Sunday 17 December 2017

Unusual incidents from wacky world of football explored

Book review - Alan Aherne

Football's Strangest Matches
Football's Strangest Matches

This is an odd time of the year in so many ways. We're far enough beyond Christmas for the festive celebrations to be a dim and distant memory at this stage.

And though there is a noticeable stretch in the evenings, we're still too far away from summer to even entertain thoughts of what that period may bring.

It feels like we're operating in a state of limbo, although that is likely to dissipate with every passing week as the positive vibes return.

It's the very same in a book-reading sense. Most new offerings are geared for the Christmas market, and nobody with past experience of publishing is going to release something in the month of February.

Given that prevailing mood, I was looking for something of a light-hearted nature last week, not too taxing on the brain and a book that one could dip in and out of at regular intervals.

In that regard, I was quite pleased with my choice of 'Football's Strangest Matches' by Andrew Ward, the 2016 edition of a publication that first saw the light of day in 1989.

This is a chronological look at a series of extraordinary but true stories from the world of football, stretching from a crossbar protest in 1888 up to the game in 2015 when two Scunthorpe United goalkeepers suffered broken arms in the same game.

It's a look at some of the unusual incidents which have taken place down through the years, with the main focus on games in the British Isles although some of the madness associated with soccer in South America also comes in for honourable mention.

What I really like about the book is the short and snappy way in which the stories are told.

None are longer than two and a half pages, and this has a couple of positives. Firstly it gives scope to the author to cover a wide variety of interesting tales, more than 110 by my count, and secondly there is no fear of the reader struggling to keep attention as a new story is ready to be perused as soon as the previous one is read.

Everything and anything of a wacky nature is covered, and as well as being funny in parts it's also educational as some of the early chapters focus on the manner in which the game gradually evolved as the rules were tweaked.

For instance, there's an interesting piece on offside, and I was also intrigued by the manner in which the first live radio commentaries of games were conducted.

The 'Radio Times' published a photograph of the pitch divided into eight numbered sections. And when the commentator was describing the play, he had an assistant whose sole role was to but in and tell the listeners which grid the ball was in.

I know of some modern-day radio commentators who could do with this type of help, and I'm sure you do too!

Were you aware that for three successive years from 1956 to 1958, Leeds United were drawn to play Cardiff City at home in the third round of the FA Cup?

Not alone that, but the result in all of those encounters was a 2-1 away win! What are the odds on something like that happening?

Or how about the Chester City team of 1966 which paraded two full-backs with the surname Jones, both of whom once broke their left arms in the same game.

That's another 'believe it or not' moment, and this book is full of them. It won't tax your brain but will keep you informed and entertained, and that's not a bad mix at this time of year if you ask me.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

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