FOOTBALL: History That's Bound in Joy; Festival Gold --Forty Years of Cheltenham Racing by Stewart Peters, Tempus Publishing, Pounds 25

Article excerpt

Byline: Barry Kinghorn

The Cheltenham Festival; my three favourite days of the year --and not just because one of them is often St Patrick's Day and another is often my birthday.

The Festival is a coming together of all that is best in National Hunt racing and, therefore, of all that is best in racing in general. The best horses, the best races, the best atmosphere, the best course, the best surroundings, the best stories.

Never mind that it attracts so many people these days that you can't get a bet on, can't get a drink in and may not see a horse on anything other than a big television screen, the middle three days of the second full week in March are as good as it gets.

Stewart Peters' entertaining history of the last 40 years of the festival (why only 40? Surely Mr Peters' next project should be a history of the first 61) will keep jump racing fans entertained for hours this Christmas.

Every horse, trainer or jockey who ever made their mark is mentioned; the story of the great championship races is told and the winner of every Festival race since 1963 is detailed.

I enjoyed reading again the exploits of the great names of my racing youth, like Lanzarote, L'Escargot, The Dikler, Pendil and Crisp --the latter the first horse on whom I ever lost money when he was beaten by Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National; two years before, he won the TwoMile (now the Queen Mother) Champion Chase under Paul Kelleway.

Then, there are the greats of racing history; the epic battles of Arkle and Mill House, the triumphs of three-time Champion Hurdler Persian War, the great jockeys --Terry Biddlecombe, Pat Taaffe, Bob (B R) Davies, Stan Mellor . . . I was close to drowning in the rush of nostalgia, aided by the splendid work of Bernard Parkin, Cheltenham's official photographer since 1972.

And I shall sit down with a glass or two of something Irish on Christmas afternoon and read the whole thing again. Wonderful.

Martin Warrillow World Cup 2003 --The Official Account of England's World Cup TriumphBy Team England Rugby, Orion, pounds 16.99You've got to hand it to Team England. A mere nine days after lifting the ultimate prize in the world of rugby union, the inside story of the ascent to glory hits the bookshops.

Someone, somewhere had a great deal of confidence in the organisation. Not for them the nervous 80 or so minutes of the man outside the ground with his bundles of T-shirts bearing countries' names and branding them grand slam champions before a ball has been kicked.

This book was sitting waiting for the blanks to be filled in before the 2003 World Cup had even begun --the determination and confidence which has characterised the years under Clive Woodward's guidance was such that there was never any question the story would not miss the chance to be told in time for Christmas.

Of course, it helped that the juggernauts were nailed-on favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy . . . one can't imagine the presses in Edinburgh were sitting with a man's finger hovering over the 'on' button (it pains me to write).

It'll shift bucketloads. And with good reason. Every aspect of England's triumph is pored over in great detail, with ample space given for the players to express their feelings and hopes as the tournament progresses.

Ian Stafford, brought on board to help knock the reams of player quotes into shape and meld them with match detail has done a fine job, although there are only so many times a match can be described as 'massive' or 'huge' before the currency of such words becomes meaningless.

This is a book to be bought by all those who never had the chance to collect all the supplements which kept the Sunday newspapers busy for six weeks --more than likely including the many thousands of fans who made the trip Down Under to follow their heroes.

Pin-sharp photography augments the efforts which should illuminate the players' observations and match detail, although the somewhat scattgergun approach to quotations lifted out of the copy not only looks messy, it provides us with such gems as 'I felt a bit like a rabid dog in quarantine' (Martyn Wood), 'This is just like Fame Academy . …