-up whenever he pleases, like Roy Keane with a laptop, labelling the originator of the ‘European Cup for national teams’, Henri Delaunay, as “a sort of Gallic Jimmy Hill (though exuding more charm)”.

The level of detail throughout is remarkable; Delaunay’s refereeing career apparently ended when a ball knocked out two of his teeth and caused him to swallow his whistle.

The 500-plus pages are packed with such research worn lightly, and the book is structured superbly, from the inaugural tournament in 1960 up to the 16th incarnation this summer past the delayed Euro 2020.

Each tournament has its own chapter with all the match stats included as you go along, rather than having to hunt for them among appendices at the back as is the usual, annoying way. Once more, the detail is incredible, right down to kick-off times and attendances.

Every page offers some insight, such as Uli Stielike’s son drawing England and the Republic of Ireland together for Euro ’88. After Ray Houghton’s header won their afternoon meeting in Stuttgart the Irish celebrations were intense, leading manager Jack Charlton to tell the injured Liam Brady to get the players into bed by midnight. ‘Chippy’ responded: ‘I can do certain things but I can’t do the impossible!’

O’Brien should enjoy lengthy celebrations himself; in writing terms, he has joined those Irish legends.

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Do they play cricket in Ireland? (by David Townsend, Pitch Publishing, 349pp, RRP £16.99)

They surely do - and pretty well sometimes. Subtitled ‘The 25-year journey to a Test match at Lord’s’, the author notes that his time covering Irish cricket from the 1994 ICC Trophy in Kenya onwards took the players ‘From worrying about Gibraltar to worrying Australia’.

Townsend’s research noted that Ireland’s first official match took place in Dublin’s Phoenix Park against ‘the Gentlemen of England’, drily observing that the visitors would “surely have struggled to raise a side.” He’s English himself, so clearly self-deprecation and humour will abound.

Mirroring the team’s progress, his limited knowledge of Irish cricket has developed over more than a quarter-century to Test level, becoming the acknowledged expert on Ireland cricket.

His own status is that of an embedded reporter, resulting in a wealth of anecdotes and insider knowledge. The book is, appropriately, written in diary format, following Ireland in 20-plus countries across five continents.

From only beating Papua New Guinea and Gibraltar at that ICC Trophy in east Africa, losing to the Netherlands, UAE, Bermuda, and Canada, Townsends tells the tale - and tales - of how Ireland developed to bowling England out for 85 at the home of cricket.

Along the way, famous victories over the English, as well as Pakistan and the West Indies, are recalled before Townsend concluded this excellent delivery on a high, as Ireland stunned England in their first Test bowling at Lord’s.

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Celtic Minute by Minute (by David Jackson, Pitch Publishing, 249pp, RRP £16.99)

Rangers Minute by Minute (by David Jackson, Pitch Publishing, 221pp, RRP £16.99)

Following on from previous publications about Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Newcastle United, David Jackson has expanded his format to another club with a fanatical fan-base and an Irish connection. Yep, Stoke City. Honestly. He’s also done one on Leeds United.

There may be more demand for his other new efforts this year, north of the English border, on the two Glasgow giants, Celtic and Rangers.

The idea is simple yet effective, recalling important goals scored by each goal from the first minute of a match to the 90th, and into added time, extra time, and even penalty shootouts.

Celtic’s opener chosen was against Waterford in the 1970-71 European Cup at - as fanatics will no doubt know - Lansdowne Road in Dublin, with Bobby Lennox crossed for Willie Wallace to score after just 18 seconds.

More than 500 more Celtic goals are detailed, as well as “penalties, red cards, and other intriguing facts.” As ever, Jackson delivers on his promise, with Brendan Rodgers’s first trophy as boss, the 2016 League Cup, being the club’s 100th.

A book to send Bhoys and Ghirls down memory lane and onto You Tube.

The Rangers equivalent is shorter, even the author admits they’re his ‘second’ team. The foreword is from former Ger Derek Parlane, who talks about his goal on his European debut against Bayern Munich in 1972, which helped seal progress to the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final. In the 21st minute, as I’m sure you’ll know.

Parlane also points out that he and his dad Jimmy are the only father and son to have both scored for Rangers against Celtic. That’s just one of many interesting snippets in a book sure to please the blue side of Glasgow and the Ibrox club’s follow followers.

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Football/Soccer