Premier League to Prison
by Mark Ward
Football World, £17.99
Reviewed by Mark O'Brien
From WSC 271 September 2009
Mark Ward enjoyed a playing career that took in Northwich Victoria, Oldham Athletic, West Ham United, Manchester City, Everton and Birmingham City. He scored a goal in the Merseyside derby and was a key member of the Hammers side that finished third in the 1985-86 season, but what he will always be known for, and probably the only reason his autobiography was commissioned, is the fact that in 2005 he was arrested on drug charges and subsequently received an eight-year jail sentence.
From Right Wing to B Wing, written while behind bars, details how he was rejected by Everton as a kid, battled back to become an established Premier League player, but then struggled to cope with life after football and ended up so desperate for money that he agreed to rent a house on behalf of dealers who used the place as cocaine factory. In his words: “What a dickhead”. Whatever your thoughts on Ward and what he did – callers to Radio 5 Live absolutely tore into him – you cannot fault his book. He’s had a lot of time to work on it, and it shows. His candour is admirable, when he talks about football and prison life, and he bitches and moans far less than an awful lot of ex-cons, and indeed less than many ex-players.
He played for and alongside some of the game’s larger-than-life characters, and where many memoirs only hint at the sort of high-jinks and escapades that go on behind the scenes, Ward wades right in and describes with relish the gambling and drinking culture that was prevalent during his career, especially at clubs managed by one of his heroes, Howard Kendall.
He clearly loves Kendall’s no-nonsense approach to life, typified by how he tried to resolve a hitch in the deal that saw Ward move from West Ham to Manchester City in exchange for Ian Bishop and Trevor Morley. With Morley holding proceedings up by demanding that West Ham pay for his wife’s horse to be transported down to London, Kendall realised that Ward’s wife also owned one, stabled in Essex. “It’s simple,” he said. “Just swap horses.”
Ward adopted a similar style during his brief stint at management at Altrincham. When he took over, he wasn’t impressed by Leroy Chambers’ tattoo declaring “Only God will judge me”, and said: “I judged him after five minutes – and sent him on loan to Frickley Athletic.”
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Ward as a number of poor decisions and some bad luck see him gradually drift from football and into the wrong company. There’s a grim inevitability to his arrest, but Ward’s descriptions of prison life are just as illuminating and often as funny as his recollections of his time in football. And by the end of his story, which finishes just before his release, you can’t help but hope that he manages to get his life back on track.