My Life on Football's B-Roads
by Chris Hargreaves
The Friday Project, £8.99
Reviewed by Piers Pennington
From WSC 299 January 2012
If you were told that a footballer called Hargreaves had written an autobiography you might not be surprised, although Chris is probably not the first name that would spring to mind. Despite the unpromising title, arising from a tenuous connection between the author having played for a lot of clubs and having long hair, it proves to be a thoroughly enjoyable and – in an immediate, haphazard, unpolished kind of way – well-written account of what life as a lower-League professional footballer is really like.
Hargreaves pulls no punches (this seems to be literally true during his days of youthful excess at Grimsby), and is not afraid to make clear who he has liked or fallen out with during his career. I won't spoil it by naming names, but Martin Allen and Kevin Wilson will probably enjoy the book more than Alan Buckley and Jim Smith.
There is no sign of a ghostwriter at work. Hargreaves's idea of having a thread running through the narrative, where he describes the year of writing alongside his reminiscences, is a device that works well. It means that while we are hearing about the drinking, fighting, practical joking, laddish behaviour of his playing days we simultaneously learn about a man approaching 40, who is short of money, worried about his young family, his increasingly stressed wife and whether he has failed to fulfil his potential by never quite making it to the top level.
Strangely, it reminds me more than anything of Spike Milligan's war memoirs in the way it brings alive the tensions and manic behaviour of groups of young(ish) men thrown together to fight for a common cause. The football is almost incidental, though we are given accounts of crucial games, particularly ones where Chris scores, gets hurt or has a serious exchange of views with a manager or team-mate. Like Spike, Chris comes across as hyperactive, sensitive, occasionally arrogant, often paranoid, sentimental, stubborn, generous, impulsive and equally maddening and invigorating to be around.
We get vivid glimpses of eccentric characters, such as the team's coach driver with no sense of direction and a relaxed attitude to securing the doors of his vehicle, the team-mate with a cleanliness obsession and the wife who, at presentation nights and celebrations, "always gets absolutely and completely blind drunk". Mrs Hargreaves clearly didn't get a preview of the final draft.
At one point Chris rather endearingly inserts an apology to the reader, suddenly convinced that the book isn't any good. Well, it could probably have done with a bit more editing – I was genuinely surprised to learn that Chris was short for Christian, less so to be told that Wolves are really called Wolverhampton Wanderers. And Chris, you had two spells playing for Oxford United so you must know just how unforgivable it is to call them Oxford City. But these are minor quibbles. Unlike most books of its kind, this is never dull and fans of at least ten teams will find plenty of intriguing inside information.