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Survival Of The Fattest
Red Card Publishing 1998, £9.99
In case you hadn't noticed, Christmas is coming.

And, as deep winter kicks in, like as not you'll be in the market for something that can quell the frustration of postponed Saturday footie fixes more effectively than the Pools Panel saying we've won, right?

Question is, what to buy? After all, the UK book stores are chokka with footie fare these days.

Well, if you sport an anorak and hunger for details of teams, attendances, scores, scorers, zilcho opinion and then stats, stats, and more flippin' stats (plus the complete playing record of Wales versus Belgium), then look no further than the Rothmans Yearbook. And very good it is too, at what it does.

But what's that, you say?

You want something with attitude?

A footie book with balls that provides more of that rare essence we lovers of the round-ball game suck so eagerly and deeply into our lungs?

You want insights into what it was that made fans at other clubs behave and react in the same, illogical way towards their team as we did in respect of The 'Orns last term?

Sir/Madam: if you fit that description, then whip out ten of the Queen's pounds and snaffle a copy of the fourth edition of "Survival of the Fattest: an alternative review of the 1997/1998 season". As glimpsed through the eyes of the editors of England's major footie fanzines. (The printed variety, in this case.)

Essentially, "SotF" is the ideal bed-time or train-journey companion. No single fanzine entry is more than five or so pages long. This allows you to dip in and out of its revealing contents as you wish. Making it just the job for idle moments when the wife is hogging the telly downstairs, or for when there's a troupe of Russian circus acrobats loose on the tracks outside Harrow & Wealdstone as you travel, late, to the Vic.

As someone who's bought "SotF" since its inception, I always like to devour its contents in a tried-and-trusted order, much as I used to tuck into the Sunday roast at home.

First up, there's the meaty bit, in the form of the entry penned by Watford's very own "CLAP". Alas, to my eyes this tends to have too much of a "contractually obligated" ring to it and tastes a bit tough and flabby compared to some of the more exotic/quixotic fare on offer from this groaning football buffet of a paperback.

If you're anything like me, you'll then move on from this meaty serving of CLAP to the pick of the trimmings -- the entries penned by fans of the teams we played last year -- in order to sample the various Watford references.

This year, most of them taste mighty good. For instance, you can bask in the warm glow emitted by that rarest of species: the literate Bristol City fan! Like this unique animal, indulge yourself in momentary delusions that, on the wafer-thin evidence of our two league encounters last season, We Are Big Clubs In Waiting! (Mind you, Watford's current home attendances back in Div 1 would appear to dispel this fanciful notion...)

Once reality returns, however, it's time to turn your attention to that unwanted pile of overcooked cabbage on the edge of your plate ... and chuckle loudly as you ingest the ultra-downbeat entry from the sad git who edits "Mad As A H*tter". Not the best of seasons for you, was it matey? Ah, diddums! And how's that nice Mr Kohler's planning application coming along? Ha, ha, ha. It couldn't all be happening to a nicer club, or set of fans.

("SotF" might well develop one's sense of empathy with the fans of many other teams, up to and including even Man U, but there are limits.)

Speaking of L***n, don't miss the Colchester United entry for a spot-on description of what the car-crime rate is like around The Kennel for an evening fixture. (Here's a clue: the opposite of "incredibly small-scale to the point of virtual non-existence".)

After all that soggy South Beds cabbage, "SotF" can also serve up rather more serious footie food for thought in the form of views about life in the enchanted land of Premiership football. This, judging by the opinions of many a Premiership fanzine bod here, is anything but rosy. More like a fancy-looking bouquet of Interflora blooms, complete with razor-sharp thorns and hefty price tag. Exhibit A:

"... For '96-97, I paid 180 quid for my season ticket. Compared with 520 for '98-99. Disenfranchised? Feeling unwanted? You bet."

Could easily have been written by a Watford fan disgruntled about price rises at the Vic, couldn't it? Yet the author here is from the West Ham fanzine, "On The Terraces", complaining after his team had done away with concessionary rates for the likes of him and imposed a massive price hike on everyone else for good measure.

Indeed, this book will add extra zest and pith to the juicy debate - and one that'll get juicier the closer we get - about whether we as a club really want to be in the Premiership. And on what sort of terms. Premiership footie? Yes please, I say. But not if it means re-mortgaging the house.

And you can't help thinking, as you read the contributions from assorted fans in the different divisions, that the ones nearer the bottom of the pile seem to have more, well, F-U-N than their big brothers and sisters towards the top. Like a leathery slice of roast beef, that's something else to chew on at considerable length.

In short, then, if you buy just one general footie book this Crimbo, make sure it's "SotF". A volume written by real fans FOR real fans. One that portrays modern footie as it really is, warts and all. Not as Sky's glossy trailers would like us all to imagine it to be.

"Survival of the Fattest 4": easily worth the likely cost of one measly pay-per-view game on your satellite link. Stick one in your stocking! And tell yer mates!

(With apologies to all at BSaD Mansions for the abundance of "fleshy" references.)

Kevin Birdseye