Anyone who knows me (or has spent more than 30 seconds browsing this site) would describe as a football fan. They might go further; “obsessive” is a term that has been used more than once! But with the nation in lockdown for the third time, no-one can go to grounds and watch matches.
However, the last three decades have seen an explosion in football writing, which is part of the reason this thread on the Non-League Matters Forum has proved popular, with over 3,000 views at the time of writing. Some 63 different titles are mentioned (yes, I was bored enough to count) and I’ve read 28 of them, with another four in my “to be read” pile. I had a look at the bookshelf and, in total, I have 65 books about football or footballers at the moment, although that’s only a fraction of the total number of books I’ve read about my favourite sport. The bulk of my collection made its way to the club shop at Ashford Town (Middlesex) FC before we moved to Merseyside and most of what I have now is an assortment of titles I’ve bought or been given since relocating.
Having done a lot of reading over the last year and with plenty still to do, I thought I’d steal an idea from follow the example of fellow football fan and writer Jane Stuart and review some of the books I’ve read recently.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had read all of the eight books to have accumulated the most recommendations. Unsurprisingly, given that many of the members of Non-League Matters are ‘groundhoppers’ two of the three joint winners were recent releases which both had significant appeal for this particularly element of the football community.
The Farther Corner is Harry Pearson’s beautifully written follow up to his seminal work about the Northern League, The Far Corner. It was the first of my Christmas gifts to be read and is brilliant, but it’s not the book I have on my mind today.
British Football’s Greatest Grounds by Mike Bayley is a compilation of photos and potted histories of the 100 venues selected by the football community via various means, including social media votes, individual nominations and so on. Having taken seven years to compile – the author visited every ground along the way – some of the stadia which would have made the cut originally have now closed. These are covered in a ‘ghost grounds’ section towards the end of the book.
The first thing to note about this book is that it is gorgeous. A veteran of the non-league scene, Bayley has managed to enlist the help of some of the most well-known photographers in the lower levels of football to ensure that even the lowliest club has their home profiled in glorious technicolour. In fact, this is one of the central charms of the book; it is not a procession of 60,000 seat monoliths (although a few are included). Instead, clubs from all over England, Scotland and Wales are celebrated for their uniqueness. Richmond Town’s pitch in the shadow of a County Durham castle is afforded as much space as the Archibald Leitch-designed Ibrox Stadium and I enjoyed this book all the more for that.
The photos are the focal point of this hefty tone, as you would expect, but Bayley has put considerable thought and effort into the words that accompany them. The roots of the club which plays (or in one case, the clubs which had played) at each venue are described in enough detail to allow the reader to gather a sense of place without becoming bored.
All levels of football are covered with the same enthusiasm; I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my usual football-watching spot, Prescot Cables’ Hope Street, was one of seven ground from the Northern Premier League North / West Division to be included. Celtic join Rangers and Fort William in the book and there’s a scattering of Premier League clubs too.
With a recommended retail price of £30, this isn’t a cheap book but given that it is a large, full-colour hardback, the price is more than justified by the hours of pleasure it will provide. It is as much fun to ‘dip into’ as it is to read from cover-to-cover and for anyone interested in football grounds, it is thoroughly recommended.