This gripping tale of foul play on and off the pitch is a thrilling ride through the heady - and seedy - days of Manchester's 'Madchester' era.

The Dirty Players

The Dirty Players

Steeped in the colorful fashion and music of the city's clubland at the tail end of the 1980s, it is ostensibly about match-rigging among football players, but you won't need to be a fan of the beautiful game to get engrossed in the action.

The book is a bold, brash debut from journalist and former semi-professional football player Philip Fielding. It's not for the easily offended - sex, violence and expletives abound, but the book feels all the more realistic for it. Darkly witty and brimming with edgy northern humour, it captures the essence of the era in all its grime and glory.

The action takes place during Christmas week in Manchester, just as the materialistic 1980s are ending and the loved-up 90s are about to begin. It's a time of hi-top trainers, hi-vis T-shirts, house music and pill-popping clubbers packing out the Hacienda.

The book's protagonist, Callum Murphy, is something of an anti-hero - a talented footballer punching below his weight at Belle Vue football club, when he had expected to be playing for United and for his country. He attempts to balance his love of the game with his love of women, partying and turning a profit from his sub-Hacienda nightclub but is sucked into a world of match-fixing in a bid to avoid bankruptcy.

He meets his match in the alluring form of Victoria Heath - a ruthless reporter who will stop at virtually nothing to uncover a story. We first meet Victoria when she's posing as a prostitute and it's immediately clear this hotshot reporter isn't afraid to go the extra mile to get the headlines. When she receives a tip-off about a match-fixing ring, she's onto the story like a shot - but finds her journalistic scruples challenged by a strong attraction to the smooth-talking player.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, however, and when the footballer appears to give straight-talking Victoria the cold shoulder after a drug-fuelled night of romance, she's hell-bent on making him pay for his dirty dealings.

The book perfectly captures the seedily seductive vibe of Manchester during the club scene's hedonistic heyday. These were the days of brutal bouncers, protection rackets, gang violence and a dirty, dishevelled city that was a long way from the modern, slick, chrome-and-glass post-IRA bomb city as we see it today.

With its frequent references to Greater Manchester locales and landmarks, this book will have a particular appeal to those familiar with the city, and especially those who partied in Manchester during the legendary Madchester era.

This cracking romp will appeal to anybody who likes their books action-packed and unflinching. It's short enough to be devoured in one reading binge - an ideal beach or travel read - and the ending seems to leave scope for a second book.

An extra-time follow up would certainly be welcome - the characters of Callum and Victoria are engaging (and perhaps because of) their very obvious character flaws, and the book leaves readers hungry to find out what happens next.

It's also easy to imagine the book transferring well to film - think Lock, Stock with Mancunian accents - and Fielding definitely looks like a writer to watch. His journalistic background is evident in his depictions of cut-throat newsroom politics. He's also clearly versed in the resolutely non-PC banter of the football training grounds. A belting read from kick-off to final whistle.

The Dirty Players by Philip Fielding is available now, priced £7.99 in paperback and £4.99 in Kindle edition . Visit