A good read for the casual Manchester United supporter
When a new book lands on the desk, proclaiming to be a history of a sport, a great team or a legendary performer, a wry grin invariably sweeps across this reviewer's face. It's the word 'history' that does it, simply because it can be used so loosely that you can never be sure what's in front of you.
It's loose because a basic history of a club could be a pamphlet, squashed into colourful bullet points and giving the reader a very basic understanding of its focus. On the other hand, a history can be thousands of pages, it can stretch to volumes, but that's not exactly consumer friendly.
So what usually makes its way onto the bookshelves is something like 'The Anatomy of Manchester United' by Jonathan Wilson. These types of publication are the quintessential club histories of the 21st Century, a glossary of the great moments wrapped neatly into just over three hundred pages, short enough so the attention doesn't wander.
Like he did with previous publications on England and Liverpool F.C., Wilson chose to build this history around ten important matches in the clubs century plus existence. Starting and ending with the F.A. Cup finals, against Bristol City in 1909 and Crystal Palace in 2016, he motors along at a decent pace.
The book slows on these chosen games. For each game, Wilson goes into great detail on moves at both end of the field, describing chances created and surrendered in great detail. It's pretty heavy information at times but the author does try to break it up by hopping backwards to events that helped the club get to this point.
The incredible detail of the feature games is in stark contrast to most of the content. It's a pity that interesting situations are dealt with in a paragraph or two and are invariably laced with what is the accepted public account of a situation, rather than the author delving deeper into it and finding the crux of the story.
While the section on the Munich disaster is dealt with in reasonable detail the author could go further, it is, after all, the single biggest event in the clubs history. As someone who didn't know the whole story, this reviewer still feels the need to pick up the laptop and Google away to get a fuller picture.
It is important to note that Wilson's writing style is perfect for the book. It's in no way cumbersome and whatever opinion you end up taking on the content, his uncomplicated prose mean that anyone from young teenager to older adult will canter through it without any stress and confusion.
No book on United would be complete without a close look at two of the clubs great managers. Both Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson are cornerstones of the publication, as you would expect. There are some interesting tidbits on Busby in particular, given how long he stayed involved with the club, even after his tenure as manager ended.
Who would get the most out of this book? The target audience is probably two-fold. Firstly, hardcore United supporters. The problem is that there's likely very little new information for the seasoned supporter, the person who has been following the club for several decades, so why fork out twenty-plus quid?
Who want's it then? Well, there are plenty of casual supporters around the world, ones that know Rooney, Giggs and Beckham but not Billy Meredith, Johnny Carey or Duncan Edwards. Those are the supporters that can get a reasonable understanding of the history of the club from 'The Anatomy of Manchester United'.