by John Wark
Know The Score, £18.99
Reviewed by Gavin Barber
From WSC 269 July 2009 

Buy this book


Sometimes it’s the little details that point towards the most interesting aspects of a book. One does not expect the acknowledgements page of John Wark’s autobiography to thank Warner Chappell for permission to reproduce the lyrics to Shirley Bassey’s I Am What I Am. But sure enough, all three verses of Warky’s favourite song are there in the final chapter: we learn that he frequently gives it a spin on the stereo when he gets back from the pub. The image of the legendary hardnut cutting a tipsy rug to this well-known gay anthem is an unexpected one.

It isn’t only Wark’s tastes in music that indicate a man of contradictions. Early in the book we learn the sad story of his alcoholic mother’s death at the age of 57, a tale told with genuine heartache. Later on, however, an entire chapter is devoted to Wark’s own drinking exploits and those of his team-mates. While Wark’s carousing isn’t presented with any sense of laddish pride (in fact he issues a direct apology for one particular bout of pre-match excess), the sheer scale of the indulgence is, to say the least, a rather odd juxtaposition with his family story.

To those who grew up watching Ipswich in the 1970s and 1980s, this is a man so familiar it almost comes as a surprise to discover things we didn’t already know about him. Some of the stories – like a young Wark being rushed to hospital having nearly garrotted himself on a washing line while playing football in the back yard – are endearingly self-deprecating. Others are more predictable: few would be surprised to learn that Ips­wich’s 1978 Cup final squad got rich selling their tickets, although the fact that Wark’s team-mate Clive Woods took a gun with him when delivering the tickets to the tout
probably didn’t get mentioned on that year’s Cup Final Grandstand.

The style is a bit rushed and rambling, like listening (appropriately enough perhaps) to a bar-room raconteur who’s got to get through all his anecdotes by closing time. One minute we’re learning about the corporal punishment dished out at Wark’s school; a few paragraphs later Bobby Robson is meeting him off the train at Ipswich station. There’s a remarkable story of playing success here – Wark was ostensibly the holding player in Ipswich’s Thijssen/Wark/Gates/Muhren diamond, and still managed to score 36 goals in the 1980-81 season. If it was told with a bit more patience then the book might come close to doing its subject justice but the sheer weight of words makes it a slog to pick out the gems – although Liverpool fans would be advised to persevere through the section on Wark’s Anfield career, for some eye-popping revelations about the club’s 1980s medical regime.

What comes through strongly is Wark’s unquestioning love for the game, from his wide-eyed excitement at his first childhood trip to Ibrox, right up to the present day: since retiring, Wark has clocked up over 200 Sunday league games. Like the man himself, the book may lack finesse but you can’t fault the enthusiasm.

Buy this book

Related articles

Running Man by John Arne Riise with Jens M Johansson
DeCoubertin Books, £20Reviewed by Dan DaviesFrom WSC 383, February 2019Buy the book In one of his final acts as Manchester United manager, José...
Pre-match rituals: from Kenny Dalglish trimming toenails to scotch at Old Trafford
Embed from Getty Images window.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'TGyl3dd8ShdQilqE2Bus8Q',...
How To Be A Footballer by Peter Crouch
Ebury Press, £20Reviewed by Huw RichardsFrom WSC 382, January 2019Buy the book Peter Crouch’s long career has been full of pleasant surprises,...

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday