314 BobbyCampbellThey don't make them like him any more
by Paul Firth
Bantamspast, £12
Reviewed by Jason McKeown
From WSC 314 April 2013

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It's long been a mystery to me how people of a certain age will lament the behaviour of modern day footballers and then, within the same breath, romanticise the bad lads of decades earlier. The story of Bobby Campbell, Bradford City's all-time leading scorer in two spells between 1979 and 1986, features tales of drinking sessions, fighting and police run-ins that would prompt moralistic howls of derision were he playing today. Yet the book's tagline – "They don't make them like him any more" – invites us to consider that football is worse off today for the absence of someone whose off-field antics have become as much a part of Valley Parade folklore as his 131 Bantams goals.

Still there is an almost apologetic tone to some of the stories of punch-ups with bouncers and drinking in the dressing room before matches, with biographer Paul Firth focusing more on Campbell's many admirable qualities. Any footballer who recovers from a broken leg at 19, plays for nine different clubs across three continents and makes the Northern Ireland 1982 World Cup squad after a season in Division Four has quite a story to tell.

The book is a combination of Firth's narration and the views of Campbell himself, which are interwoven throughout. At times the switching back and forth into the subject's direct quotes feels awkward but the striker's blunt statements add a valuable layer of understanding into how his career unfolded. Campbell is brutally honest about the sectarian troubles he experienced growing up in Belfast ("I had a few friends who were assassinated, one just for courting a Catholic girl") and why his career, which started promisingly at Aston Villa, at one stage drifted into the relative obscurity of playing part-time in Australia.

Campbell's two spells at Bradford City, his heyday, take in two promotions, the club almost going bankrupt (he had to be sold to Derby to raise money) and the tragic Valley Parade fire of 1985. You get a sense that, although Campbell had something of a hardman reputation, he deeply cared about team-mates, supporters and the club. The book's most memorable moments are provided by interviewees who played alongside Campbell. They praise both his playing ability and caring nature, such as when he raced off a team bus that had crashed into a car to try to save the lives of two children: "It's typical of the person, going in and not being afraid of anything," former team-mate Stuart McCall says.

Following the Bradford fire, a City supporter tells of Campbell's regular hospital visits to various supporters' bedsides, as he and many others recovered. Despite a decent final spell at Wigan, Campbell was apparently fed up with football when he retired at the age of 32. Nonetheless, his biographer does an excellent job conveying the lasting legacy of this unlikely hero.

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314 OutsiderA History of the Goalkeeper
by Jonathan Wilson
Orion Books, £20
Reviewed by Jonathan O'Brien
From WSC 314 April 2013

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Of all the "name" football writers on the merry-go-round today, Jonathan Wilson is arguably the best value, even if a few of his many theories and pet obsessions tend towards the overly self-indulgent. He's a busy man, too – running the quarterly Blizzard while producing columns for the Guardian and Sports Illustrated and roughly one book per year. The Outsider is his sixth tome since 2006, the kind of workrate that sees a lot of writers spread themselves too thinly. But Wilson's prodigious energy doesn't seem to dilute the quality of what he comes up with and this meticulous study of the goalkeeping art is characterised by the attention to detail that he brings to everything he writes.

Starting with a study of football in the 1800s, he demonstrates how the mere fact of being a goalkeeper has always carried with it the smell of the scapegoat. In Victorian times the position was occupied by small boys, "duffers" and "funk-sticks" (milksops who had failed to perform elsewhere on the pitch). As the years went on and the sport evolved at snail's pace, deaths were commonplace for keepers – Celtic's John Thomson, accidentally kicked in the head during a match in 1931, being an infamous example.

Wilson has put in plenty of air miles, heading for locales as far-flung as Brazil and Russia. The latter country, which once produced great keepers by the lorryload, has nursed a special obsession with the position since before the 1917 revolution (an assertion backed up with quotes from none other than novelist Vladimir Nabokov). Brazil, contrariwise, has had mostly white keepers due to some strange socio-racial issues – the odd exception such as Dida not withstanding. Although, as Wilson shows, English football has nurtured a similar instinctive distrust of black keepers.

African keepers, specifically, sit even lower down the food chain of perception. Two of the best, Cameroon's Thomas N'Kono and Joseph-Antoine Bell, enjoyed a (mostly) friendly 20-year rivalry after learning from Yugoslavian legend Vladimir Beara. N'Kono was the natural, Bell the hard worker. N'Kono shone at the 1982 World Cup, got a move to Spain out of it and became an Espanyol hero. Bell had to wait until the disastrous USA 94 campaign to play in the finals, by which time he was 39 and too far over the hill to do himself justice.

Wilson's fondness for idiosyncratic structuring sometimes weakens the book's sense of direction. The Brazilian chapter abruptly veers into Scotland for several pages, then heads back to Brazil. Not that the material therein isn't interesting or informative – the passages concerning the appalling bad luck that plagued Jim Leighton's long career are particularly vivid – but layering the material in such an odd way seems unnecessarily perverse.

In the main The Outsider is a terrific history of its subject. It wears its knowledgeable perspective lightly and deftly works its vast research into the text without battering you over the head with it. Wilson can always be relied upon to come up with something a little bit different and a little bit special, and this has plenty of both.

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310 HenryLonely at the top: 
A biography
by Philippe Auclair
Macmillan, £17.99
Reviewed by David Stubbs
From WSC 310 December 2012

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"I don't recognise myself in the players I see today," George Best said in his very last interview, conducted, as it happens, with Philippe Auclair himself. "There's only one who excites me, and that is Thierry Henry. He's not just a great footballer, he's a showman, an entertainer."

Henry, however, is not exactly in the Best tradition. He has both more and less about him than the ultimately ruined Manchester United superstar. Henry's sheer quantity, as well as quality, of achievements at both league and international level dwarf Best's but for all that he hasn't quite blazed in the firmament in the same way. A lifelong teetotaller, he yields little or nothing in the way of a volatile private life, while his personality ranges from affable to aloof. For all those va-va-voom ads, he is simply not as scintillating a character off the field as he was on it in his prime. Maybe that's why there has only been one full-length study of the player published in the UK – Oliver Derbyshire's Thierry Henry: The amazing life of the greatest footballer on earth – a book as abysmal as its title, almost Piers Morganesque in the low it sets in Arsenal-related discourse.

Auclair admits not being drawn to Henry the way he was to Eric Cantona, his pre-
vious subject in the acclaimed The Man Who Would Be King. However, Lonely At The Top is probably about as shrewd and in-depth a profile as we're likely to get of Henry, who seems to have been moulded by the drive of his father, a highly influential figure in his life until he made a botched attempt to effect a transfer for his son to Real Madrid. The book tracks his development from a speedy but slight youngster reluctant to track back to the machine of panache he was at Arsenal. Auclair adds his own flourish with allusions to the likes of Philip Larkin and Gustave Flaubert which will raise the blood temperature of the compiler of Pseuds Corner but otherwise will only distract the most determinedly Philistine reader.

Auclair poses questions he's not always able to answer, such as why Henry never seemed to get along with Zinedine Zidane and truly fulfil his potential at international level, or why Arsène Wenger is so beset at times with tactical ineptitude despite his success at Arsenal. Viewing matters from a French perspective, he regards Henry's fateful handball against the Republic of Ireland as an unfortunate crowning moment in his career given the probably unfair antipathy it triggered against him, though Arsenal fans in particular would hardly see this as quite so defining of the player.

The access he has had, some forbidden to UK journalists, does yield insightful, incidental nuggets along the way: into the character of Emmanuel Petit, for instance, profoundly affected by a personal tragedy; Patrick Vieira's excessively informative quote that the cheers of the Highbury throng gave him "a hard on"; as well as the partying habits of the French squad in the 2002 World Cup. This occasionally gives the impression that, fine and thoughtful as Lonely At The Top is, its author would secretly prefer to be writing about somebody or something else.

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309 Southallby Neville Southall
De Coubertin Books, £18.99
Reviewed by Mark O'Brien
From WSC 309 November 2012

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The standard format for modern sports biographies is to start on the cusp of the subject's defining moment – the race, the fight, the match of their life – and then flash back to their childhood to tell the story of their rise to the top. Neville Southall, record-breaking goalkeeper for Everton and Wales, kicks off his autobiography on a football pitch but instead of a glorious match at Goodison, Wembley or Cardiff Arms Park it's the present day and he is being called a "fucking fat knobhead" by one of the troubled youngsters he now works with.

It quickly becomes clear that Southall has done everything slightly differently to other sportsmen. He states early on that he wants to show people that there is more to his personality than just the grumpy caricature that he became in many eyes and he succeeds up to a point.

From his beginnings in Llandudno through to the glittering heights at Everton, where he became the club's most decorated player, then on a tour of English football's less glamorous outposts when he ended his career as a wandering pair of gloves for hire, Southall talks constantly of a single-minded, overwhelming desire to improve as a keeper. After a while it's hard not to wonder whether this obsession, especially with training, is born of a deep-seated lack of confidence.

Like Henry Skrimshander, the fictional baseball star in Chad Harbach's The Art Of Fielding, Southall only ever seems at home in a sporting environment, one where social interaction is reduced to piss-taking and the rules are very simple: play, train, improve and play again.

He still seems quite guarded and loath to criticise too many of his former colleagues, apart from Everton's disastrous management duo of Mike Walker and Dave Williams, but still he has a dry sense of humour and tells plenty of funny anecdotes, especially about the misadventures of the Welsh national team which appears to have been run like Dad's Army.

Even when describing the rather melancholy end to his 751-game Everton career Southall manages to see the funny side. Told that Howard Kendall wants to speak to him ahead of a game at Elland Road he goes to the manager's hotel room.

"'You do know I love you,' he said when I came in.  He looked awful, like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. To be honest, this wasn't what I wanted to hear. Howard Kendall stood in his dressing gown with his bollocks hanging out telling you he loves you is not a good sight."

Another of football's less conventional characters, Pat Nevin, is spot on when he describes Southall as the classic eccentric with a complex personality. As a result The Binman Chronicles is a more interesting read than the average footballer's life story.

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309 SecretFootballerLifting the lid on the beautiful game
Guardian Books, £12.99
Reviewed by Taylor Parkes
From WSC 309 November 2012

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Who is the Secret Footballer? Does anybody really, truly give a toss? When the weekly column first appeared in the Guardian, offering insights into the life of an especially bright and articulate player, it was hard not to speculate on who exactly was writing this stuff but that was pretty much a side-issue. Lately, thanks to the magic of the internet, this dull masquerade has become the greater part of the point. A dedicated website examines the "clues"; hours of televised football are trawled for clips corresponding to events from the column, which are uploaded solemnly to YouTube. On the Guardian site you can watch a promotional video where someone in a hoodie sits with their back to the camera while a voice intones "Who am I? I'm the secret footballer..." Surely this is the point at which any reasonable human being rolls their eyes and ceases to care?

Maybe not. Football's own Bruce Wayne has a best-selling book out now and for what it is, it's actually not bad at all. There's very little here – about pressure, decadence, the culture of the dressing room – which you wouldn't have been able to guess, but it's fairly well written and rarely boring and sometimes genuinely funny. There's even a proper ending: past the unlikely quotes from Proust and Pink Floyd (and the many jabs at Robbie Savage) is an unsettling final chapter in which TSF discusses his depression, and claims to be overeating and drinking deliberately in an effort to finish his career: "I don't want to go back. Don't make me go back." It's all very convincing, particularly as letting go of the reins like this can be a side-effect of the antidepressants he's taking (a fact of which he seems blissfully unaware).

The trouble is, it's hard to trust a man with a brown paper bag on his head. You feel like you're being messed with somehow, even if you're not. Is this really a footballer, you wonder, or a journalist writing up insider stories collected from contacts and colleagues? He has to keep his identity secret to avoid being "ostracised", he says – but so much detail is given away about overseas trips, Christmas parties and various incidents on the pitch that anyone who knew this bloke would recognise him instantly from skim-reading a couple of chapters. Then again, there does seem to be an awful lot of evidence pointing at one player in particular...

There you go. Before you even know it, you've fallen into a trap. But so has The Secret Footballer – all this infantile, hucksterish hoo-ha detracts greatly from the content of a book which will be widely read and enjoyed but will, I'd have thought, be used as a kind of riddle, a puzzle without a prize. Whoever The Secret Footballer might be, he/she/it deserves better than that.

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309 RedCardSex, booze and sendings off: The life of Britain's wildest footballer
by Roy McDonough with Bernie Friend
Vision Sports, £12.99
Reviewed by Tom Lines
From WSC 309 November 2012

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The football hard man is still a familiar figure, even if he is receding increasingly quickly into the game's recent past. Popular culture tends to remember those who played at the highest level, where violent tackles and unsavoury moustaches were brought to a national television audience. For every Graeme Souness or Tommy Smith there were less well-known contemporaries in the the lower leagues. One such player was Roy McDonough, who accumulated a British record 22 early baths.

Apparently assembled from a bin of spare "Soccer's Hard Men" tropes (the mullet and tache, the drinking and womanising, the failed marriage, the distant father he's desperate to impress) McDonough is such an unrelenting stereotype that the obligatory career photos have presumably been included to reassure readers that they are not the victims of an elaborate spoof. Driven by limitless quantities of self-belief and an almost psychotic relish for physical confrontation, McDonough played just two first-team games during unhappy spells as a centre-forward at Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Chelsea. At the age of 22 he claims to have made a conscious decision to cruise through lower-league football as a way of funding his fondness for nightclubs.

A man who once promised a horrified physio that he would cut down to "just" 70 pints a week should be heading for a spectacular fall but it is the tragic suicide of Colchester team-mate John Lyons that, briefly, throws the boozing and one-night stands into stark relief. Alcohol permeates almost every page of this book but alcoholism is mentioned only once – when McDonough categorically rejects it as a description of his own drinking.

He is more honest in recounting the football side of his career, with team-mates, opponents, referees, supporters, managers and boardroom "suits" all subjected to withering assessments. There's also a refreshing lack of dressing room omerta. It's doubtful that Mark Kinsella will thank him for revealing a teenage fling with his landlady, though McDonough stops short of naming the team-mate who goaded Ian Holloway on the pitch by insulting his cancer-stricken wife.

He's generous to those he respects too, without ever allowing it to affect his behaviour during a game. He idolises Southend boss Bobby Moore and when the manager gets wind of an unsettled score with Newport County's Tony Pulis he pleads with McDonough not to let the team down. He is duly sent off after just seven minutes following a self-confessed attempt to decapitate the future Stoke manager.

Ghostwriter Bernie Friend has a great eye for period detail (there has surely never been a more evocatively named central-defensive partnership than Peterborough's Neil Firm and Trevor Slack) and there are hilarious insights into some of the more eccentric characters of the era: Exeter boss Jim Iley's fondness for games of hide and seek during training, for instance. In describing McDonough's nocturnal activities the book occasionally slips into the kind of graphic detail that wouldn't be out of place on the top shelf of a backstreet 1980s newsagent but this is still a fascinating voyage through a career described as "a violent trawl through the rough seas of the lower divisions".

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308 SahaReflections on life as a Premier League footballer
by Louis Saha
Vision Sports, £14.99
Reviewed by Simon Hart
From WSC 308 October 2012

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It was in the wake of the darkest hour of his life in football, when injury robbed him of the chance to play in the 2008 Champions League final, that Louis Saha began writing down the thoughts filling his troubled mind. Saha wept in his wife's arms in the Luzhniki Stadium that night and would soon leave Manchester United for Everton, yet his writing became a crutch and eventually led to a book that is quite unlike your usual footballer's offering.

"Eclectic" is how Saha describes his approach in the preface to Thinking Inside The Box, in which he combines memoir with musings on a range of football-related topics: media, money, racism, fans, music. And eclectic is a fitting word for a book that does not list medals won or goals scored but instead references Sir Trevor McDonald, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Leveson Inquiry, quotes Sean Penn, questions the French education system, praises the Bakewell tart, and cites statistics about CCTV cameras and anorexia sufferers.

It starts with Saha's wry observation that his name means health in Arabic. "Me: plagued by injury," he notes. It is certainly ironic that a player who acquired a reputation as injury-prone, even work-shy, should provide two poignant passages on the pain of missing matches. As well as the 2008 Champions League final, when his asthma meant he could not take the painkilling injection administered to Nemanja Vidic, he recalls his nausea after the booking that ruled him out of the 2006 World Cup final, adding lyrically: "My throbbing head was trapped in the referee's pocket."

Saha, with his evident love of the "paradise" of English football, denudes any notions about himself "not caring". He does the same for the one-dimensional image of the footballer, writing with empathy about team-mates yet acknowledging their weaknesses. Wayne Rooney is capable of smashing a mobile phone in anger on the team bus yet also of answering every question in a quiz. Nicolas Anelka, a contemporary at the Clairefontaine national academy, had "tenacity, tinged with a touch of madness". There is even understanding for young players who use prostitutes rather than risk kiss-and-tells.

The book's French title, Du Quartier Aux Etoiles – "From the streets to the stars" is a rough translation – evokes his journey from a poor district of Paris under the guiding hand of his disciplinarian father, an immigrant from Guadeloupe, but while retelling his rise Saha provides a broader scope by including the thoughts of old team-mates like Patrice Evra, Thierry Henry, Zinédine Zidane and Phil Neville, and his manager at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson.

Translated from French, the book has an idiosyncratic style – "bro" and "lol" crop up a lot while a chapter on money introduces an imagined "Mam'zelle Starfucker" and "Mr Bling". Saha's approach to money betrays an ambivalence – he lists his expensive cars yet worries his children are spoiled. Meanwhile, he gives his wife Aurélie a chapter to offer a WAG's perspective, laments the demise of traditional values and yet declares that total honesty is the wrong approach with a woman "because what you say goes in one ear and comes out through her mouth, with added ammo".

This ambivalence is a virtue of a book that asks questions while seeking no easy answers. It is not something you heard every week at Goodison Park, but full marks to Saha for trying.

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307 Fash The biography
by Jim Read
DB Publishing, £14.99
Reviewed by Al Needham
From WSC 307 September 2012

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By all accounts, and even by the standards of the pre-AIDS gay subculture of the early 1980s, Nottingham's La Chic: Part Two was a hell of a club. According to an article in Notts magazine LeftLion: "On a typical night, you might find Su Pollard whooping it up to the latest American imports, while a regal Noelle Gordon wafted around, flanked by stage-door johnnies. You could even avail yourself of the services of a resident chaplain, after you'd made use of the pitch-black sex room."

The most shocking aspect of the club, however, was that for over two years, it was patronised by one of the country's best-known young footballers – and it never crossed anyone's mind to tell the newspapers about it.

Justin Fashanu's life would have been a seething melange of contradiction even if he'd had the sexual tastes of George Best. Fashanu was a black child raised in a staunchly white community, a born-again Christian (converted in a Nottingham car showroom) in a country that saw that sort of thing as a bit American and odd, and a teetotaller at a workplace where everyone from the boss down went out and got battered. So discovering that he actually preferred other men to the fiancée he'd brought up from Norwich reads like just another contradiction to add to the pile.

As this meticulously researched book spells out, Fashanu was (and is) impossible to pigeonhole. For starters, like his brother, he wasn't afraid to put himself about, and there's a great story of him confronting a group of National Front supporters in a pub and breaking the jaw of one of them.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a stoic sexual-equality pioneer, he wasn't your man, displaying an arrogant sense of entitlement that put noses severely out of joint, making up affairs with Julie Goodyear and Tory MP Steven Milligan, and using his sexuality to cash in whenever possible.

Crucially, the author could have laid on accusations of institutionalised homophobia with a trowel, but – while making it clear that things are much better now than then – he also points out that the majority of Fashanu's peers didn't give a toss who he was shagging, as long as he was playing well. The book also gets as near to the truth of the circumstances surrounding Fashanu's rape charge in the United States and subsequent suicide in London as readers are ever likely to get.

After you've read this extraordinary story – and you should – you can't help wondering what a 20-year-old Justin Fashanu would be like today. He wouldn't be the only non-boozer or born-again Christian in the dressing room, he'd be allowed to be as petulant as he liked, and a Twitter feed, invitations to celebrity game shows and Hello and OK sniffing round his house would sate his need for publicity.

But you can't shake the feeling that there would still be an agent in his ear putting a monetary value on keeping his mouth shut and his trousers on, and a forest of arms brandishing iPhones greeting him outside NG1, Nottingham's barn-sized gay club. We like to think that, as a society, we're ready for the next openly gay footballer, but this book spells out exactly why we've been waiting so long since the last one.

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306 Tommy Boyle The story of a football legend
by Mike Smith
Grosvenor House, £11.99
Reviewed by Alan Tomlinson
From WSC 306 August 2012

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Until 2004, when Arsenal's "Invincibles" went unbeaten through a full Premier League season, Burnley held the record for the longest undefeated run in a single season of England's top tier. This small-town Lancashire club avoided defeat for 30 successive League games, going on to take their first championship in 1921. At the heart of this achievement was a gritty, combative Yorkshire-born midfield dynamo of Irish Catholic parentage, Tommy Boyle.

Mike Smith's compellingly related and minutely researched biography of Boyle makes some of Burnley's championship-winning heroes of 1960 look like pampered softies alongside this tough player, who dominated Burnley's fortunes either side of the Great War. Boyle was a mere 5ft 7in but dominated the teams he led with a physical and psychological presence that willed his team-mates to victory. He cajoled, bullied and consistently inspired the players at Burnley, and before that at Barnsley, to the highest levels of competitive performance.

Boyle worked as a miner from the ages of 12 to 20, before signing professional terms for Barnsley. He took them to an FA Cup final against Newcastle, before a move to Burnley, who he led to Cup and League success. He was wounded in service in France, called back into action, then resumed the captaincy at Burnley, where eight of the 1914 Cup-winning team reunited for the 1920-21 triumph. For a time, Boyle had it all: the adulation of the "lasses" of the Lancashire mill-town (one of whom he married), money way beyond the reach of working men, the status of the local hero, acceptance and patronage of the local elite.

But the peak of 1921 was achieved in a climate of post-war industrial decline, and as his ageing body became less able to cope with the wear and tear of the top-flight game, his world fell apart. Fiery and brief spells as a trainer at Wrexham and then in Berlin were followed by the collapse of his marriage (after the tragic loss of an only child), unemployment and drink-fuelled aggression and violence. Boyle was committed to the local asylum under the new Mental Health Act of 1930, where he died after almost eight years of incarceration, aged 53.

This is a tragic story told well and with much revealing detail. Smith draws on an impressive range of sources in conveying this connection between the life of a community and the decline of one of its local heroes. The attribution of thoughts and reflections to Boyle is not always convincing, and some parts of the narrative are, as Smith concedes in a disclaimer, based on anecdote and the author's imagination.

It is a long read, with match reports and lists of names that can jar the narrative flow. But Smith is to be congratulated for bringing alive a figure so typical of the fluctuating fortunes of early professional footballers, for whom the problems of adjustment after the glories of playing days so often proved insurmountable. Boyle's story is no mere historical curiosity; reading this haunting tale, I was repeatedly reminded of Paul Gascoigne's life after the magic was gone.

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306 Black Flash The Albert Johanneson story
by Paul Harrison
Vertical, £15.99
Reviewed by Ashley Clark
From WSC 306 August 2012

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Paul Harrison's The Black Flash attempts, through a combination of autobiography, oral history and the author's own observation, to unspool the tragic tale of Albert Johanneson. The South African-born Leeds United forward endured racism on and off the field, became the first black footballer to play in an FA Cup final (in 1965), and eventually succumbed to alcoholism and an early death in 1995.

The meat of this frequently depressing but compelling book is comprised of large chunks of unexpurgated testimony from Johanneson, framed by explanatory passages from Harrison. It is at its best when its subject's voice is at the forefront.

Johanneson, looking back on his life following the collapse of his career, paints a vividly evocative picture of his youth in a divided South Africa, where racist violence was commonplace and police were viewed as little more than "paid killers".

Johanneson was scouted and offered the opportunity to play in England but as soon as he stepped off the plane he was branded a "nigger" by a passerby at London Airport. Though team-mates Billy Bremner and Grenville Hair looked out for him, and he found a friend in fellow black South African Gerry Francis, the impression is of a lonely, shy soul thrown to the wolves.

It is harrowing to read about the constant abuse Johanneson received. It is not difficult to imagine how the deep psychological scars from this continued mistreatment might have contributed to his eventual fate.

Though Harrison is clearly reluctant to demonise his Leeds heroes – including Don Revie, who comes across as a cold bully – The Black Flash paints a grim picture of a wider footballing community who hadn't the first idea how to engage seriously with the pressures faced by Johanneson.

Sadly, the book is beset by structural problems. Harrison is inclined to interject with his own largely irrelevant opinions on the state of modern football and subjects such as political correctness. Key elements of Johanneson's experience (his marriage, divorce, descent into alcoholism and early death) are sprinted through in a matter of mere pages toward the book's conclusion.

Though obtaining information must have been difficult – Johanneson was essentially a homeless drunk by the time of his death – and the man's wishes not to discuss his family should be respected, the book feels as though it is missing a sizeable, vital element.

There is also a conspicuous lack of attention to detail. In one particularly flagrant case, a significant passage of Johanneson's testimony is repeated twice within the space of 16 pages. The Black Flash feels like it has missed out on a final edit.

Despite its flaws, the books is a worthwhile, instructive and often shocking read, especially in the context of a challenging year for football, when racism has once again made headlines. Harrison's decency and commitment shine through in a tale that adds flesh to the bones of the story of a key figure in British football history – a man who slipped through the cracks, but helped to pave the way for future black footballers.

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