The incomparable range of sports books produced by Pitch Publishing over the past few years has ensured they’ve secured a place as one of the UK’s leading publishers of sporting material.
From the unashamedly nostalgic Got, Not Got and the thought-provoking If Only: An Alternative History of the Beautiful Game, to Andrew Murtagh’s superbly-written Gentleman and a Player, Pitch Publishing are always likely to come up with something different. Take a look at their current range:
Jellyman's Thrown a Wobbly by Jeff Stelling
Release date: 06th June, 2009
Publisher: Harper Sport
Our Price: £9.00
You Save: £6 (40%)
Image the scene at Sky Sports a few years ago when a brave, enthusiastic soul decided to pitch an idea he had for a programme to the company's top brass.
"So boss, I've got this idea for a six hour live football show that could be broadcast every Saturday," says our man with the plan (MWP).
"Interesting," replies top brass (TB). "You know we're not permitted to screen live 3pm games, don't you?"
MWP: "Oh yes, but we don't have to÷"
TB (bemused): "Carry on."
MWP: "I envisage us getting someone like Jeff Stelling to host a show where ex-footballers provide commentary and opinion, live to camera, from matches across the country. We would split the screen to show live scores and football news, league tables and÷"
TB: "Hold on! We cannot broadcast live games on Saturday afternoon!"
MWP: "I know. The ex-footballers will be looking at TV screens which viewers can't see and describing the action. Jeff would keep them on their toes and act as the show's anchor."
The above scene might exaggerate matters a little, but not by much. On paper, Soccer Saturday has no right to work, but such is Jeff Stelling's enthusiasm, professionalism and encyclopaedic football knowledge that the show is now the longest regular live programme on British TV.
In this very funny book, Stelling's provides readers with a unique guide to life behind the scenes and pulls no punches when it comes to telling is which former players perform well on screen and those who are a tad wooden. He doesn't do this in a nasty way (it is Jeff Stelling after all), but in a manner which suggests that the banter and bonhomie so evident on Soccer Saturday is absolutely genuine.
The book's title is a reference to just one of Stelling's (and his guests') quick-witted responses to breaking football news. When Mansfield's Gareth Jellyman reacted to a red card in a way that make the demonstrative Michael Ballack look like a wallflower, so the phrase "Looks like Jellyman's thrown a wobbly" was born.
The book is packed with several other gems of equal calibre: when Darlington player Guyain Ndumbu-Nsungu notched an equaliser, quick as a flash, came the comment "Very much a case of local boy makes good." Throughout, Stelling's love for Hartlepool United shines through, a hugely significant factor which makes the show, and his role, so compelling. Take, for instance, Stelling's reaction to a goal for his team: "James Brown's grabbed a second for Hartlepool. I feel good!" You half expect him to turn on his heels and bellow one of those sharp funky "Uuugghh" for good measure.
Not surprisingly, the show is unscripted, but a combination of smart on-screen graphics, ex-footballers such as Matt Le Tissier who can dole out the banter (and take it), together with Stelling's obvious love of football make Soccer Saturday a hit. While the book could never capture the sense of spontaneity, the author has compiled some of the most memorable exchanges that have taken place on- and off-air, which makes for a laugh-out-loud read. If the person who pitched the idea to Sky's top brass ever envisaged something as good as Soccer Saturday, he deserves a medal.
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