BOOKS

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Angels with Dirty Faces (by Jonathan Wilson)

If really want to gain greater understanding of the complexities that is Argentine football, then you have to read Angels with Dirty Faces by Jonathan Wilson. Bearing the name of the 1938 classic gangster movie gives this book an interesting title to describe the complicated path that football has taken over the years in Argentina. British sailors brought the game to Argentina and Wilson has lovely researched the history and philosophy of the Argentinian game by delving into the psyche of a nation obsessed by a game that does not always portray them in a positive light.

Argentina should have been an economic powerhouse, but political corruption and military coups have hampered the progress of a country that lacks any real economic vision. The short-sightedness of various governments has frequently left the country in a financial mess with hardship not only been felt not among the masses on the street, but, also by the drain of nations best players to the rich fertile pastures of European soccer.

In my opinion Argentinians have always seen themselves as being superior footballers to anyone in the world, never mind South America. This arrogance may be well justified as it has seen them win more Copa America’s than anyone else in the southern hemisphere, added to this they are also the most successful country in the Copa Libertadores (South America’s version of the European Cup). But the problem is that no matter how well they play or do, nobody loves them in the way everyone loves Brazil and it is literally killing them.

Wilson rightly points out that nearly every generation of Argentine football tends to throw up a genius of a player, someone like Adolfo Pedernera, Alfredo di Stefano, Omar Sivori, Ricardo Bochini, Diego Maradona, Juan Riquelme and of course Lionel Messi, players who fans see as the epitome of pibe  (the Argentine fantasy of the kid or street urchin who uses his creative skill and ability to claw his way to the top) but for all of the imagination and creativity that these players brought to the game  there is a much darker side to their game.

The book brilliantly analyses the violent system of anti-fubol, which was fashioned and used in the late 1960’s possibly first by Racing Club of Buenos Aires in their notorious victory over Celtic in the world club championship and then honed and exploited more ruthlessly by the infamous Estudiantes De La Plata. Argentine football would enter its darkest period, a chapter in their history that they have never really shaken off, under the guidance of Osvaldo Zubeldia, Estudiantes adopted a win at all costs approach, devising the most cynical style the game has probably ever seen. The players bought into the outlook and carefully manipulated on the park by Zubeldia,s number 1 assassin, the mocking and derisive Carlos Bilardo, they set about their task to conquer the world. No opportunity was too low for Bilardo to stoop to which, would see him and his team-mates produce some of the outrageous antics football has ever seen, producing a cynicism that would see them do anything in their power to expose a flaw in the opposition.

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The Murderous Bilardo

I could argue that the game in Argentina may have recovered if it were not for the arrival of Menotti, the charismatic left wing activist known as El Flaco (the slim one). Menotti who had spent time in Brazil befriending Pele, would return the Argentine game to flair and imagination based on an attacking philosophy. Endlessly seen standing on the touchline smoking cigarette after cigarette, Menotti would deliver the 1978 World Cup an achievement that cannot be underestimated given the political backdrop in which was played.

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The Great Menotti (with the inevitable cigarette)

The events that have taken place since that epic victory are just as fascinating; you have the arrival of Maradona and Messi the return of Bilardo, plus the coaching methods of Bielsa.

Add to this more political corruption and the never ending rounds of spiralling inflation that has held back economic growth back, you would think the average Argentine would be in a state of despair given their plight, they are not because they have the one thing that binds them together and that is their love of football. Jonathan Wilson’s book is pure theatre, read it and open your mind.

 

 

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BOOKS

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The Footballer Who Could Fly

If you are around about the same age as The Frozen Northerner (who is rather worryingly approaching 63) and are slightly interested in football then you have to read “The Footballer Who Could Fly” by Duncan Hamilton. This book has been put together rather affectionately by Hamilton who had a troubled relationship with his father, a relationship so fractured that they only really connect when discussing and watching sport and in particular football.

The reason I like the book so much is that I can easily identify with where Hamilton is coming from, like Hamilton I was also brought up in pit village and a bit like him, to say that the connection I had with my father was strained would be a major understatement. Like Hamilton, The Frozen Northerner and his father rarely spoke during his formative years, it wasn’t a problem it was just typical of the time we lived in. Very much like the author who saw football as a release, I lived for football, my father saw this as good way to overcome my shyness which gave me a slightly nervous disposition (although it didn’t stop him attempting to ban me from playing when my school work suffered badly).

All of the chapters in the book are spellbinding but perhaps the best one is where Hamilton the son listens to his father talk about Jackie Milburn. Like Hamilton’s dad my father revered J.E.T Milburn and to hear him talk of the illustrious “Wor Jackie” was like listening to man talking about a person that was no mere mortal, a man so great you would thought that he had come down from Mount Olympus transforming himself from to god to human, bringing his mythical presence to that cathedral of soccer St James Park with a humbleness and modesty that made you love him even more.

Being brought up in impoverished pit village you can see why Hamilton and his father see football as an escape from the drudgery of everyday life, the challenges faced by the younger Hamilton are there for all to see, his outlook was grim highlighted by an interview with a careers advisor who rather haughtily dismisses his plea to be journalist by telling him that should forget that newspaper nonsense and set his sights on getting a proper job meaning go down the pits or get a job in factory.

The stories in the book are wide and vivid and being of that certain age I could identify with all of them, those god like figures such as Shankly, Clough, Baxter, Charlton to name but a few, are all there, men that were touched by greatness, some would live happily ever after, some would find only tragedy awaiting them. We live in a different world now and relationships between fathers and sons have hopefully improved, but I suspect Hamilton very much like myself would kill to see the likes of Baxter and Charlton roamng majestically around the parks of hallowed turf, entertaining the vast galleries that had come to pay homage to their sublime talent. But this book and transport yourself back to a time when the word legendary meant something because that’s what these men were legends.

BOOKS

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The Italian Gentleman

One of the gifts I received over the Christmas was a book entitled The Italian Gentleman by Hugo Jacomet. Wei Koh, founder and editorial director of the noted men’s style magazine The Rake describes Monsieur Jacomet as an arbiter of style which in layman’s terms means that he is a bit of an authority on the subject he talks about, which in this case is clothes.

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Hugo Jacomet

Publisher of the very brilliant style blog The Parisian Gentleman, Monsieur Jacomet works tirelessly in the pursuit of improving the sartorial elegance of the male gender. Why  I like him so much, is that he is very good providing sound advice on how to build a smart wardrobe without displaying a know it all attitude, unlike a lot of style gurus to tend  be a bit pompous and full of their own self-important.

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The Italian Gentleman took Monsieur Jacomet over took three years to complete and is his second book, following on from his first offering, the rather aptly titled the Parisian Gentleman. If you are buying The Italian Gentleman in the hope that you are going to find a page upon page of global brands such as Armani, Dolce  and Gabbana, Gucci, etc, then you going to be sorely disappointed.

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A Careceni

It’s not that Monsieur Jacomet disapproves of these companies that are recognised the world over; it is just that he is just more interested in exposing the reader to the smaller, often family run businesses. He is well aware that these artisan craftsmen and women are disappearing and he is doing his damnedest to make sure that these establishments are kept alive by becoming better known

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The book covers everything from the mills of Vitale Barberis Canonico and Ermenegildo Zenga, all the way down to ties by E Marinella and umbrella makers such Francesco Maglia and Mario Talarico. In between he champions a raft of tailoring establishments such A Caraceni in Milan before heading further south to Naples to reveal such enterprises as Ambrosi, Napoli, Sartoria Formosa and Sartoria Sabino to name but three. All of the sections are brilliantly researched and highly informative, but I have to honest, the section on shoes blows the rest of the book away, reading this chapter I was positively salivating at shoemakers such as Enzo Bonafe, Paolo Scafora and Bontoni.

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Enzo Bonafe

Monsieur Jacomet leaves no stone unturned in quest in his pursuit of excellence and even if you are only slightly interested in clothes you should read this book. You will not believe how many ideas you will get,  on how to find ways and means on becoming better dressed . It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is something in here for everyone, so please buy the book.

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Francesco Maglia

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BOOKS

Anquetil Alone by Paul Fournel

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.

BOOKS

Pete Mckenna

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.

CLOTHES / BOOKS

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Essential Bedtime Reading

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.

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The very beautiful Southwick Oxford Cloth Button-down Shirt – courtesy of J Simons

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.com  have 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.

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Graham Marsh

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.

BOOKS #2

No. 2: When Pride Still Mattered – A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss

 

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The greatest coach of all time?

 

“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.

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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.

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