It's said that there's a book inside everyone. Perhaps the reason there aren't a hundred million published every year is that transforming something from the drawing board to the page is a tenuous venture, especially in these financially straitened times. All credit to Jon Howe then for not only writing a book, but also for avoiding the obvious pitfalls of basing it on a his experiences en vacances in the Alsace, exploring the humorous situational qualities of restoring a fleet of Lada estates, or learning to play the bouzouki whilst whistling the theme tune to Juliet Bravo. Not for Jon the luxury of subject matter which is culled from happy reminiscence. Because he's written a book about Leeds United.
The 100 Greatest players of Leeds United to be more precise, as voted by the club's notoriously divided fans, a body which under most circumstances couldn't agree on the day's date, let alone come to a conclusion about who most deserves this kind of recognition. I'm happy to report however that the ballot papers are now in, the running order is confirmed, and All White is ready to fuel debate from Boston Spa to Beeston, and around the world.
As a lifelong and by extension frequently chastened United supporter, it's arguable he should know better. Permanently, it feels like, stymied by chronic mismanagement in the boardroom, what should in theory have been a straightforward ascent to football's top table has been repeatedly botched, meaning there have been few recent causes for enthusiasm given the book's subject matter. What's clear from the beginning however is that All White is a labour of love, one in which Jon, with able support from statistician Andrew Dalton, has made every effort not get sucked in to the club's divisive politics and remain impartial about those listed. This should be considered probably his most notable achievement; after all, where football clubs are concerned it's always true to say that everyone has their own heroes and villains.
Format wise, All White is relatively traditional, running down the players in reverse order from 100, and in the wrong hands, this approach could end up being a little more than a bloody long list of names and numbers. Where the book scores heavily is in the author's crafted profiles, especially in his use of insightful snippets delivered from a fan's point of view – like the way rugged defender Neil Aspin always seemed to be sporting some kind of bandage – that trade in sentiment better than raw career data, although you wonks get an appearances and goals summary to update your notebooks with. Spotters also get to match the author's knowledge of which badges each mo would've kissed.
With the subjects being dealt with as much objectivity as they deserve – even high profile bête noire Harry Kewell and Eric Cantona both get a fair hearing – the main source of interest will be who ends up in what position. Predictably the main characters are drawn from the club's halcyon period of virtuosity under Don Revie, although there's plenty of recognition for the talented squads which brought the title to Elland Road under Howard Wilkinson and David O' Leary's Champions League semi final team. It's the latter what will trigger the most pathos amongst club historians, as time and again the conclusion of their Leeds United career for such and such a talented player reads “Transferred – 2003/2004”. Even worse, the fee involved was usually a derisory one.
United under Bates have of course always been a selling club, regardless of his posture over profitability. The more recent entries reveal the strategic – as well as financial – bankruptcy of successive administrations, a lack of long term focus underlined by repeatedly cashing in on youthful talent – Fabian Delph, Aaron Lennon and James Milner, for example – and in the latest wilderness years Howson and Snodgrass. All are now at a higher level, but their mostly brief periods of ascent are eloquently detailed here, along with the stories of some of the post war old guard and of course the tragically departed and much admired Gary Speed. There's also a section at the end in which the likes of Ralph Ineson and Tim Bresnan get to name their favourite picks, although sadly Jon was unable to get hold of the guitarist from Roxette for his view.
All White succeeds whether other football books lapse into irrelevance on two counts. Firstly, it's not written by a journalist who seeks to put dry impartiality above considering a player's merits when judged from a fans' critical perspective. Neither though is it overly partisan. Secondly, it manages to transcend the obvious limitations of its format by combining the straight facts with anecdotes from the protagonists – a fine example being David Batty's take on Alan Smith's disciplinary problems – simultaneously avoiding pointless direct comparisons between individual players from different eras.
Trust me, Jon could've written a book of the hundred worst players to (dis)grace the hallowed turf in just the last five years, but for now Tony Capaldi et al will have to wait. In the meantime, this is a literate snapshot of those who when called upon, gave of their best for the white shirt.