I am The Secret Footballer

I am The Secret Footballer

Of all the many football books that have been released over the years the magic ingredient from someone inside the game is always insight, from Steve Claridge’s training sessions in Tales From The Boot Camp where Harry Redknapp was fixing the stopwatch to win a bet with his player to Martin Peters retelling in his autobiography how he was once asked play at right-back for Norwich as he was the only player intelligent enough to exploit the space available that day.

Every morsel of the previously unknown can become interesting, including the reasoning of Glenn Hoddle’s choice of Kenny G to ease the nerves of his players ahead of them finding out if they made the cut for the 1998 World Cup in his diary to the revelation that Bob Dylan’s Positively 4th Street was Roy Keane’s favourite song in the Appendix of his own autobiography.

From the little observations within the dressing room environment to the tactics on a matchday, via some cracking anecdotes about nights out and trips abroad, I am The Secret Footballer has insight aplenty. And in addition to the detail, the Secret Footballer has a knack of constantly hitting the nail on the head like Lionel Messi does of finding the net.

Stemming from his fantastic weekly column in the Sports section in The Saturday Guardian, the book segregates big subjects by chapter, allowing the author to cleanly tackle a number of issues while telling a story of someone who grew up on a council estate and was given a life changing opportunity of a profession in the people’s game, that brings fame and obscene wealth at the very top, as well as pressure.

Clearly intelligent and cultured with his own personal code of morals, The Secret Footballer is spot-on in his assessment in the resentment that exists towards working-class lads now in money as opposed to those who inherited the same fortunes in other walks of life, either purely due to privilege or working professions that have a different public perception.

And his analysis is just as spot-on when talking about football itself. He treats the lazy punditry of Robbie Savage and Andy Gray with disdain, he is scornful of Andre-Villas-Boas’ man-management and is rightly bemused by England Manager’s Roy Hodgson inability to recognize the importance of possession; instead, he goes onto explain the benefits of players staying on their feet, the advantages of tiring teams by keeping the ball, the outdated nature of the offside trap, while throughout the book sharing his experience of different managerial regimes.

It is the detailed stories that stand out and the ‘Bad Behaviour’ chapter is an engrossing read with well told tales that often finish with a line that would raise a loud laugh if being re-told in person. The detail is so specific in some of the stories throughout the book, it is highly unlikely that there are still only three people who know the author’s identity.

Some people who know him knew about his moonlighting, as is evident in the fact he reveals that several people contacted him when Gary Speed died, with the thought everyone who had read his column about Depression in the paper the previous day had as they heard the news – had Speed read it himself?

Regardless of who he is, his writing appears to be never less than honest. Surely his identity will be revealed to the wider public at some point, but until then the player who gets into the box for attacking set-pieces, has had physical confrontations with John Terry, grew up a Liverpool fan, used to be a club captain, had an unsuccessful big money move to a Premier League club after starting his career in the lower leagues, and hit upon both financially and personally hard times, is an interesting personality as well as a footballer. And his first book is a enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in the game.



Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is available to download from Amazon and Smashwords, documenting high-level football and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.