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4.0 out of 5 stars A well rendered telling of England's glory years, 4 Jan. 2009
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This review is from: My England Years: The Autobiography (Hardcover)
A year after the publication of Bobby Charlton's outstanding `My Manchester United Years' comes volume two - concerning his England career, which spanned 106 caps and an unprecedented four World Cup Finals.

No living player is better qualified to write about their experiences with England than Charlton, whose time in an England shirt spanned from the monochrome era of Tom Finney to that of Peter Shilton (whom even I, a thirty year old, recall as an England player).

The problem with it, particularly in the pre-Ramsey years, is that too little material is stretched out. Most other players combine their club and international volumes into a single volume. The length of Charlton's England career allows him to do two books - but in the context of a player's career, 106 games is the equivalent of a couple of seasons. It would be a bit like David Beckham writing `My LA Galaxy Years' in forty years time.

There is also a sense that he plays up to his status as the grand old man of English football. And who could blame him? He has, after all, won everything there is to be won in a career marked with courage, dignity and distinction. But the tone can seem fogeyish and at worst rambling, inane, and not true to Bobby Charlton's voice. After all, could you imagine him saying the following passage?

"Perhaps he decided that in this new world of football, of changing formations and the clearest evidence that in terms of ball skills and tactical subtleties many rival nations had passed us by, we need, as another embattled public figure, Prime Minister John Major, would later say `to get back to basics'."

Fortunately, most of the rest of the book isn't as horribly written as this, and by the time Alf Ramsey comes on board this volume hits full pace. The insights into the imperceptible Ramsey are compelling and better dealt with than by the likes of Alan Ball and Nobby Stiles in recent years. Charlton is particularly good on the routines and intensely close camp in the run up to the 1966 World Cup. He makes clear the debt of gratitude that the nation owes Alf Ramsey and he was surprisingly accepting of the way in which he was dropped by him after the 1970 World Cup.

Criticisms, however, tend to be oblique. I was surprised that there wasn't greater anger at the disgusting way Alf Ramsey and Bobby Moore were latterly treated by the FA. Perhaps he doesn't want to upset friends in high places? On the other hand, Peter Bonetti is singled out (albeit in Sir Bobby's roundabout way) for the defeat to West Germany in 1970.

In sum this is a decent companion to Sir Bobby's first volume of memoirs, even if it is slow to get going and, particularly in the early pages, there is a sense that his publishers are milking him for everything. Perhaps it fails by comparison to volume one, which was one of the best sporting memoirs of recent years. On its own merits, however, this is often a compelling story, generally well told if not sometimes eccentrically structured and strangely written - but it beats hands down any one of the turgid offerings by the current crop of underperforming England stars.
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Jim
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Location: Blackheath, London, UK

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