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Broken Dreams: Vanity, Greed and the Souring of British Football by Tom Bower

Release date: 01st January, 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

List Price: 7.99
Our Price: 5.59
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As the January transfer window swings open, the timely updating of this book makes it a must for anyone interested in football's often murky finances.

The accompanying press release proclaims that, "Football is a sport for those able to survive a recurring but familiar nightmare", a comment which could apply to fans burdened with supporting a team going through a bad spell. Here it applies to the sullied state of football's commercial wing and to the motley collection of owners, agents, managers and players who have siphoned off literally millions from the beautiful game, often in cash.

Bower identifies these less-than-loveable rogues, providing a remarkable amount of financial detail en route, although this does not make his narrative either ponderous, nor intricate. Such is its style and pace that, for example, summarising the intricacies of Ken Bates' financial wranglings on the British Virgin Isles prior to acquiring Chelsea for £1 reads more like an 'unputdownable' thriller.

Nor could Bower be accused of being over-selective when it comes to pointing the finger at those at the heart of football's financial shenanigans. Managers too are shown to have extremely sticky fingers and are criticised accordingly.

Unlike many before him, Bower does not shy away from referring to Brian Clough's fondness for 'a bung'. When Clough's Nottingham Forest bought Alf-Inge Haarland from Bryne in Norway for example, the agreed fee was £2.15m, yet the sum which reached Norway was £50,000 short.

On one level, this work is academic in its coverage - providing cross references, details of source material and a comprehensive index. On another, Bower peppers the text with a series of one liners which are testament to his descriptive talent.

Some of the information has already appeared elsewhere. In particular, the chapter devoted to the behind-the-scenes battles raging among Premier League chairmen as Sky was about to win the right to broadcast live football armed with a cheque for £305m was covered by David Conn in "The Football Business" some years ago.

Bower delivers more of a strategic overview as David Dein, then of Arsenal, urged chairmen to accept ITV's bid. Meanwhile, Sky's canny chief, Sam Chisholm, decided to target Will Wyatt, deputy managing director of the BBC with a proposal which allowed the BBC to screen highlights. The rest, of course, is history, but the Machiavellian-style approach of several chairmen accurately portrayed here serves to show the type of people who run our biggest football clubs in their true light.

In that respect, the football business is no different from any other, although the leeway afforded to some of the industry's employees would not be tolerated in many other sectors of industry. What Bower proves beyond doubt is that football is still a relatively untamed business - one where anything goes.


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