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Sports-Book Review

By David Snowdon, Jan 1 2018 02:29PM

High Expectation Levels Met by The Odd Man Out (2017)

The subtitle of Graham Denton’s fine sporting exploration is The Fascinating Story of Ron Saunders’ Reign at Aston Villa but, as comprehensive as it is, the narrative encompasses so much more than a one-club, one-man portrait. The book provides an intriguing read for anyone interested in 1970s/80s football, or sports-history generally. It is also a satisfyingly substantial length, allowing the reader to savour the detail as they progress through an odyssey of what is indeed a ‘fascinating’ course of events and period in football history.

The depth of research undertaken is evident throughout with episodes and names undoubtedly drawing nods of appreciative recognition from engrossed readers, as well as flashes of enlightenment or surprise at previously unknown or forgotten nuggets of information being revealed or revisited. Memories proffered by former players, backroom staff, and journalists are predominantly insightful, enhancing the narrative and, whilst some snippets of their recollections and opinions appear laced with traces of ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ (or selective memory), Denton does not wallow in unrealistic legend-building as he offers a balanced perspective that underscores shortcomings and failure as well as the inspirational leadership and glory days. The conflicting and fluctuating nature of the central protagonist is effectively conveyed; superlatives are tempered with brickbats. The author also avoids getting bogged down in excessively prolonged discussion of a football club’s internal power struggles; the issue is addressed but not laboured to the extent of displacing the primary focus.

Perhaps the finished product would have benefited from the inclusion of a greater array of archive photographs, and several errors will be remedied in the reprint. However, these are relatively minor quibbles as, crucially, the fluent writing style combines with the topic’s rich fund of material to supply an entertaining and accessible tale. This sturdy platform is complemented by the well-researched facts, compensating for the paucity of exciting images, to transport the reader back in time.

Ultimately, Denton delivers a high-quality study packed with interest, and oozing class. The Odd Man Out embraces an extensive range of characters and clubs, containing appeal for a wide readership, and the book deserves to be a contender for some of the more prestigious forthcoming sports-writing awards. During his managerial career, Ron Saunders had a fondness for applying pugilistic analogies, and it might be apt to observe that this book is a ‘heavyweight’ in the field of sporting literature.

David Snowdon (author of award-winning Writing the Prizefight)

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