(Some) Modern football books are still rubbish

STEVEN DOWNES finds that football humour is rarely a laughing matter

There was a time, before Radio Bloke filled its daytime schedules with sacked Blue Peter presenters and barely competent celebrity scions, that there was a regular review panel which offered useful insights into newly published books, usually novels (yes, maybe a bit Richard & Judy, but done with more than the intellectual rigour of a 6-year-old who’d just learned to read).

One feature of this was that the presenter would ask his reviewers to describe the book’s cover, apparently in breach of the first rule of book reviewing, never judging a book by… This policy was always defended because this was a radio programme and, very often, the cover design betrayed the publishers’ targeting of certain sections of its perceived audience.

Which brings us to Modern Football Is Still Rubbish, by Nick Davidson and Shaun Hunt. Straight away, the cover offers potential readers a hint, with the clue in the title. The use of “still” confirms that this is not the first time Messrs Davidson and Hunt have had a tilt at this sort of volume, which the sub-title claims is “Slinging mud at what’s left of ‘the beautiful game’.”

And there on the cover is a picture of two muddied footballers from 40 years ago or so, one a goalkeeper ” apart from his Bonetti-esque green keeper’s shirt, he is sufficiently muddy to make a definite identification tricky ” and the other being Ralph Coates in his Burnley days, when people were still saying “he could be the new Bobby Charlton”.

Of course, once Coates transferred to Tottenham, there came the realisation that Coates was a pale imitation of Charlton, the only real similarity being the two players’ premature comb-overs.

And that is where this book’s cover is a neat fit. Because this book is only a pale imitation of a humorous collection of football anecdotes.

There’s a starburst endorsement on the cover. Apparently, FourFourTwo magazine once said that there were “Many laugh out loud moments” in Davidson and Hunt’s first book. Well, if the publishers are looking for a similar quote about this book, how about, “Not very many laugh out loud moments, if any at all”?

There’s a very good reason why David Baddiel and Frank Skinner stopped doing their TV programme Fantasy Football more than a decade ago: they ran out of material. And Davidson and Hunt are no Baddiel and Skinner.

This slight (220 pages) paperback volume is probably ideal toilet reading material, with none of the sections lasting more than a few pages. But most of the topics chosen to rail against are all-too-familiar and rarely does the commentary provided raise even a chortle.

Writing gags is no easy matter, as this book demonstrates. So instead of “many laugh out loud moments”, what you get are a series of derivative rants against the latest thing that the authors have read in the newspapers, such as England’s “anthem jackets”, or the price of a match programme, or the enforced removal of tops from drinks bottles at grounds, or footballers’ tattoos.

It is not surprising that Michel Platini comes in for a fair amount of kicking, as does Harry Harris, Katherine Jenkins, Russell Brand and Danny Dyer, all of which did, I admit, raise a smile with this reader. But only a wry one.

If anything, the authors went too easy on Tim Lovejoy in a section creaking under the weight of a ton of irony. The real irony being, of course, that Lovejoy’s dated, faux laddishness is exactly what these authors aspire to.

Elsewhere, their critiques are often misconstrued. Such as when the authors ignorantly dismiss Olympic football as unimportant (clearly, they did not check out where Riquelme, Aguero, Messi and Mascarano first played together with success in an international tournament), or the notion that a football pitch is the universal unit of measure when describing the daily destruction of the rainforest (because, as everyone knows, “the size of Wales” is that particular piece of journalistic cliché).

Isn’t even the main premise of the title flawed? When Coates and his mates were kicking lumps out of one another on muddy pitches, was football really any better? Of course modern football fans get screwed, week in, week out. But, if Hunt and Davidson took off the rose-tinted spectacles, they might see it was ever thus.

Davidson and Hunt (self-acclaimed as “the grumpy old men of football”, puhleez) are probably too young to remember the days when the only live club football shown on television each year was the FA Cup final itself, when watching a game from the terraces usually entailed missing half the match in the pushing and shoving of the mass surges (well, it did if you were under 5ft 6 tall), and when going to the toilet normally required wading through a stream of evil-smelling urine.

There is the old gag that asks where would we be without a sense of humour, with the punchline: Germany. So it is particularly amusing that the biggest laugh with this book comes with a comment from a German publisher who said, “The book made funny reading (at times).” Have parentheses ever been quite so damning?

Apparently, the German publisher had expected a serious critique of modern football. The comment is reproduced on the back cover of this book. If nothing else, at least Davidson and Hunt have finally proved that you can, indeed, judge a book by its cover.

Modern Football Is Still Rubbish, by Nick Davidson and Shaun Hunt (£6.99) is published by Sports Books

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