In his first book, The Secret Footballer expanded on his newspaper columns to give a rounded insight into the modern game, with a combination of wisdom and humour shaped around the central theme of a player writing as he was losing his own footholds as a professional. As he explains in his second book, Tales From The Secret Footballer, released just over a year after the first, he has since had a mini-resurgence in the game but is still undecided about his future and now takes the opportunity to reflect further, aided with stories he retells from contributors.
Again the book tries to give the view of an author with a dark passenger in his mind but The Secret Footballer is no Dexter Morgan, yet the narrative does explain a series of fallings out in his career to-date, the self-doubt that can affect performance and lead to concerns of suicide, as well as being a convenient opening to share a few hallucinatory experiences in this sequel.
As with the columns and the first book, it is the detail from behind the scenes that are the most interesting and the first time he touches on the subject of drugs in the book leads to the revelation of how clubs are compelled to cover up enforced player absences with the reader given direct instructions to question an unspecified long-term back injury.
The author’s own opinion on footballing matters continues to be a positive aspect in his writing; last week, talking on the Sky Sports Fantasy Football Show, Glenn Hoddle, when answering questions about how he developed into one of the great both-footed players of all-time, noted how while he practiced as a boy against a wall and then regularly trained at Spurs against a wall marked with coloured lines (a drill at the club which Hunter Davies mentions in one of the great football books The Glory Game) there was no wall at the nation’s new centre for developing excellence, St George’s Park in Burton. The Secret Footballer reveals he also used a wall to hone his skills as a kid and relays a few other faults at the FA’s state-of-the-art centre which was designed by an architect with seemingly little input from physios that use it, like the Metroline buses of this millennium which were clearly drawn up by someone who’d never been on a bus, let alone at rush hour with a couple of bags of shopping. These details about St George’s Park lets the reader consider for themselves the failings in the game, which suggest that for all the investment we may be further away from developing the next Hoddle or Bobby Charlton.
There are other worrying indications in the book of how common sense could be defeated in searching for a holy grail with technological advances that could have negative consequences for the game. A prime example of this is when The Secret Footballer shares the thoughts of a friend working on developing gadgets that sell themselves with plans to rid the game of scouts in favour of cheap labour that records stats and actively encourages the end of gut instinct. Backed by sponsors and investors it under-estimates the value of the good judgement and intelligence from players, coaches and managers in favour of a Charles Hughes-like-mantra based on physical attributes and percentages which set the English game back decades during the space of a few years that led to Graham Taylor being a disastrous England Manager.
Alongside the tales from contributors, which also include agents talking about brinkmanship, directors of football on head-hunting and pros who share their experiences of being sent soiled toilet paper, there remain the author’s own anecdotes. There is the disturbing golf session on an overseas tour to a post-apartheid South Africa where black men are paid to shave their head and smear them in jam to keep insects away from rich players, the manager who dropped a player for not throwing a piece of a toast in the canteen with the gusto to replicate a corner kick and TSF’s ex-manager who waited first in the tunnel and then in the cark park, looking for violent revenge.
Again the detail is such that the footballer can no longer surely be a secret to many, although he says he deliberately changed details previously to keep up the disguise which suggests maybe he wasn’t a Liverpool fan, a train of thought endorsed as he shed a tear celebrating with his dad as Spurs won in the San Siro in a glorious Champions League campaign.
As he intends to stay in the game in some capacity we may not have confirmation any time soon. But that should also lead to more material as he continues to find his next role in football while still reflecting on the meaning of life, which should be lapped up with those in an interest in the inner workings of the people’s game.
Mel Gomes is the author of the e-book Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley which documents Tottenham’s return to the European Cup. It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.
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