The pleasure I have received from reading this book has left me morally obliged to do my first ever Amazon Review. Whilst I will attempt to wax lyrical, a little story first that will probably be more convincing in its way than any words of praise that I can muster:-
Although a Manchester City fan, I joined a coachful from our pub to go and give Stockport County a cheer in their play-off game at Wembley against Rochdale. The coach was a fair mix of County (obviously), City and United fans. I took Gary James's book to while away the journey. Suffice to say that others took an interest in it and were blown away with the 'differentness' of it. By the time we returned, I'd taken a total of 11 orders for copies!
The book clearly has a 'wow' factor. I think one of its main qualities is the author's refusal to merely compartmentalise each Manchester club's history. Instead it is largely chronological and dwells many times on the relationships between clubs rather than just significant events in their individual past. Whilst United and City inevitably figure prominantly, there is due credit given to the likes of Bury who were Manchester's first truly successful club. At the other extreme, newcomers FC United are given respect for their efforts to return affordable football to the grassroots supporter. In between, every club from the area has its roots explained and its triumphs and tribulations related accurately and entertainingly .
One of my favourite sections is the rise and unfortunate demise of Manchester Central FC. If United and City had not combined and connived to keep this fledging club out of the League in the late'20's / early '30's, then either there would have been three city centre teams or an ailing United could have gone to the wall.
Gary James has researched so deeply that many errors have been found in clubs' official histories. Whilst such fine detail is to be commended, the narrative never lapses into a tedious list of dates that only the 'anorak' would appreciate. Instead it flows and has you wondering what happened next, even when on some occasions you were fairly sure you knew your football history.
As the guys on the coach found, this is a 'once seen - must have' book and I for one will be buying several more copies, as I have absolutely no doubt that as a Christmas or birthday present it will received with total delight.
This is a serious and scholarly study of the development of Association football in the Greater Manchester area. It is not a hagliography, It details the darker side as well as the triumphs. Also, the author doesn't waste too much time on the well documented events such as The Munich air disaster or the 1999 treble season. This history isn't exclusively about the two major Manchester clubs. It covers, fairly comprehensively the lesser lights, Rochdale, Oldham, Bury, Stockport as well as the non-league clubs like Stalybridge and Hyde. The story is one of organic growth whereby the the history and fates of the larger clubs are somehow part of the same fabric that binds them to the district's smaller clubs. Collecting the information for this book must have been very difficult as the author is explicit in separating the primary sources from the secondary and he is not afraid to debunk some of the myths that have arisen from some of those secondary (such as oral accounts) sources. Every major city should commission a similar account of their local football clubs. It is an indispensable record of social development.
Gary James is a Manchester City fan, but this monster of a book concerns itself with Manchester clubs as a whole - although he does concentrate on the 'bigger boys'.
If you are a football fan, particularly of any club in the Greater Manchester area, then I could not recommend this book more highly to you. I see it is currently out of stock here (at time of posting), which is unfortunate. Go find it elsewhere and read it.
BOOK OF THE WEEK by Ian Herbert, Independent Newspaper
For all the ink that has been spilled in the name of Manchester United, only now do we learn the definitive - some say fateful - date on which the planet's most famous sporting institution spluttered into life, as Newton Heath FC was consigned to history.
Even Old Trafford's mighty United Opus tells us it was on 26 April 1902 that the struggling former railwaymen's team, facing a winding-up order, was superceded at the New Islington public house in Ancoats by United, in what might today be called a re-branding exercise, and it says everything about his immaculate piece of scholarship that James reveals the club to be two days older than it seems to think it is. The meeting was on the 24th. Hard to believe also, in the age of the global brand, that the name "United" may well have been selected for no other reason than clubs' proclivity back then for seizing on the name of the moment. Sheffield United may have been the inspiration, having reached the FA Cup final seven days earlier.
The early histories of Manchester City and United provide some of the most fascinating elements of a story James relates without hype. The clubs' close bonds, much discussed at the recent 50th Munich anniversary, are an intriguing thread. City were keen to sell United (rather than southern sides) their best players, Bill Meredith included, when strapped for cash and reeling from a match-fixing scandal in 1907. The two also joined forces to prevent the newly- founded Manchester Central club being elected to the Football League and threatening their own fan bases in the early 1930s.
The periodic scandals - the collusion of Liverpool and United players to fix a league game United won 2-0 in 1915 is particularly well related - remind us that little is new in football.
Except money of course. This story is unimpassioned enough not to make judgements about the game's evolution in the Premier League era but the seamless interweaving of Stockport, Rochdale and Bury's narratives - not overshadowed, for once - with those of the Manchester giants tells more subtly what a toll that big money is taking on the lesser lights. Sir Alex Ferguson might detest FC United of Manchester, the club established in the teeth of the game's corporatisation, but James also attends to that club's ethos and relatively unknown recent splits with a level of detail befitting its significance. His story of City's beginnings - when a Manchester rector's daughter set up a club to distract the working men prone to drinking and violence, then known as "scuttling" - is also poignant amid Thaksin Shinawatra's search for global brand awareness.