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Original Issue

"The Glory Game" is soccer—and a new book finds the cost of glory comes high

Bald, lumpy-nosed Eddie Baily, assistant manager of the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, stands on the sidelines and screams at his players, and the better the player the louder the screams. "Bloody internationals," he cries. "Play for England but they won't play for us. GET MOVING! DON'T BLOODY STAND THERE!...Too much publicity. It's gone to his head."

Manager Bill Nicholson, a nonverbal old-timer with all the panache of a codfish fillet, is slightly more restrained. "...mostly his shouts were sudden blurted-out oaths of panic and fury, burying his face in his hands...." The team doctor, Brian Curtin, describes Nicholson: "People keep on saying he's dour and callous and brutal but he's not. Underneath he's a soft bastard...."

Common to all the Spurs—players and coaches and doctor and directors and supporters—is the terrible pressure of professional soccer, a game in which mistakes are hard to conceal and far more than money rides on every corner kick and tackle. Spurs captain Alan Mullery sees the tension in his quiet manager—"You just have to watch Bill before a match. His hands are shaking so much he can't hold a cup and saucer." A player is dropped, and he might as well jump from Lord Nelson's hat. "It was like getting stabbed when I lost my place," says Fullback Joe Kinnear. "You see the lads every day but you're not part of them anymore."

The club suffers from what once was called the New York Yankee Syndrome. The Spurs, one of England's finest teams, are expected to win every game, the players are programmed to play errorless ball and the coaches are pilloried if the club has the ruddy cheek to lose a match. Only perfection will do.

Author Hunter Davies, who spends six months of each year as an editor of the London Sunday Times and six months writing such disparate works as his biography of the Beatles and The Rise and Fall of Jake Sullivan, has rung the bell in The Glory Game (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, ¬£2.95). What a pity that the fluid sport called soccer is so alien to Americans, and the book will find small audience here. Davies spent a season with the Spurs, on the field, in the community bath after the match, in their homes and on the road. The result is a team biography that smacks in places of James Joyce's Ivy Day in the Committee Room and the best work of Arnold Bennett and Alan Sillitoe and Henri de Montherlant. Davies praises the Spurs and pities them—"They lead regimented lives, completely at the power of a manager who can ordain their every movement and trained by ex-players whose own playing lives were light-years away from the conditions of today." He could have titled the book The Misery Game. But he notes that every player came to the scaffold willingly and quotes Mullery: "I've had 13 good years. I've had all the good times.... I'd have been nobody but for football."

And there are tasty rewards. Martin Chivers, who has been reminded all season that he cost the Spurs a record ¬£190,000, wins a match almost on his own, ramming in two stunning goals. Now he clomps into the dressing room and finds Eddie Baily, insulter and abuser extraordinary, braying, "What can I say? I can't say nuffink, can I? You've knocked me out, Martin. I'm out for the count. I'm on the floor bleeding for a count of three and you're saying four, five, six, seven—OUT! Martin, what can I say?"

What can we say to this fine journalist, Hunter Davies? We can't say nuffink neither. He has knocked us out with one of the best sports books in years, and maybe the best book ever on soccer.