Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review: I Am The Secret Footballer, by Anonymous

I am about to astound you all with a fact that you may  have difficulty in believing: I do not know much about football. I mean, I can tell my Chelsea from my Celtic, I know that Joe Cole and Ashley Cole are not related, I know that Cristiano Ronaldo is such a good diver he should be doing it into a pool, and if you give me five minutes to think it through first, I can explain the offside rule in a relatively stilted way. Beyond that, I'm stumped. I'll only really watch football when it's the World Cup or the Euros - although on those occasions I will enter into it with a passion you may not expect (I actually got sent out of the room this summer by the Boyfriend in the Spain v Portugal match because I was being too loud in my support of Spain). So I'm not going to lie - I was as surprised as you probably are by my reading this. The Boyfriend was reading it whilst we were on holiday last month, and I was so intrigued by some of the anecdotes he related from the book that I felt I had to read it myself - and against the odds, for the most part, I was hooked, and I read it in less than a day. It's not exactly hard reading, I'll admit - whilst TSF is clearly an intelligent man, he's no Dostoevsky - but it certainly is gripping.

Based on his column in the Guardian, I Am The Secret Footballer is an insider's view of the so-called beautiful game - the dressing-room banter, the effect of a good manager, the money, everything. It's a light on what is actually quite a secretive world; as he points out, for the most part we spectators only get to see a certain amount of a footballer, upon which we base entire judgements of their characters. It's the same with all celebrities, but I suppose with football there's a certain aggression to it; for starters, it seems like a pretty easy job to earn so much money, and most of them seem to be jumped-up, idiotic cheats. Told from the point of view, however, of a man who admits to depression, hints at money woes and clearly knows his Shakespeare, it certainly made me re-think my opinions on certain footballers. I never considered it before, but the pressure they must be under, with fans, managers, teammates and families dependent on their good performances for so many reasons - faith, jobs, money, support... Of course, the same can be said of many jobs, but we don't all perform them under the media's scrutiny, do we?

But that's, of course, not the main reason for why I enjoyed this book. I can harp on as much as I like about how it's changed my viewpoint and taught me not to judge people and all that jazz - and to an extent, it has - but the real reason for why I liked it? The excess, the gossip, the dirty little facts you can't believe he's getting away with spilling. No names are mentioned in the dirty bits, of course, but there's enough to speculate on. Even without the names, there's enough going there to satisfy even a Hello! magazine reader; for example, there's a trip to Las Vegas which results in a Champagne War, in which groups - in this case, TSF's team and Barcelona - try to effectively bankrupt each other for the night by sending increasingly expensive drink orders and champagne to each other, until one can't afford the bill and has to be escorted from the premises. Then there's the Ferrari that got damaged by a game of Lets-Try-To-Surf-A-Baggage-Trolley-Through-The-Revolving-Doors-Of-A-Hotel-Into-The-Car-Park, and the subsequent denial of all knowledge. For a view on how the other half live, it really doesn't get much better.

However, it's not all Champagne Wars and Ferraris; there's a serious side too. TSF recounts stories of bad management from both managers and the higher-ups, in which clubs are driven into the ground (he actually refers - indirectly - to the poor management of Leeds United, by Peter Ridsdale), and the emotional impact of chants from the fans. We're all disgusted by the monkey chants that are still heard in some grounds, but it does tug at your heartstrings to read of an unnamed young footballer sobbing in the changing rooms after being shouted at by some so-called 'fans'. TSF refers to the sense of entitlement fans feel towards the players - they've paid their money, bought merchandise, cheered down at the pub - but no one deserves to be bullied, for whatever reason. Having said that, since TSF mentions how some older players bullied him when he first made the bigtime, I suppose there must be culture of it in the game - doesn't excuse it, though.

Not all of it was enthralling; I completely lost my way in a chapter devoted to, and entitled, Tactics, and there was one about Agents too that I sped-read so fast I may as well have skipped it; I know that when you're reading a book, you should give it the attention it deserves, but honestly? I know so little about the sport, I barely had a clue what I was reading, and I'll admit it, I didn't pick it up to read about the best way to score a goal. Kick it in the right direction, yeah? Just kidding. But nevertheless it was one I was surprised to find I enjoyed, and I would read it again. Part of this can be attributed to the mystery of just who TSF is - a happily married footballer who's been elbowed in the face by John Terry is what I would've thought a fairly narrow enough margin, but apparently it isn't (for in-depth speculation, visit the website). Whoever it is, I have to applaud them - even with the anonymity, it's a brave step to take, to openly discuss some of the subjects mentioned in the book. As well as that, they've crafted an intelligent, interesting, funny insight into an exclusive world, making it more accessible to football novices like myself.

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