351 SecretGuardian Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Si Hawkins
From WSC 351 May 2016

Buy this book

 

When the Secret Footballer embarked on his lid-lifting column for the Guardian six years ago, he presumably didn’t envisage having to stretch those trade secrets across four books, even after retirement. There’s a telling chapter here in which he repeatedly tries to quit playing, but football keeps pulling him back in, and you wonder if his publishers have been doing the same: “Dig deep, TSF, just a few more anecdotes…”

350 FarrellFootball between 
the lines
by David Farrell
Teckle Books, £9.99
Reviewed by Neil Andrews
From WSC 350 April 2016

Buy this book

 

There’s a scene in Dad’s Army that neatly sums up David Farrell’s football career. In the midst of a rant about class warfare, Captain Mainwaring informs Sergeant Wilson that he had to “fight like hell” to get into grammar school and “fight even harder to stay there”. It is a sentiment Farrell can empathise with in his dogged determination not only to become a professional footballer but remain one, despite a crumbling left foot and a run of very bad luck.

350 CahillThe autobiography 
of Tim Cahill
by Tim Cahill
HarperSport, £18.99
Reviewed by Jamie Rainbow
From WSC 350 April 2016

Buy this book

 

When Tim Cahill’s contract with Shanghai Shenhua was terminated, a number of A-League clubs approached the midfielder offering him the chance to finish his playing career in Australia. But, as he reveals in Legacy, he’d already snubbed an earlier return to his homeland for commercial reasons. The 36-year-old, fast approaching the end of his playing career, was already thinking about life after football. Or, to use Cahill’s own slightly nausea-inducing phrase, he had to “strategize as a businessman”.

349 Ronaldo400by Guillem Balague
Orion, £20
Reviewed by Joyce Woolridge
From WSC 349 March 2016

Buy this book

 

Throughout the 350 and more pages of his “definitive” biography of Madeira’s finest player, Guillem Balague never runs out of steam or ways in which to point out that his subject is insecure, selfish, self-obsessed and immature. You don’t need to call in Freud to understand Balague’s negativity, just the 18-page prologue which demonstrates how miffed the author is not to have the sort of co-operation given by Lionel Messi in a previous biographical outing.

349 Currie400The life and career 
of Tony Currie
by EJ Huntley
Pitch Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by David Stubbs
From WSC 349 March 2016

Buy this book

 

There’s a strange fascination about Tony Currie that runs in parallel with the late David Bowie, or even the school of provocatively effeminate wrestlers of the early 1970s such as Adrian Street – glam Englishmen whose apparent purpose was to raise the hackles of a more stolid, crewcut older generation with their flamboyant, long-haired antics.

348 Latchfordby Bob Latchford      
deCoubertin Books, £20
Reviewed by Mark O’Brien
From WSC 348 February 2016

Buy this book

 

Perhaps to its detriment, but thoroughly in keeping with its subject, Bob Latchford’s thoughtful, detailed autobiography shies away from drama and sensationalism and tells the story of a modest, unassuming Birmingham boy who became the most expensive player in British football.

348 Drogba400My autobiography
by Didier Drogba
Hodder & Stoughton, £20
Reviewed by Si Hawkins
From WSC 348 February 2016

Buy this book

 

A couple of lines late in Didier Drogba’s autobiography really drive home that this isn’t your average burly striker life story. “On November 2009 I teamed up with Bono to help launch an initiative with Nike on the eve of World Aids Day,” Drogba recalls, before rattling through his UN work, including “mobilising people to eradicate the use of cluster bombs/munitions”. Clearly we’re in a different ballpark to, say, Micky Quinn’s Who Ate All The Pies.

346 ConroyThe autobiography 
of Terry Conroy
by Terry Conroy
Pitch Publishing, £18.99
Reviewed by Andy Thorley
From WSC 346 December 2015

Buy this book

 

It’s a reflection on both the career of Gerard “Terry” Conroy and Stoke City (the club with whom he played nearly all his professional football and where he still works part time) that for large parts of the country the title of this book might be apt.

345 SubThe story of football’s most famous number 12  
by David Fairclough and Mark Platt  
De Coubertin Books, £18.99
Reviewed by Dan Davies
From WSC 345 November 2015

Buy this book

 

Between making his first team debut in November 1975 and playing his last game for the club in April 1982, David Fairclough made just 92 starts for Liverpool. He was named as substitute, more often than not the only substitute, in a further 137 matches and came off the bench in 62 of them – a club record he currently has the dubious distinction of sharing with Danny Murphy, Vladimir Smicer and Ryan Babel.

If this does not sound like particularly fertile territory for an autobiography, it should be pointed out that 18 of the forward’s 55 goals for the most successful club in Europe at the time were scored as a substitute, the most famous being the winner against Saint-Étienne in the second leg of a European Cup quarter-final at Anfield in 1977, the year Liverpool went on to lift the trophy for the first time.

This happy knack earned the local boy a nickname he came to detest and which defined his career. It is Fairclough’s honest appraisal of the 72 occasions he was an unused substitute, however, which provide the book’s most telling insights. “Even getting a shower brought with it a sense of guilt,” he writes, before admitting that as the years went by and a regular starting spot continued to elude him, he began to think only of himself: “To me, every game Liverpool won, or even played, without me was a slight on my ability and setback for my career.” He maintains that “everyone was out for themselves”, with first team regulars routinely concealing injuries because they feared if they dropped out of the team they might never be able to get back in again.

From the first chapter, it is clear who Fairclough blames for the “sense of resentment” he now feels at the way his career panned out. Bob Paisley is variously described as “cowardly” and “pathetic”, despite Fairclough winning four League titles, two European Cups (one as an unused sub), a UEFA Cup and League Cup under Anfield’s most successful ever manager.

The most vehement criticism for Paisley is reserved for way he broke the news to Fairclough that he would not be figuring in the 1977 FA Cup final, a decision that upset the boyhood Liverpool supporter so much he admits there were times in the game he wasn’t sure he wanted his team to win. The disappointment was compounded by Paisley’s “false promise” that he was being saved for the European Cup final in Rome a few days later. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it moulded me as a person,” Fairclough reflects, “but it certainly instilled a sense of cynicism in me.”

Whether Paisley was right to harbour doubts about Fairclough, who made more appearances for Liverpool’s reserves than he did for the first team, is a moot point. The second half of the book, in which his career peters out in a series of short-lived spells in America, Switzerland, Belgium and the lower reaches of the Football League, is characterised by further criticisms of managers who failed to pick 
him regularly.

The final stop was Wigan Athletic, where he fell out with manager Bryan Hamilton. “You’ve never fulfilled your potential,” said Hamilton as Fairclough walked out of his office. It’s a verdict, Fairclough readily admits, that has haunted him ever since.

Buy this book

345 SecretTips and tactics from the ultimate insider
Guardian Books, £7.99
Reviewed by Roger Titford
From WSC 345 November 2015

Buy this book

 

We are in the era of 3G pitches and perhaps also 3G football biographies. In the beginning there were gentle offerings such as Goals Galore by Nat Lofthouse which told us who was there but not really how they did it. Then came the grittier school of Eamon Dunphy, Tony Cascarino, Gary Nelson et al who told us both who was there and what it was like, but not at an elevated level in the game and in a milieu that was light years away from today’s Premier League. And now we have the Secret Footballer – an artificial construct I would contend – who purports, credibly enough, to tell us what it’s like today at the top without naming many names.

This is the fourth in the Secret Footballer series or franchise, all allegedly by “the same author”. I have my doubts about that because, like many fans, I have tried to suss the identity from the clues left and hints dropped in previous books and come to the conclusion that the Secret Footballer is a composite character, a screen behind which several can hide. In this volume he even has a mate called the Secret Physio to tell us all about hamstrings and individual training programmes and another, the Secret Psycho, to offer a devastating tip on what to do if you are the fourth penalty taker in a shootout. With this formula the possibilities are as endless as the playing time on a 3G pitch.

Despite this confection I do find the Secret Footballer franchise interesting and valuable as an aid to understanding the environment in which the top players operate nowadays. This volume focuses on the aspects of fitness and playing, with chapters on psychology, formations, nutrition and equipment. Even the chapter entitled “Fashion in football” stays firmly on the pitch with a helpful analysis of the boom and bust in Claude Makélélé-alikes. The examples and arguments are current, covering the decline of 4-4-2 and the 50-50 tackle and a plausible, if mind-boggling, explanation of how Wayne Rooney’s wages are justifiable.

The writing is crisp, slick and businesslike without that edge of awfulness that belongs to the self-help business book genre, and is doubtless helped by the copywriting skills of Guardian Books. While the Secret Footballer is an experienced player I cannot see “him” retiring for a good while yet. Hunter Davies’s The Glory Game (1972) was a classic fly-on-the-wall look at the Spurs team of that era. The dressing-room chatter and the off-the-field personalities of the Premier League player today are more remote to me than that. The Secret Footballer could usefully provide another in the series that deals with all the personal, family, relationship, divorce, money, vendetta, foreign language, agent, commuting and social media pressures that the top player has to deal with – and a full list of what he actually spends all that money on.

Buy this book

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