Whenever I think of great cyclists I think of Coppi, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain in that order, (I have erased Armstrong for obvious reasons) I never ever think of Jacques Anquetil, which is quite remarkable considering he was the first man to win the Tour De France on a record five occasions, additionally he was also the first Frenchman to win the Giro De Italia, so for me to overlook him is decidedly disrespectful. Paul Fournel’s masterful little book is a glowing tribute to man that he first worshipped as a rather portly 10 year old, then all the way through to manhood. Fournel,s fascination with Anquetil would see him stay captivated with the great cyclist throughout his career and beyond. In 1953 after his first major victory in Grand Prix De Nations, Fournel describes how Anquetil visited Coppi in an attempt to understand what was needed to become a great champion. Despite his fame Coppi cut a tragic figure, his life had been played out like something from a Fellini film, after his scandalous affair with “The Woman in White” Giulia Occhini, the affair left Coppi tortured by catholic guilt, a shame he would take to his grave. Anquetil,s love life would be equally as complex, stealing the wife of his best friend and mentor Doctor Boeda, Janine Boeda would stay and dutifully support Anquetil throughout his glory years as campionissimo but after his retirement their relationship would become rather more complicated and would involve Janine’s daughter Sophie in ménage a trios that most of his French fans found unpalatable. Added to this Anquetil would speak quite openly about drugs that he used to assist him in races, a fact that hardly endeared him to races organisers, who carefully avoided talking about this cycling’s most taboo subject. Despite his off road antics there can be no denying the brilliance of Anquetil especially when it came to the grand tours, as Fournel points out Anquetil may have no fan of the classics such as the Paris Roubaix but when it came to the really big multi stage events he was out on his own. From 1957 he would dominate the grand tours becoming the first man to win the Tour de France, Giro and Veulta and with regard to the Tour de France Fournel digs deep to dissect Anquetil’s rivalry with more popular Raymond Poulidor . Pou Pou may have been the people’s favourite but that wasn’t going to affect Anquetil who was mentally much tougher than Poulidor. When I first opened this book I really didn’t know what to expect and I have say I got a lot more than I bargained for, to say Anquetil was a very interesting character would be a complete understatement, Fournel affection for the great man is there to be seen on every page and one wonder because he is well worth the hero worship that Fournel bestows on us, so go buy this because if you like cycling you will love this book.
In the summer of 1971 The Frozen Northerner would recline in his mother’s front room with his three best mates and let Terry Swinhoe read to us the juicier bits of Richard Allen’s cult bestseller Skinhead. Featuring the legendary Joe Hawkins, Richard Allen’s books were a must for working class lads in the north east of England or anywhere else in the country for that matter. We didn’t listen to Terry because we couldn’t read, Terry just made it that little bit more spicy, especially when talking about Joe sexual escapades. So when I stumbled upon Old Dog Books and came across “Who the Hell is Frank Wilson” by Pete McKenna, I thought the book warranted further investigation. Set to the backdrop of Wigan Casino the story revolves around aspiring young DJ “Epic” trying to become a face on the then thriving northern soul scene. Add to this, Blackpool gangsters, council corruption, bent coppers, the IRA and lots and lots of cocaine and you have recipe for a half decent book. Unless you are a fan of northern soul, you have probably never heard of Frank Wilson who worked as a record producer for the renowned Tamla-Motown label during the 60’s and early 70’s. What makes him so special is that he recorded the classic northern soul anthem Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), now while this may mean nothing to the uninitiated, owning an original copy of this revered single was and still is worth a lot of money. One the main characters Ronnie Hardman wants a copy badly, more for personal reasons than anything else, although the monetary value of the record is certainly not lost on him. Obtaining an original copy is not going to be easy for Ronnie who is more than happy to use an excessive amount of violence to achieve his objectives. The ambitious Epic has to deal with all challenges thrown down by Ronnie as well as some other nefarious charmers and it does not always have a happy outcome for Epic, but that is part of the attraction of the book. Did The Frozen Northerner enjoy the book, the answer would have to be a resounding yes, nothing is going transport us any of us back to that magical time of my life so reading about is just about the next best thing. The only downside was that it would appear that somebody at Old Dog Books have appeared not have proof read the book, as is quite often a considerable amount of text missing in parts of the book which was hugely disappointing, that aside the only question left to answer is where am I going to find Terry Swinhoe to read out the juicer bits.
I recently acquired a Southwick oxford cloth button down shirt from John Simons, the significance of which should be of no importance to all, apart from those interested or should I say obsessed with clothes.
The frozen northerner has always been interested in clothes and over the last three years this has become a rather addictive habit, which has to be regularly fed but only by purchasing certain items. Trying to kick this habit is becoming harder and harder and I blame (if blame is right word) one man, Graham Marsh. Three years ago my wife the Contessa di la Proctero bought me a book as a gag gift for Christmas, the book in question was called “The Ivy Look” an illustrated pocket guide to classic American clothing. At the time she had no idea of the influence the book would have on me. Written with his good friend J P Gaul this 206 page pocket book was like manna from heaven and has made me see clothes from a different perspective. The book was a real eye opener, Mr Marsh talks about clothes like no one I have ever read before, his attention to detail was amazing and I opened every page with eager anticipation, this book now has permanent residence on my bedside table along his follow up book “Hollywood and the Ivy Look” written with Tony Nourmand another admirer of ivy style. The impact of these two books has been profound so much so that I can no longer just go into a shop and buy something on a whim, each item now has to be meticulously researched before I can even think about making any sort of purchase. Please don’t think that Mr Marsh and his cohorts have converted me to the kingdom of ivy league clothes he hasn’t, but he changed the way I see clothes now. Several blogs such the www.ivystyle.comhave levelled some criticism at the books and in particular The Ivy Look, the book may not be to everyone’s taste which is fine but personally I loved everything in there from Miles Davis to Bill’s Khaki’s from French and Italian cinema to Shetland sweaters I enjoyed it all. Mr Marsh is a very busy man as well as being involved in the production of Jim Marshall’s Jazz Festival, he is also involved in producing vintage ivy style shirts with Japanese company Kamakura shirts this partnership has only increased my clothes obsessed lust, with his vintage long sleeved oxford cloth popover shirt now being an object of desire that must bought.
Although I admire the work of Mr Marsh I have to say I am slightly disappointed that these highly desirable shirts can only be purchased in Japan or New York, surely the time has come for Kamakura shirts to open a shop somewhere in the UK. Anyway back to the books, at the back of each publication is a list of retailers and websites that will show you in the words of Mr Marsh “where you can buy the good stuff” I would suggest you visit these pages at your earliest possible convenience, because once you have been there it is going to open a whole new world to you. Mr Marsh has opened up a wound that is never going to be healed but listen to his advice and your clothes are going to become much sharper, you may think you are coolest thing on the planet, but check out Robert Culp on page 231 of Hollywood and the Ivy Look as international tennis player Kelly Robinson from the hit 1960’s series I Spy. Culp or should I say Robinson sports amongst other things a Lacoste polo shirt and Persol shades, Andy Murray wouldn’t have a chance.
No. 2: When Pride Still Mattered – A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss
“Coaches who can outline plays on the blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their players and motivate”
These words were spoken by the immortal Vince Lombardi, fabled coach of the Green Bay Packers. It is fairly safe to say that Lombardi was responsible for changing the face of American Football during the late 1950’s and early 60s, to do this, Lombardi would transform an underperforming bunch of players from Wisconsin into the greatest football team in the land. So why I am I blogging about this book on Lombardi, as I am no fan of American football, I don’t pretend to like it and I certainly don’t understand it, it takes too long to complete a match and there are just way too many breaks in the game and as a spectacle it lags way behind proper football (association) or rugby (league or union), but this is only my opinion and mine alone. Having said that I have long held a fascination with coaches that have been involved in American sports such as Baseball, Basketball and American Football. Men like John Wooden, Bear Bryant, Phil Jackson and Tom Landry to name but a few, are for me often far interesting than their European counterparts. Books on these guys are normally riveting so it should come as no surprise that one best books I have read is about the legendary Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, this book digs deep to find out what drove this renowned coach on in his quest for fame and glory and the long road it took to get there. Lombardi’s journey to the top was never going to be easy, unlike a lot of modern day coaches who come in at the top, fail and leave the game forever with a huge pay off, not feeling the least bit guilty that they not have strained every sinew and muscle in their body trying to obtain success, Lombardi would turn in his grave at the thought of these men, wanabee coaches just in it for the money. Starting his coaching career on the bottom rung Lombardi worked as assistant coach at small catholic school in New Jersey.
It was a pivotal experience that would help shape his mind, giving him a set of morals and values that he would use at every oppotunity throughout the 20 years he toiled away within the high school environment. After spending time as assistant coach at the U.S Military academy at West Point, Lombardi eventually entered the pro game in 1954 with the New York Giants aged 41 under head coach Jim Lee Howell, working as offense coach, with the great Tom Landry acting as defence coach. By the time I got to this stage of the book in the I was pretty much in awe of Lombardi, his attention to detail was frightening and this is still a long way from Green Bay. Lombardi’s is not only driven to win matches he is also driven by his catholic faith and serves both beliefs with equal devotion, he leaves no stone unturned and his professionalism shines through at all times. By the time he becomes the Packers head coach in 1959 he is 46 years old working with a club at the basement of the NFL going nowhere quick, laying down the foundations and principles that had been indoctrinated in him at West Point by Earl “Red” Blaik, Lombardi tears though the Wisconsin outfit like a whirlwind converting a bunch of no hopers into a team that was to attain mythical status and setting the benchmark for every team in the modern game. The beauty of the book is that it not just about his successes, it deals with his family life which was not always perfect for the Italian/ American, it also looks at his mood swings and how constantly living under the microscope took its toll on his health, his tragically early death at the age 57 due to cancer robbed sport of arguably the greatest coach of any sport there has ever been. Maraniss’s is one the best books I have ever read and is a must for anyone, especially coaches at any level that are involved in in sport, once you open it you will never put down, because there has probably never been a coach quite like Vince Lombardi.
No 3: We Were Young and Carefree – By Laurent Fignon
They say that your life can change within a split second, in the case of Laurent Fignon his life changed in a matter of eight seconds. With the Tour de France on the horizon I thought I would discuss Laurent Fignon’s autobiography “We were Young and Carefree”, Fignon died in 2010 from cancer and despite winning over 80 titles throughout a sparkling career he is often best remembered as the cyclist that lost the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds to the American Greg Lemond. That defeat robbed Fignon the chance of joining an elite band of cyclists who have won the Tour de France three times, the book reveals the anguish and torment felt by Fignon in the aftermath of his defeat, a defeat which was in all probability something that he would never get over till his unfortunate early death. Born at Montmartre in 1960 Fignon was born into a family that was firmly working class, whose foundations were built on discipline and a strong work ethic. The family moved to the Paris suburb of Tournan-en-Brie when the bespectacled Fignon was three and it was here at the age of fifteen that he would develop his love of cycling. From the start Fignon found that a career in cycling was not going to be as straightforward as he had hoped, a fact that was highlighted by the lack of support given to him by his family during the early part his career but Fignon was a driven young man and once he joined the Renault cycling team, which was led by legendary Breton, Bernard Hinault, he got to see first-hand what was required if he was to make to the top. Laurent learned quickly and when Hinault was forced to miss the 1983 Tour de France due to injury, Fignon in only his second year as a professional, stepped into the breech and won his first Tour de France at the tender age of twenty-two. The following year would see Fignon at the peak of his powers, he repeated the feat of winning the Tour de France, but this time he would defeat a now fully fit Hinault in a comprehensive manner to retain his title, demonstrating that he was now at another level or so we thought. Fignon bragged that he might retire after winning five or six tours, but oh how those words would come back to haunt him over the next decade. Throughout the next two years his career would be virtually ruined through injury and it is testament to the man that he never gave up, despite being the end of some horrific injuries, back to back wins in Milan –San Remo in 88 and 89 gave him hope that he might be able once again to scale the previous heights he had achieved. The 1989 season was a great year for him, full of optimism he was nearly back to the form of 84, victory in the Giro de Italia gave him the confidence to really believe that he could win again in France and accomplish the much coveted double of being Giro and Tour champion. However we all know the way it turned out. Fignon was an arrogant, egotistical cyclist who lost the most epic Tour de France in modern times, you should feel sorry for him but I certainly don’t Fignon never made life easy for anyone, he fell out with sponsors, team mangers and team mates alike, he was also partial to the ladies, liked a drink and on occasion recreational drugs, for me Fignon was for me just a little bit too conceited for his own good, so you could say in many ways he got what he deserved, you may like me, not particularly warm to the guy but nonetheless you will find the book totally absorbing
El Macca: Four Years at Real Madrid – By Steve McManaman and Sarah Edworthy
To be honest, I could never really get away with Steve McManaman, the sight of him posing around in that white suit before the 1996 F A cup final only reaffirmed what I already thought, here was a player who had the potential to be up there with the best, but was more interested in living the fast life with the spice boys, which best describes what Liverpool Football Club had become at that particular time. Under the leadership of Roy Evans Liverpool quickly became bit of a joke, with me seeing McManaman as one of the ring leaders in their sad decline, seeing that Liverpool were going nowhere quick, he took advantage of the Bosman ruling leaving Liverpool in a £15 million deal that saw him sign for Real Madrid, where he was to spend four years, before returning home to play out his career rather disappointingly at Manchester City under Kevin Keegan. After reading this book about his time at Real Madrid I have had to revaluate my opinion on him, at Real Madrid there would be no theatrics, he was going to have to get his finger out and try. McManaman arrived in the Spanish capital eager to play but it was obvious from the start that it was not going to be easy holding down regular a first team place. The team struggled badly through the first half of the season, which resulted in the sacking of the manager John Toshack, he was replaced by Vicente Del Bosque, under whom McManaman’s form gradually improved. The turning point of McManaman first season would come with their victory over Manchester United in the quarter final of the Champions League which would see McManaman become a permanent fixture in the team. This unexpected turnaround in events would now see McManaman go on to help Madrid win the competition where they would beat the favourites Valencia 3-0 in the final in Paris, with McManaman scoring the second goal. Now feeling in safe environment McManaman looked forward to his second season with optimism, thinking that his place was assured and everything was on track, big mistake. Madrid being the gold fish bowl that is, unbelievably changing Presidents bringing in Florentino Perez to replace Lorenzo Sanz and thus ushered in the age of the galactico. McManamam’s vivid account of his second season where he descends to a bit part player is probably the best part of the book as he tries to keep his sanity as the club try to offload him to anyone that will have him. It is therefore a testament to his strength of character that he refuses to budge and stays put, hoping that he will somehow get back the side, it takes him best part of the season to get a start, but backed by his teammates he eventually re-establishes himself as a key part of the squad that goes on to win La Liga. I have to say that by the time McManaman discusses his third season I am not so interested in what he is doing, as much as I am interested what antics the lunatic Perez is going to do next. Despite winning further titles over the next two year, the chance build a dynasty disappears with the sacking of Del Bosque and the release of the Madrid captain Hierro. McManaman recounts this disgraceful treatment of both Del Bosque and Hierro and regards it as a mistake that Real Madrid have never really recovered from. Perez doesn’t really care about the team anymore he just wants to become a global brand, which sees the highly overrated Beckham arrive at Madrid, turning the club into the full blown circus that it is today. McManaman had four years at Real Madrid which involved a lot of highs and lows, he achieved trophies and honours beyond his wildest dreams, and he was loved by fans and players alike and was far more influential player at the club than brand Beckham ever was. I hugely enjoyed reading this book although I still see McManaman as an underachiever, but to have those four years at Madrid at that particular time must have the ride of a lifetime.
No 5: Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson – By Wil Haygood
Boxing fans of the frozen northerner’s generation will tell that Mohammed Ali is greatest fighter of all time, I would suggest that by time you finish this great book by Wil Haygood you will be thinking a little bit differently. This book explores Robinson’s tough early childhood in Detroit before his mother moved the family to Harlem in New York where, after running with some street gangs he would discover that he had a talent for boxing. Under the guidance of George Gainsford, he quickly developed into a very good amateur fighter, originally called Walker Smith he changed his name to Ray Robinson after a mix up at local event, stuck with Robinson name forever, he would have a fantastic unbeaten amateur career winning two golden gloves titles in 1939 and 40 before turning professional. It would turn out to be career unequalled in boxing and is the stuff that legends are made of, Robinson would fight over 200 times winning 173 bouts including a 91 fight winning streak from 1943 to 1951. One of the best chapters in the book discusses his six epic fights with Jake La Motta which ended in 1951 when Robinson demolished La Motta for last time in a fight known as The St Valentine’s Day Massacre. The incomparable Robinson was suave and sophisticated outside the ring but inside the ring he was a one man wrecking crew, the list of champions he beat is endless and include such luminaries as Galivan, Turpin, Olsen, Basilio, and Fullmer to name but a few. Turpin was probably the only man to beat him at his peak but he would pay a heavy price and would be on the end of a savage beating in their famous rematch at the fabled Polo Grounds in New York. In 1952 Robinson became increasing disenchanted with boxing and after sensationally losing to Joey Maxim, due to heat exhaustion, prompted Sugar Ray to try a career in show business as a song and dance man. But as the book explains America did not want see him on the stage they wanted to see him in the ring, showbuiness, ultimately proved disappointing, he was spending too much time on the road neglecting his enterprises. Robinson watched as his onetime lucrative Harlem businesses started to haemorrhage money and with his earning power dramatically falling he was left with no alternative but to return to ring to stave off his mounting debts. Retuning to ring after a two and a half absence, it took him a while to get back but unlike so many others that have made comebacks, the amazing Robinson would go on to regain the world middleweight title on a another three occasions. His career would last long and he ended up fighting on past his fortieth birthday before retiring in 1965. In terms of longevity no one has ever stayed at the top for as long as he did, therefore it was rather tragic that he ended up with very little money by the time of his death in 1989. But this is not just a book about boxing, this is a book about the most charismatic man ever to step in the ring, it is also about a man who ruled Harlem and made people proud to be black, because you have to remember he lived and fought in a time when black men and women suffered badly from social injustice that was rife at that time. Sugar Ray was no exception to this intolerance and despite his fame and fortune he knew that there were places that were strictly off limits to him because of the colour of his skin. This type of racism upset him greatly, but he knew he was a role model for the black community, a man that was one of their own who could be looked up to and admired, Sugar Ray Robinson the greatest boxer of all time.