Brian kicked law into touch to score as a top journalist

Brian Glanville, one of the greatest ever football writers, talks to Simon Yaffe

OUTSPOKEN Brian Glanville is not one to hold back his views.

He describes former Football Association chief Graham Kelly as a "wet fish", FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his predecessor Joćo Havelange as "horrible people" and labels Manchester City's recent shopping spree as "repugnant".

The 78-year-old is still passionate about football as he was as a precocious 19-year-old when he wrote the book Cliff Bastin Remembers with the Arsenal legend.

Arguably the doyen of football writers, he has been described by legendary American journalist Paul Zimmerman as "the greatest football writer of all time".

Brian told the Jewish Telegraph from his central London home: "My father, Joe, was a great Arsenal fan and that is where my obsession with Arsenal began.

"I switched off from Arsenal when I was around 22, because, of course, journalists are supposed to be neutral.

"I still have a soft spot for them. Although I have noticed in many press boxes these days that many of the press boys are big West Ham United fans."

Brought up in a secular home, his Dublin-born father - who Brian said was "very Jewish and very Irish" - had changed the family name from Goldberg to Glanville.

"My father was more religious than my mother, Florence," he recalled. "His Hebrew and Yiddish were good.

"I was barmitzvah, although somewhat reluctantly because I found it boring, oppressive and tedious.

"The learning of it took up my school holidays, which I really didn't like."

A pupil at the prestigious boarding school Charterhouse, Brian said he could have "walked into Oxford or Cambridge", as was the status quo for Charterhouse pupils.

But he didn't want to go to university, and, even though he had a natural flair for modern languages, he pursued a career in law in London with Oppenheimer, Nathan and Van Dyke.

But writing remained his passion and he got into freelance journalism, first ghost-writing the autobiography of Cliff Bastin at the age of 17.

"I got out of law when I was 18," he remembered.

"I suppose I started writing on Bastin as an act of piety - but it was a labour of love.

"At the time, many footballers were writing their autobiographies, so I wrote to Bastin."

The ex-Arsenal star agreed to have Brian ghost-write his memoirs.

Brian spent most days at the British Library, carrying out his research, before going to see Bastin.

He said: "His views were strange and the book was highly controversial.

"Bastin was a strange, enclosed man and there was no great exhortation in him at all.

"He was Arsenal's all-time leading goalscorer until Ian Wright overtook him."

Brian, having started writing as a freelance for the Press Association and Reuters, also wrote a novel, The Reluctant Dictator, in 1952.

But his biggest breakthrough career-wise was moving to Italy in 1952.

He recalled: "The continental experience was definitely a benefit.

"I had been rather depressed because I had contracted tuberculosis and had spent a few months in a convalescence home.

"I already had contacts in Italy because many of my stories had been translated into Italian for the newspaper Corriere Dello Sport."

Living in Rome and Florence, the mid-1950s were a boom time for English football managers in the Italian game.

Brian got to know many of them well, including the famed Jesse Carver, who enjoyed success at the likes of Juventus, Torino and Roma.

Ironically, his daughter Elizabeth has taught in Italy for the last 25 years.

Son Toby is a successful photographer, while other son Mark is a reformed football hooligan turned musician.

Returning to England, he joined The Times, covering various Olympic Games and writing his first book on the World Cup, with co-author Jerry Weinstein, in 1958.

His knowledge of the world game also led to Brian penning Soccer Around the Globe and The World Football Yearbook.

Brian also branched out of sports journalism, working as a writer on the satirical BBC programme That Was The Week That Was (where he wrote the song Bert the Inert about former FA boss Bert Mlilichip).

He also wrote the screenplay for the BAFTA-winning Goal!, the official film of the 1966 World Cup.

Brian has mixed with the great and good in the world of football, interviewing thousands of them.

But one of his proudest moments was meeting Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer at the 1974 World Cup.

'Der Kaiser' told Brian that his 1965 novel, The Rise of Gerry Logan, was the best book on football ever written.

But Brian is not one for platitudes and would much rather give his caustic opinion on various figures in the game.

He told me that the formation of the FA Premier League was a shocking idea.

"I call it the greed is good league," he said. "Graham Kelly, who was the top banana when the idea was muted, sold out. He was a wet fish, anyway.

"It is a very poor set up now, it is run by goons and it is depressing.

"There are the usual three teams that are likely to win it - Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal.

"There are far too many foreigners in the Premier League. Arsene Wenger said it doesn't bother him, but then he is not English.

"Money screams and what Manchester City are doing is repugnant. When Chelsea did it it was bad enough, but City are worse.

"There is a holiday in my heart when they lose.

"People complain that United and Liverpool have done the same thing, but there is no comparison. They built up their squads gradually."

An expert on the World Cup - he has been to 13 and has a certificate from FIFA to prove it - he is also scathing of world football's governing body.

Brian blasted: "The World Cup has become worse and worse over the years - it is bloated.

"Whatever Sepp Blatter thinks he knows is only secondary to the money he wants to make.

"Blatter has 50 new ideas a day and 51 of them are bad."

His The Story of the World Cup is frequently updated and it seems that Brian is glad that he didn't go to South Africa.

Brian, who wrote the 2007 book England Managers - The Toughest Job in Football, explained: "I spent a lot of time with England managers, people like Ron Greenwood.

"Those managers and players were admired, but England gave a very poor showing in 2010 partly because of tactics.

"Wayne Rooney was in appalling form - and he was supposed to win us the World Cup.

"And Fabio Capello never sorted out the dualism between Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

"The problem is - and it is one of many - that England have never liked showy, unorthodox players, people such as Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne."

As much as he admires Gascoigne, he claims that the Geordie maestro has the "attention span of a crippled flea".

Brian, who is married to Pamela, said: "I remember when he played for Lazio and a journalist asked him a question and he just belched into the microphone.

"It was hard to get inside his head. I interviewed him and he would say a few words, then dash across the room."

Still writing regularly for the likes of The Sunday Times and World Soccer magazine, Brian also laments the loss of intimacy which used to be prevalent among players and journalists.

He continued: "It is very depressing now - journalists tend to be shut out of things.

"I used to have a string of friends in the game who would come to my house and we had chat.

"I am not complaining, though, because I feel that I had the best of it. I wouldn't want to be a young football journalist now."

It may seem an endless tirade of gloomy comments, but Brian is simply being candid about the game he loves so much and the way it has headed.

"There will always be a future for newspapers, but it a bad time for football journalists and journalists generally - they are being laid off in droves," he countered.

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph