The Autobiography of Ian Holloway
Green Umbrella, £16.99
Reviewed by Matt Nation
From WSC 250 December 2007
Although Ian Holloway himself admits to being “not a particularly nice kid”, it doesn’t appear to have stopped his eye for a wrong ’un extending into adult life. After Ollie is dropped as a low-paid teenager at Bristol Rovers, Mike Channon attempts to console him by first by offering him £1,000 and then snatching it away at the last second. Three lines later, however, Channon is described as a “fantastic bloke”. Both Bobby Gould’s and Dave Bassett’s man-management skills are (once again) shown to be about as sensitive as a nipple wrench in the bogs, yet Ollie “likes” and “respects” his former gaffers. Only with Wally Downes does Ollie eschew praise with faint damnation in favour of a full-on, and fully deserved, kicking after the former Wimbledon man cracked wise about the new boy’s wife’s chemotherapy.
Ollie’s tactical prowess is also of the “smack to the collarbone with the edge of a ruler” school of subtlety, best highlighted by his admiration of Gary Penrice’s “genius” at making Jason Roberts the player he is today, although the alleged gift consisted of little more than the former repeatedly calling the latter a “fucking tosser”. And the decision to sign Paul Furlong at QPR appears to have been influenced by the order in which Mrs Holloway dealt a deck of tarot cards. Should Ollie ever be installed as England coach, we can look forward to players being picked on the strength of their cribbage skills or their ability to tolerate being called a “CU Next Tuesday” (one of the many irritating jocularisms that pop up throughout the book).
At the beginning, the reader is told that if they’ve not cried or laughed by the end, “then I’ve not done my job”. If so, then Ollie’s on his second written warning at least. A description of Alan McDonald’s backside and an anecdote involving a cow’s clitoris and his future mother-in-law provoke a grunt of mirth, but the other funnies are merely oft-heard “Ollieisms” that aren’t so much rehashed as, to paraphrase the man himself, “just took off the stove and slapped down on the dinner table. Have some of that!” The most moving, and best written, bits involve his wife’s illness, his father’s death and his daughters’ deafness, passages where Ollie’s undeniable devotion to his family shines off the page.
Although he insists he isn’t a simple country boy, Ollie’s tendency to big up his provincial background – you half-expect the picture section to show him perched atop a muckspreader with a banjo and a red necktie, asking where that blackbird be to – grates very quickly, so much so that you end up reading sentences out loud in a Bristolian accent just to try to make them more bearable. Maybe somebody should have told him that a slightly unusual voice and the syntax of Stanley Unwin with hiccups might go down well on the telly, but they don’t necessarily work on paper.