Football: Action-Filled Countdown to Germany 2006 Starts Here; the England Compendium by Clive Batty [Vision Sports Publishing]' 78 - How a Nation Lost the World Cup by Graham McColl [Headline]' England's Last Glory by David Miller [Pavilion Books]' This Time by Harry Harris [John Blake Publishing] Book Reviews

Article excerpt

Byline: John Blake

With the domestic football season careering to a predictably hectic finale, most fans may find themselves increasingly diverted from our 'up-and-at-'em' style of play as they catch tantalising glimpses of this summer's probable World Cup stars.

Think Ronaldinho the other night in the Champions League clash against AC Milan and start your countdown to Germany 2006.

Given football's incredible global popularity, publishers are understandably keen to ensure their World Cup titles are on the shelves as near to the end of the domestic season as possible, thus providing supporters with enough background, history, facts and figures to satisfy the most avid 'statto'. Fans who can absorb it all will make John Motson sound under-prepared.

Not as though everything on offer is a compilation of statistics, although trivia features prominently among a clutch of titles.

The genre's liveliest example is Clive Batty's The England Compilation, a book which opens with the less than modest claim of being "the greatest England football trivia book ever." However, Batty has included too many recycled quotes and provides the briefest reviews of England's performances at World Cups since 1950, but his book does contain several gems. In particular, his 'Overcapped' and 'Under-capped' XI's should provide plenty of material for subjective conversation.

Immediately prior to the 1978 World Cup, one Scottish international player said of his manager, "Ally McLeod believes tactics are a new kind of peppermint," a comment always likely to raise a wry smile. In truth, McLeod was a much better coach than he was given credit for, yet he made the mistake of persuading a nation that they had a genuine chance of winning the trophy. …