October 07, 2006

Football + Books

I don't know many people who read football books. I think that's really tragic. I don't know a lot of people who read books actually. Which is even sadder. I don't mean that those people are sad, by the way. It's just sad that they don't like to read.

To a certain extent, it is totally understandable. Seeing book after book about David Beckham is enough to make anyone NOT want to read a football book if glossy pages with distasteful pictures is all we're going to get. And unfortunately, that seems to be just about the ONLY football subject our local bookstores can think of when they decide which football books they actually want to sell. [And for the record, I've read two of David Beckham's autobiographies. Blame boredom and convenience since one of them belonged to my BEST friend and the other, my neighbour. The writing is shocking though. Worse than Dan Brown's or J. K. Rowling's. Though I don't think that anyone who buys a Beckham book is really in for the literature.] One day when I grow older, I'm going to have a book store that only sells football books. Real football books.

Quality football books are extremely rare, but that applies to books in general too. It's so hard to find books in which the writer actually has something original to contribute to the discussion of an issue, because 99% of what some of these writers write about are things we already know of and can be readily obtained through the internet. Really makes me wonder why some people are finding it hard to get published with the kind of crap we have on the market. There are even some books that are duplications of each other but worded differently. Seriously, do these people think the readers are THAT stupid?

My first introduction to football literature - John Keith's "The Essential Shankly" - was the one that set about almost ridiculous standards for all the ones I was later exposed to. [Of course, thanks to the great Sic, who is really intelligent when he isn't busy getting drunk or being sick, I realised that what made it interesting was not so much the quality of the writing, or the subject matter of the book, but the fact that John Keith was very close to Shanks, and therefore, got a lot of his stuff first hand.] I think I forgot to mention earlier that though I do like reading, I don't get to read a lot and am a terrible reader - because of this obsessive habit I have of paying too much attention to the technical aspects of the writing and not the strength of the 'story' itself, which often leads to a loss of interest about halfway through.

As weird as it sounds, I like reading football books because of this interest I have in the subjectivity of 'truth' and especially the reliability of 'points-of-view'. Having read the excellent book written by Phil Scraton, "Hillsborough : The Truth" [which is one book I think non-Liverpool fans should read too. Particularly if you're really interested in the social and political aspects of football] many years ago, I find it strange that it took one of those not-really-worth-reading books like Gerrard's very creatively titled "My Autobiography" to make me think about point-of-views in football books. [Okay, you can stop reading here!]

In football autobiographies, I think that the choice of the ghost writer is really important [Though God knows why these people are coming up with autobiographies when they're hardly at the peak of their careers and have hardly won anything grand like the World Cup] because an autobiography is supposed to reveal the person's personality and character, and whether or not they like it - or care - a lot of people will judge them according to the kind of impression they get from the manner in which they are portrayed. I think Owen had a very good ghost writer [has anyone actually read the normal articles Paul Hayward writes? I can't find a more original football writer around, though I think Lilyliverbird should write Owen's next one so she can scandalise his life a bit =p], and he came across as suitably boring and very skema-ish. He spent half the book defending himself though, which got a bit tiring after a while.

While I think that Henry Winter is an excellent football writer that I can never even hope to be able to emulate, I think he failed to portray Gerrard in a very positive manner, and was especially unsuccessful in delivering the promise at the back of the book. ["Steven Gerrard's book is the definitive football autobiography. Like its subject, it's honest, passionate and exhilarating. If Steven Gerrard isn't your hero yet, by the time you've read this he will be ... " what a stupid thing to write on the cover of a book!] It's still definitely better than most football autobiographies, but I think that Robbie Fowler's one is the best I've read so far. [I still have one sitting on my shelf though. Nobby Stiles' book. So I might just change my mind later] It feels like he's personally telling you the story of his life and he really lacks the kind of subtle pretensions that are evident in most modern footballers as derived from the tone of the ghost writer's portrayal of these people. And he definitely has the kind of mature perspective none of the other players have because they're too young and not far enough in their careers to possess that even though it's obvious that his opinion of certain people was severely tempered by certain unfortunate events.

Obviously, like in all books, even the less narrowly defined ones, there is a lack of balanced perspective since everything is written from their own point-of-view, which is often heavily influenced by personal prejudices, etc. [Even writers who claim to be writing comprehensively about something subconsciously sieve through thousands of arguments and only include those which correspond with theirs.] So some football autobiographies actually provide an exhibition of exactly why footballers are not celebrated as some of the brightest minds alive. The extracts from Ashley Cole's autobiography proved exactly that. Having a go at referees - and naming the ones you like and don't as well - while you still have quite a few years to go [like Gerrard did] is surely an invitation for stupid decisions in the future. [We didn't need Gerrard to tell us that Mike Riley is a kayu ref, but he stupidly 'wrote' about why he doesn't like Mike Riley.]

If you had suspected that these footballers are only writing autobiographies because they want to get more money, then I think that reading the book will make you realise exactly how self-absorbed and insecure they are. If they don't hear you singing their name, they think you don't care and hand in a transfer request. A contradictory account of how clubs like Real Madrid, Roma, Chelsea, etc were chasing them and how their agent was actually in contact with these clubs is nicely sandwiched between two claims that they "can never think of leaving the club" and how they will "never be tempted to leave the club". And since they're honest enough to announce what kind of results they used to get in school, maybe I shouldn't have expected that much in the first place. Sometimes though, I find it highly amusing how they expect readers to be so simple-minded that they have to spell out the obvious for them.

p/s: I hope nobody fell asleep reading that, if anyone actually bothered reading that in the first place. I must really try to post shorter posts.

p/p/s: Has anyone actually read any good football books? I'm always up for trying any, but since I'm a very poor student, I have to save for quite long to buy books so I would appreciate any recommendations. I would especially like to read non-Liverpool related books. Has anyone actually read "El Diego"? [Naz?] I heard he wrote that himself and that it's pretty good.

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