The world's coolest bookstore doesn't serve frappuccino. It has no sofas and no poetry slams and no idea what title is currently on Oprah's toilet tank. Its proprietor was haunting bookstores long before Barnes knocked up Noble to father the superstore, and over the years he noticed that most shops hid the sports shelves in back, as if the volumes they supported were pornographic. "I thought there were a whole lot of punters not being served," recalls John Gaustad, using British slang for regular Joes. "I imagined a bookshop in which people who cared about sport could walk through the door and say, 'Ahh—this is the place to be.' "
This is the place to be: Sports-pages, on the booksellers' boulevard of Charing Cross Road in London. It's a dizzying sweetshop for sports fans—8,000 titles in 1,200 square feet, every shelf devoted to games. Last Saturday morning 20 people waited outside in advance of the shop's 9:30 opening, eager to get the only copy of Blueshirt Bulletin (a monthly newspaper devoted to New York Rangers hockey) or the Kronika Cesk�ho Fotbalu (the Czech soccer annual) or Mel Kiper Jr.'s NFL Draft Report 2000 (a single copy sat imperiously high on a shelf). "The first book I sold was on yoga," says Gaustad, 50, who opened Sportspages in 1985, "but the second book was a Rothman's Football Annual [a kind of Baseball Register for English soccer], which is what I more properly think of as a sports book. I was very, very excited."
Gaustad has been serving punters ever since. Rock stars, too. (Liam Gallagher, lead singer of Oasis, feeds his interest in the Manchester City soccer team.) Sportspages stocks more than 100 soccer fanzines, profane monthlies published by supporters of nearly every club in Britain. The zine devoted to Gillingham FC, for instance, is called Brian Moore's Head Looks Uncannily like London Planetarium. As Sportspages' depraved devotees are aware, the title comes from a song lyric by the British band Half Man Half Biscuit, and it refers, unflatteringly, to a bald English soccer commentator.
"My wife went to Harrods, and I came here," said Bill Swift, a 51-year-old tourist from Madison, Conn., while loitering in Sportspages last Friday. "I bought six books"—Swift opened his bag to reveal Christie's Football Memorabilia and A Pictorial History of Manchester United—"and I've left a list of six other books for them to order." When I asked him to repeat his surname, Swift said, "Swift, like Ed Swift, the writer for your magazine. He played hockey goalie at Princeton, didn't he?" (He did.)
If the store sounds like a sports version of the record shop in High Fidelity (the hit film, based on a novel by Nick Hornby, about pop-music freaks congregating in a store called Championship Vinyl), well, Hornby is a Sportspages regular. His first book, the soccer memoir Fever Pitch, won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, an annual prize (now worth �10,000) that Gaustad created to acknowledge sports literature as something other than an oxymoron.
A native of Wellington, New Zealand, Gaustad has lived in England since 1974 yet is hopelessly hung up on the Chicago Bulls. Martin Danes, a Cockney hired to handle the mail at Sportspages, is irredeemably hockey-addled. Hearing that I was from Minneapolis, he said, "Norm Green screwed you rotten! What do you think of the Wild's new logo?" Green is the villain who moved the North Stars to Dallas. The Wild is the St. Paul-based NHL expansion team that begins play next season. I was, to use a Britishism, gobsmacked.
But then American sports are remarkably popular at Sportspages, which stocks a slick Dallas Cowboys fanzine—published in England with the Pythonesque title of Barry Switzer Ate My Hamster! Gaustad's customers come from everywhere, and Sportspages has done more to unite disparate peoples than the United Nations. Perhaps the world would be a happier place if, in every bookstore, Swift meant Ed, not Jonathan.