Football's history remains largely untouched by the marketeers – but Francis Benali and Matthew Le Tissier are determined to do something about that. Taylor Parkes goes online in search of Jimmy Case's knee joints
TrueGreats.com is a website started by Matthew Le Tissier and Francis Benali (the two chums are pictured in charming my-elbow-on-your-shoulder male-bonding pose on the home page), to provide an online community for retired footballers. “We both realised that, although there are many club and fan-based websites for football, there is nothing for those who’ve retired from the game,” they explain. Rather than what first occurred to me – build the world’s most enormous golf course – they’ve opted to set up in cyberspace instead.
The idea is reasonable: on Friends Reunited, you pay £5 to find out that the kid you used to flick modge-balls at now earns 90k a year; at TrueGreats you pay £5 to hear Trevor Steven discuss DIY, or Jimmy Case talk about not being able to bend his knees. Though there doesn’t seem to be any way to communicate with players, even for other players. Whatever the photographic evidence of gleaming pates in tuxedos toasting TrueGreats at functions, the sense of interactivity with cortisone-screwed favourites is minimal. Not having £5, I was unable to access “premium services” such as the chatroom – perhaps every night Mike Duxbury, Mickey Droy and Pelé are in there until 4am?
Should you cough up, you will also be allowed to post on the sparsely populated message boards, but the content is as predictable as nightfall. Is there too much money in football nowadays? Should referees have access to video evidence (this one under the slightly cosmic thread title “3rd Eye Imminent”)? Is the new offside rule too complicated for you to understand? The same arguments circling TalkSport, 6.06 and You’re On Sky Sports, except with “you” spelt “u” and no capitals (or the whole thing in capitals). “i think to be fairer,” suggests one poster, “each club should have a similarly equal chance of being on tv, including all the nationwide clubs. well, not every one of them, there’s a lot…” There’s also a section where members can relate their anecdotes of meeting players, although most of the entries seem to involve unexpected rendezvous with either Le Tissier or Benali. (“So who do I see at the airport but Matt Le Tiss – my intention was then to ask him for a photo as I had my camera, but my wife then decided she needed the toilet.”)
But most fans’ curiosity will be satisfied by what’s there for free: each ex-pro signed up lets us know what he’s up to (John Aldridge: “I’ve opened a trendy bar/club in Liverpool called The Place. Meals in the bistro during the day. Strict dress code in the evenings. Plenty of famous faces.”) and fills in a short questionnaire, like the ones they used to have in Shoot! Strangest request from a fan? (Mike Newell: “Mail from Africa asking for boots and kit.” Everybody else: “Signing a breast.”) Which modern player do you compare to? (Mark Bowen: “Roberto Carlos.”) Nicknames team-mates gave you? (Gordon Strachan: “Touché Turtle.”) Quirky pre-match rituals? (Barry Venison: “If I was feeling a little lethargic, I’d jump in my Porsche and go screaming down some very tight lanes. It sure was exhilarating.”) What do you miss most about being a player? (Phil Thompson, alarmingly: “The crack.”) And yes, everyone, in answer to the question, “Have your years of playing football affected your body physically?” (as opposed to affecting it any other way?), says, basically: “Yes, I’ve got terrible arthritis” – apart from Stuart Pearce, who replies innocently: “I’m a bit stiffer in the mornings.”
It is still a bit empty and cold in there at the moment and more than a little depressing in parts – not least on account of how few ex-professional footballers can spell their former team-mates’ names – and yet we should probably hope that TrueGreats.com continues to grow. Perhaps we may one day require the services of Juan Sebastian Veron & Sons, master plumbers (“Give me three quarters of a million and I’ll be back in eight months”), or find ourselves stuck for a no-trainers nightspot in Salford and remember hearing that the steaks are good at Ruud van Nistelrooy’s new place, The Nosebag.
From WSC 206 April 2004. What was happening this month