Auto Have Stuck To Football

So Roy Keane has jacked in the old country and sold his eternal soul to the forces of evil. At least we should be spared his running commentary on the state of Irish football, at least until his revised autobiography comes out.

Ah, they were the best of times, when Roy had a book to flog. For a time, not a day passed without some bonkers comment from the Great Leader himself, abusing everyone around him for seemingly not coming up to the God-like standards he has set himself, although what has that God bloke ever done for anyone, the f****** prawn sandwich creating p****. He never missed a European Cup final and spent the rest of his life telling everyone how it didn’t really mean anything to him so he can go f*** right off.

The most amusing element of Keane’s book plugging was the increasingly desperate attempts of Roy’s coterie to justify his bitterness-filled rants. Eamon Dunphy is clearly prepared to hurl himself in front of that bus to protect his lord and master by claiming that it was his choice of language that has landed Roy in trouble. Of course, Roy doesn’t want him to say that because Roy is loyal – although not to his country – and we must remember that Roy is “a man”. And there was me thinking he was a hobbit. Eamon may have a point about his misquoting of Roy though. According to the book, Derek Dunne was on an Irish team flight to Barcelona to play Andorra last year. Meanwhile, in an unrelated incident, Richard Dunne was tortured and murdered a few years ago by his Amsterdam drug barons. Or was it the other way around?

Eamon Dunphy isn’t the only one to be seduced by the Mighty Keane’s honesty gene. A slew of hacks – albeit an every decreasing minority – have leapt to his defence, claiming that he’s a tortured genius and thus entitled to be as nasty and offensive as he likes. Now why didn’t the defence lawyers at the Nuremburg trials think of that? “My client justifies the Warsaw ghetto on the basis that he’s a tortured genius, and those Poles and Jews didn’t match up to his exalted standards. And he was misquoted anyway. La.”

Still, we all knew that Roy Keane was a couple of studs short of a football boot, so this collection of poisonous barbs isn’t especially revelatory. Telling us how much he hates everyone except for Demento, the only man who can match his capacity for grudges, should lead to a collective shrugging of shoulders around the world. I haven’t read the book, and I don’t plan to because I know it’s going to be rubbish. The genre of footballer biographies doesn’t lend itself to being interesting because we’ve seen and heard it all before.

(Some people may damn me for my dismissive attitude towards Keane’s opus, congratulating themselves on the exquisite appropriateness of the phrase “never judge a book by its cover”. I’ve said it before, but the Fever Pitch debacle, when I watched the film to prove I wasn’t narrow minded only to have my prejudices confirmed when it turned out to be complete codswallop, has reminded me to stick with my gut instincts. Also note how Rent-a-Quote Keane vanished once sales of the book had peaked. If he had simply wanted to tell his story, perhaps he simply could have faxed swear words to every person in the country.)

It’s not as if I haven’t tried to read these dim-witted puff pieces. Lord, I’ve tried to enjoy footballer’s tales of ‘that goal I scored against CSKA Sofia’ or ‘boy, we got so drunk that night’. I’ve manfully struggled to appreciate the literary excellence of books titled “Joe Bloggs – My Story”, “Joe Bloggs – The Autobiography” or, if they are in a post-modern frame of mind, plain “Bloggs”. Way back in the mists of time, when Liverpool were the unstoppable juggernaut that they are not now, I happened to go through a phase of reading the biographies of a number of famous football personalities. If that comment has the ring of “forgive me Father, for I have sinned”, then I would argue in my defence that no money changed hands because I got them out of the library, although some might say that argument is akin to “my client justifies the Warsaw ghetto on the basis that he read Mein Kampf, truly the work of a tortured genius”.

The only one of them that was remotely interesting was that of Bruce Grobbelaar, where he regaled the reader with tales of fighting a guerrilla war in defence of the racist state of Rhodesia against the black majority that had the cheek to ask for the vote. After that, the book is filled with insight-light tales of this game and that game. Wow, he did the spaghetti legs routine against Roma to put off his opponent. I saw it on the telly Bruce, and at no stage did I think you were trying to shake off that nasty arthritis in your knee.

That was as good as it got. Ian Rush’s book was similarly anecdote-laden. A few of the stories were moderately amusing, such as how Bruce Grobbelaar’s routine of opening a beer bottle with his eye would crack him up – this was funny because Bruce admitted in his book that it was all a stunt, that he would open the bottle beforehand and that it always cracked Ian Rush up. Having to wade through two books full of ‘the boy done good’ tales to cull one memorable yarn isn’t particularly good value.

At least the books of the Liverpool duo were joyous fare, not only because it was fun to dwell on glory days but also because the players had something enjoyable to reminisce over. As for Ron Atkinson and Gordon Strachan, no such outlet existed. You had to marvel at Fat Ron’s ability to blame Liverpool for just about everything. West Brom lost the League title in 1980 because of the weather, so clearly Bob Paisley was in cahoots with Thor, the Thunder God. Liverpool poached Mark Lawrenson from under their noses, even though Mark really wanted to join the Mancs. Injuries, bad bounces, poxy deflections, fluky goals…Murphy’s Law struck with a vengeance in the 1983 Milk Cup final. The list of moans was endless, and even the most vindictive of Reds begins to almost feel sorry for his delusions at the end. Almost, but not quite.

If Bojangles (as a colleague labels the Old Swan Zeppelin) was a study in blaming everyone else, Gordon Strachan’s opus was a course on how to slap oneself on the back. Gordon overcame so many obstacles – being short, being ginger, being working class, being a Hibs fan, being Scottish, being an arrogant arsehole – to get to the almighty heights that he had scaled. It’s a tale of homespun hogwash that would have made the Waltons cringe. And his accomplishments! My, he conquered the world more devastatingly than a Martian invasion. Had Aberdeen not won the Cup Winners Cup by beating Real Madrid? Had Aberdeen not won the Super Cup, making them “officially” the best team in Europe? Had he not joined Manchester United, the greatest club in the world? They might as well just hand over all the trophies there and then, all tied up with red, white and black ribbons.

One thing he shared with Big Ron was an unswerving belief in how Alan Brazil and Jesper Olsen were the final pieces in the Moan U jigsaw. That’s probably the best bit about these books: write in haste, repent at leisure. Thinking about them over a decade later, certain things come to mind. Brucie’s expression of displeasure at Robert Mugabe’s election as leader of the new Zimbabwe certainly resonates down the years. Ian Rush ponders on the notion of moving to a foreign country, which raises a smile when you remember how everyone envisaged him cleaning up in Italy. Then there’s the enormous gap between the vision lovingly created by Ron Atkinson and Gordon Strachan and the reality of Man United in the 1980’s. All worth a chuckle now, but those hours (minutes?) I spent reading those candy floss autobiographies are gone, and I’ll never get them back.

It’s not all bad about footballer biographies though. I once shelled out the shekels to buy Kenny Dalglish’s book, just so I could shake the great man’s hand. Worth every penny, and that thought sustained me through the bland prose that followed (with the honourable exception of the Hillsborough and Heysel related chapters; nothing bland about them). So footballer’s books can be worthwhile. Although I can’t imagine many of you buying Roy Keane’s book just to shake his hand. He might get more than he bargained for in the closed hand department.