As a confirmed bibliophile one of my hobbies is buying and selling antique and collectible books and I like nothing more than truffling among the dusty shelves of a second hand bookshop or charity shop in the hope of unearthing some literary gem. It was while I was engaged in this activity a few months back that I chanced upon a 1966 first edition copy of Bobby Moore’s ‘My Soccer Story’. My heart skipped a beat as I excitedly checked the title page for our hero’s elusive signature. Sadly the page was unmarked but as I handed over my pound coin I knew that I’d found myself a bargain. Back at home I examined my treasure more carefully and apart from a missing dust jacket, it proved to be in mint condition. Although I had no intention of selling it on I was gratified to discover that in today’s market a first edition copy of Bobby’s words in this condition was worth in the region of £45. A 4400% profit! Not bad for a couple of hours of pottering but ironically still not enough to buy a cheap seat for a Category A match at Upton Park today.
Since then Bobby’s autobiography has been nestling in my bookcase in the claret and blue company of Billy Bonds, Geoff Hurst, John Lyall, Harry Redknapp, Tony Cottee and Paolo Di Canio; but I have a confession to make …. I haven’t read it. Last year I also bought Billy Bonds’ autobiography ‘Bonzo’ but about two chapters in my head began to nod, not because I wasn’t interested in the details of Billy’s life and career but because the writing style was so …well … boring. A quick flick through Sir Bobby’s book unfortunately revealed that his writing style was only marginally less ponderous and so there it languishes, in the relegation zone of my ever growing ‘to read’ pile.
As an amateur writer myself I realise that I’m in danger of scoring an own goal here, but it’s clear that just because a footballer is good enough for the Premiership it doesn’t mean that his skills are necessarily transferable to penmanship. Surely there must be some footballers whose writing is as fluid as their dribbling? I decided to find out …..
Albert Camus, is perhaps the most famous literary footballer, with his quote “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football” gracing T-shirts on terraces across the land. However, it seems that the story about him playing in goal for Algeria’s national team in the 1930s or the suggestion that he even played professionally might be apocryphal. What is certain is that he loved the game and played in goal for Racing Universitaire d’Alger until tuberculosis sadly put paid to his footballing career when he was 18. The same applies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who served his time between the sticks for amateur side Portsmouth Association FC in the late 1800s.
For some reason, there appears to have been a disproportionate number of goalie writers. Like writing, goalkeeping is a solitary business and perhaps that is why so many writers who played football chose the loneliness of the green shirt.
Vladimir Nabokov, the author of the controversial novel ‘Lolita’, was an ardent keeper in his youth, and in his autobiographical memoir ‘Speak, Memory’ he wrote: "I was less the keeper of a soccer goal than the keeper of a secret.” Another amateur keeper was Argentinian revolutionary and writer Che Guevara, who penned ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’. His ambitions to play as a forward were thwarted by asthma but kicking his heels in the goal mouth probably gave him the time to come up with lines like this “It is not just a simple game. It is a weapon of the revolution.” Even James Joyce was goalkeeper for a small team in rural Inniskeen, albeit as a Gaelic Footballer rather than in the Association game.
In more recent times, but less auspiciously, we have David Icke who had a youth career at Coventry City and made 37 professional appearances as a goalkeeper for Hereford United, which he said “suited the loner in him and gave him a sense of living on the edge between hero and villain.” Since retiring from professional football Icke has attracted ridicule for his thesis about giant lizards living in caverns at the centre of the earth. Sadly, it was intended to be non-fiction. So far he has written 16 books, mostly about the Illuminati, 9/11 and so-called mass mind manipulation.
For notable authors outside of the goalie’s area we must look to Barry Hines, the author of the classic ‘A Kestrel for A Knave’, perhaps better known as the Ken Loach film ‘Kes’. Mr Hines was skilled with both the pen and the ball and he played football for the England Grammar School team and, briefly, for his beloved Barnsley FC.
Then we come to the professional footballers whose literary aspirations ended up in the bargain bin, as much for being badly written as for being too much about football. While still playing for QPR Terry Venables once co-wrote a book called ‘They Used To Play On Grass’, the blurb of which reads: “In this story, manager John Gallagher is rocked by a fresh threat to his dream, three days before one of the biggest matches in soccer history.” Sounds about as thrilling as some of the football we witnessed at West Ham last year.
Possibly the most interesting thing about the novel ‘The Ball Game’ is the cover; which features a naked lady with one foot on a football, brandishing a submachine gun and nothing but a strategically draped ‘Miss America’ sash to preserve her modesty. Co-written by Jimmy Greaves in the 1980s, it follows the adventures of “cockney striker Jackie Groves” who clearly had some rather unusual defending to deal with before he could score against that particular lady. Centre Backs with machine guns ….. now there’s a novel idea.
As unlikely as it may seem, Steve Bruce also wrote a trilogy of football books while managing Huddersfield Town. Entitled ‘Defender!’, ‘Striker!’ and ‘Sweeper!’. The protagonist is none other than ‘Steve Barnes’, manager of the fictional ‘Leddersfield Town’. Where did he get his ideas? Unfortunately, the books were awash with grammatical errors, inconsistent character names, bizarre plots and terrible prose and Bruce himself has described them as "the biggest load of crap ever written.” How refreshing, a football manager who recognises his own shortcomings.
A few professional footballers have made the foray into children’s literature, including Frank Lampard, Theo Walcott and David Beckham. Beckham’s contribution to the English literary canon is ‘Charlie Barker and the Secret of the Deep Dark Woods’, which seems to have been published with very little fanfare. Maybe he needs to find himself a publisher who takes a more aggressive approach to publicity.
Frank Lampard has also got in on the act and has written a series of children’s books called Frankie’s Magic Football. The books follow the adventures of a school boy called Frankie, his football-loving friends, and his pet dog Max. Frank has said “the characters are loosely based on friends and team-mates I’ve played with over the years.” I’m betting Wayne Bridge has kept Frankie Sandford well away from the ‘The Mummy’s Menace’ since she gave birth last year.
Frank’s books have been very well received and I’m sure that he’s as pleased with them as Arsenal’s Theo Walcott was with his children’s book, ‘TJ and the Hat-Trick’, which he declared to be his favourite book when asked in a survey.
A few footballers have put pen to paper outside the genre of literature to write cookery books and travel guides; including Francesco Totti who has written his own tourists’ guide entitled ‘E Mo Te Spiego Roma’/’Let’s Talk About Rome’. His effort to educate his foreign teammates about the beauty of the Eternal City through his own eyes is said to be full of irony and humour and might be worth a read in preparation for the day that we finally make it into Europe. Mind you, looking at the cover it might be prudent to ask for a plain paper wrapping … unless of course that’s your usual type of ‘Totti’.
Apparently Pepe Mel has written a mystery novel called ‘The Liar’ which has been reviewed as ‘Lovejoy’ meets ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and is the tale of an antiques dealer who clashes with The Vatican in his quest to retrieve stolen religious manuscripts. He’s not the only football manager to pen a mystery; you only have to look at Big Sam’s team sheets every week to find another. Maybe this will be the season that he’ll finally write us a thriller and West Ham will perversely start to move down the ‘best seller’ list.
So it would seem that while some writers can play football, most footballers should probably stick to the lines on a pitch rather than the lines on a page and leave the writing to the professionals.
Speaking of which, without wishing to step on Iain Dale’s and Jeff Powell’s toes, Manchester based Hammers may be interested to know that the National Football Museum are hosting the Manchester Football Writing Festival in association with Waterstones between 4th – 12th September; which includes an event on 9th September called Bobby Moore – The Man In Full to launch Matt Dickinson’s much anticipated biography of our very own hero. Matt will read from his book and take questions from the audience about Bobby Moore, his life and career. Matt Dickinson is Chief Football Correspondent for The Times. He won Young Sports Writer of the Year (1993) and Sports Journalist of the Year (2000). He is most famous for conducting the interview with England Manager Glenn Hoddle which led to the latter’s resignation.