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When Football was Football by Richard Havers

Release date: 09th December, 2008
Publisher: Haynes Publishing

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £13.29
You Save: £5.7 (30%)
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Even the most informal chat with anyone who purports to be a football fan invariably leads to a discussion about how the game has changed ever since the Premier League was conceived and delivered to an unsuspecting sporting public 17 years ago.

There is an overwhelming sense that the game has been ruined by money and the influx of a breed of player who lack even a modicum of loyalty. Meanwhile, the game's long-suffering supporters are increasingly isolated and events prior to 1992 effectively eradicated from the record books; in short, football has become sanitised and Stalinised.

Readers who recognise what has happened to our national game, now awash with players who are unqualified to play for the national side, will appreciate Richard Havers' "When Football Was Football"

Havers has undertaken a task completed by many before him and in truth, not as well: it's difficult to squeeze a football history encompassing a century into fewer than 250 pages, albeit oversized ones, although much of the impressive photography gives this book a genuinely historic feel. Cleverly, Havers finishes at 1992 when the game officially became a business and fans began paying through the nose for the self-styled 'most exciting league in the world'.
The author is better known for his books featuring musicians such as Bill Wyman and Frank Sinatra, but he admits to being a Spurs fan, which presumably qualifies him to write about aspiration and dreams, the core of any football fan's beliefs. He quotes most of football's greats extensively, although Bill Shankly's opening words regarding football's simplicity provide a literary glue which succeeds in holding this book together and sets the scene for Havers to discuss German Max Seeburg, Britain's first foreign player and Alf Common, the game's first £1,000 player.
There are plenty of memorable photographs, including last century's first FA Cup and Conservative politician A.J Balfour, later to become Prime Minister, kicking off a match. It strikes you that none of today's political class would bother to get their feet dirty; for them, football's new world provides an opportunity to align themselves with a team, purely in to the interests of being re-elected.
Yes, in times past many of the grounds were health hazards, training and treatment facilities were basic and in winter, most pitches comprised mud and dirt rather than grass. It hardly detracted from the game's inherent spirit, now completely evaporated.
Its final chapter opens with a particularly apposite quote. "Nearly everything possible had been done to spoil the game," it reads, "the heavy financial interest; the absurd transfer and player-selling system; the lack of any birth or residential qualifications; the absurd publicity given to every feature of it by the press; the monstrous partisanship of the crowds." The author of these words? Playwright JB Priestley writing in 1933. As this book shows, even when football really was football, perhaps it sometimes still wasn't quite the game we remember it to have been.


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