This week I have seen a couple of extracts from a (possible) forthcoming autobiography. A former professional footballer with the unfortunately too common post-career problems. I imagine the musings I saw will be fed through a ghost sports’ writer from one of Fleet Street finest and appear as an over-large hardback in time for Christmas. I’ve mentioned this before; I’m not sure who reads these books.
This particularly player has had an ‘interesting’ life and has already released one book and judging by what I’ve seen has enough potential material for another. But is it just nostalgia? I recognise the era he’s talking about and can bathe in the warm glow of a time when football was a man’s game, you could rock up on the day and not have to order an overpriced ticket weeks beforehand. But is it good enough?
Naturally the best stories come from people who are damaged, who have squandered their God Given Talent®, who have drifted from one addiction to another. In the most famous if possibly apocryphal quote ‘Tell me, Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?’, we can laugh with George and at him. In a week when Ryan Giggs (Ryan Giggs: My Life, My Story. I wonder if he mentions his brother?) played his 1,000th game for Man U, one of the more interesting statistics is that if George Best had played on with the same tenacity as Giggs, he would have appeared in the 1985 FA Cup Final. Best effectively retired in 1974, and his story thereafter is well known (Blessed – The Autobiography by George Best).
Celebrating the rise and fall of an idol, rather than his continuing achievements (they are usually men, female sports stars seem to fare better than their brothers-in-lycra) seems to be the most popular line. The tabloids are not interested in Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne (Gazza: My Story) unless he’s had a relapse. If he took over a struggling team and managed them to success (however unlikely) his triumph would always be contrasted with his nadir and his ‘brave’ fight against adversity.
There are plenty of examples of footballers that have had blameless careers and after-lives, George Best’s contemporary Bobby Charlton for instance (My Life in Football by Bobby Charlton). If ever I decide to stop sniping from the sidelines and actually read a professional footballer’s book, I’m more likely to read Best’s rather than Charlton’s, I’m nothing if not a hypocrite.
I’m sure these young men are not thinking as they order another bottle of champagne the day before a match ‘This’ll be a good anecdote for my autobiography’. A few years later when the money and sycophants have gone, a ghost writer will drag those hazy memories to the surface and polish them to a tabloid sheen, the now ex-footballer will earn a few pennies, carve-out a second career®, appear as a pundit at half-time and we can all enjoy the laddish banter he gets from his fellow, and not so sober, ex-pros.
Gascoigne’s OCD tendencies were smirked at, Best’s decline into a pathetic drunk were encouraged. Any player such as Gary Lineker (Gary’s Golden Boots by Gary Lineker and Stan Hey) who has ambitions beyond his playing career is mocked, maybe he will produce another book where he blames the continuing criticism of his blandness on his near-fatal addiction to potato-based snacks. Should we be taking part in this ridicule even in a passive capacity?
We want to live their lives vicariously, have the pleasure without the other side of the coin, we want to grow old, tend our gardens and shout at the television rather than slowly decline down the alcoholic ladder until we’re found in a pool of someone else’s vomit.
Isn’t it about time we all grew up?