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George Best and 21 Others by Colin Shindler

Release date: 19th April, 2004
Publisher: Headline

List Price: 14.99
Our Price: 10.49
You Save: 4.5 (30%)
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Those of us old enough to remember football's pre-hype days recall a time of packed terraces, sponsor-free shirts and players with sideburns encroaching onto the lower part of their chins. It was football in black-and-white, or so it seems, because photographs of clashes from the sixties and seventies are invariably reproduced in monochrome.

In recent years, several newspapers have started running picture features entitled 'Where are they now?' These tend to depict a muddy goalmouth scene, a well-known, but youthful centre forward unleashing a shot towards goal and a terrific one-handed save by a goalkeeper whose name you have temporarily forgotten. In the background, leaden-footed defenders and more agile-looking forwards peer towards the ball, mouths agape.

Beneath this snapshot image appears details of what the players featured in the scene have been up to since and what they are doing now. So that's the goalie's name!

Colin Shindler has taken this snapshot concept further and written a book about the youth teams of Manchester United and Manchester City who clashed in a two-legged FA Youth Cup semi-final in 1964. That might not sound like the basis of a solid, book-worthy idea until the reader considers what happened next. Of the 22 players on show, including one George Best, playing his fourth game in a week (in the second leg) and about to make his international debut for Northern Ireland, 17 of them went on to play for their respective first teams.

Furthermore, more than 50,000 people turned up to watch the two games featuring mostly local lads, several of whom, like Best, were to become international players. The connection between spectators and players which resulted in this colossal turnout remained tangible forty years ago, a point Shindler makes in the prologue: "It's not that Butt and Scholes don't have the same Manchester connection, but that their lifestyles are so remote from the rest of us that we can no longer identify with them in the same way."

This observation is indicative of the social commentary Shindler weaves into the book, a clever move which adds pace to the narrative and gives it a sense of history. Britain in 1964 was on the cusp of enormous social change and the author paints a marvellous semi-final backdrop to the point where the reader can almost hear the Beatles on the Dansette in the background.

The individual tales of how each the player fared after the semi final is conducted mostly in the style of extended interviews. As a method of introduction, Shindler provides family backgrounds and notes the surprising (for 1964) number of players who came from one parent families, where one parent (like John Sadler's mother) had died.

There are stories of amateur players having their boots filled with brown envelopes containing £5 and of Don Revie, the much-maligned former Leeds United boss offering Alan Ogley's father a fortune of £5,000 if Ogley junior would sign for the Elland Road side. That the offer was refused is astonishing - Ogley senior was earning £18 a week working as a miner.

Football was truly of a different era, as Shindler vividly explains, "Football was still a glory game that bred heroes, not the arena for conspicuous consumption that feeds on its own media hype. The only large car in the car park belonged to the chairman and players still knew what the inside of a bus looked like." And it was all in black and white.

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