Public indifference to the bland, self-serving autobiographies of Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and company has been a heartening feature of sports publishing this year, though never let it be said that the stellar talents present a sani-tised version of their lives.
Consider this revelation from Wayne Rooney's My Story So Far. (HarperSport, [pound]17.99) In secondary school, the boy wonder began suspecting he was of Irish descent. "I came home and said to my dad, 'Are we Irish?' 'How do I know?' he replied."
Rooney's material is interesting enough yet is rendered dull by the safe, conventional format. But imagine the story was turned into fiction. The Japan-based, Huddersfield-born David Peace did exactly that with Brian Clough's 44 days as Leeds United manager in The Damned Utd (Faber, [pound]12.99), the most compelling football book of 2006.
The treatment is novel in more ways than one. Peace weaves together two narratives, one dealing with Clough's rise and fall at Derby, while the other is his ill-starred reign as successor at Elland Road to Don Revie, whose achievements Clough had denounced as tainted.
Shakespearian in its scale, ambition, depth and elements of tragedy, farce and betrayal, the book depicts Clough as all bravado, ruthlessness and certainty on the outside. Inside, there is sadness, paranoia and loneliness, compounded in Peace's skilful straddling of the line between fact and imagination by Peter Taylor's refusal to join him at Leeds.
To call The Damned Utd meticulously researched may sound like criticism to literary ears. Be assured historical accuracy does not impede a more important sense of authenticity, that which makes Clough's voice, hectoring and helpless, ring in the reader's ears.
Two distinct stories threaded into an absorbing whole is also the format for the thought-provoking Best and Edwards: Football, Fame and Oblivion by Gordon Burn (Faber, [pound]16.99). The book investigates how two players, whose greatness was truncated by drink and death respectively, could each epitomise Bobby Charlton's description of Manchester United as "more a breed than a team" yet be so different in their personalities.
The football world into which Clough and the doomed United burst is brilliantly captured in The Best of Charles Buchan's Football Monthly (English Heritage, [pound]16.99). Edited by Simon Inglis, it starts with an essay analysing the history and appeal of the must- read magazine after its 1951 launch.
Inglis then lets the journalism speak for itself, reproducing pages with headlines that sound oddly contemporary, "We …