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Original Issue

The Last Word Brimming with books about all games, London's Sportspages is a polyglot mecca for fans

The world's coolest bookstore doesn't serve frappuccino. It has
no sofas and no poetry slams and no idea what title is currently
on Oprah's toilet tank. Its proprietor was haunting bookstores
long before Barnes knocked up Noble to father the superstore,
and over the years he noticed that most shops hid the sports
shelves in back, as if the volumes they supported were
pornographic. "I thought there were a whole lot of punters not
being served," recalls John Gaustad, using British slang for
regular Joes. "I imagined a bookshop in which people who cared
about sport could walk through the door and say, 'Ahh--this is
the place to be.'"

This is the place to be: Sportspages, on the booksellers'
boulevard of Charing Cross Road in London. It's a dizzying
sweetshop for sports fans--8,000 titles in 1,200 square feet,
every shelf devoted to games. Last Saturday morning 20 people
waited outside in advance of the shop's 9:30 opening, eager to
get the only copy of Blueshirt Bulletin (a monthly newspaper
devoted to New York Rangers hockey) or the Kronika Ceskeho
Fotbalu (the Czech soccer annual) or Mel Kiper Jr.'s NFL Draft
Report 2000 (a single copy sat imperiously high on a shelf).
"The first book I sold was on yoga," says Gaustad, 50, who
opened Sportspages in 1985, "but the second book was a Rothman's
Football Annual [a kind of Baseball Register for English
soccer], which is what I more properly think of as a sports
book. I was very, very excited."

Gaustad has been serving punters ever since. Rock stars, too.
(Liam Gallagher, lead singer of Oasis, feeds his interest in the
Manchester City soccer team.) Sportspages stocks more than 100
soccer fanzines, profane monthlies published by supporters of
nearly every club in Britain. The zine devoted to Gillingham FC,
for instance, is called Brian Moore's Head Looks Uncannily like
London Planetarium. As Sportspages' depraved devotees are aware,
the title comes from a song lyric by the British band Half Man
Half Biscuit, and it refers, unflatteringly, to a bald English
soccer commentator.

"My wife went to Harrods, and I came here," said Bill Swift, a
51-year-old tourist from Madison, Conn., while loitering in
Sportspages last Friday. "I bought six books"--Swift opened his
bag to reveal Christie's Football Memorabilia and A Pictorial
History of Manchester United--"and I've left a list of six other
books for them to order." When I asked him to repeat his
surname, Swift said, "Swift, like Ed Swift, the writer for your
magazine. He played hockey goalie at Princeton, didn't he?" (He

If the store sounds like a sports version of the record shop in
High Fidelity (the hit film, based on a novel by Nick Hornby,
about pop-music freaks congregating in a store called
Championship Vinyl), well, Hornby is a Sportspages regular. His
first book, the soccer memoir Fever Pitch, won the William Hill
Sports Book of the Year Award, an annual prize (now worth
10,000[pounds]) that Gaustad created to acknowledge sports
literature as something other than an oxymoron.

A native of Wellington, New Zealand, Gaustad has lived in
England since 1974 yet is hopelessly hung up on the Chicago
Bulls. Martin Danes, a Cockney hired to handle the mail at
Sportspages, is irredeemably hockey-addled. Hearing that I was
from Minneapolis, he said, "Norm Green screwed you rotten! What
do you think of the Wild's new logo?" Green is the villain who
moved the North Stars to Dallas. The Wild is the St. Paul- based
NHL expansion team that begins play next season. I was, to use a
Britishism, gobsmacked.

But then American sports are remarkably popular at Sportspages,
which stocks a slick Dallas Cowboys fanzine--published in
England with the Pythonesque title of Barry Switzer Ate My
Hamster! Gaustad's customers come from everywhere, and
Sportspages has done more to unite disparate peoples than the
United Nations. Perhaps the world would be a happier place if,
in every bookstore, Swift meant Ed, not Jonathan.