“I did a gig last week at Tesco with some really good people – Torvill & Dean, Gareth Thomas, The Stig – and at the end someone asked, “Why should we buy your books?” Oh God, I was cringing. They all gave nice answers, and I said, “To be honest, I don’t really care.” I’m sure the publishers were going, “Ah, this guy’s a disaster,” because I should have said, “My book will change your life. Join me on my journey.”
Roy, talking to ShortList magazine. Kind of nailing it and kind of playing the game. As usual.
All these good people. And The Stig. So you flick. And flick. Browsing ‘explosive’ extracts. Leafing prologues. Starting journeys. Thumbing indices. Putting books down. What are we looking for, exactly? Why should we buy your book? A couple of years ago, cricket writer Samir Chopra went to interview Indian batting colossus Rahul Dravid for a book he was writing.
Chit-chat, politeness, normality ensued. “A slight sense of unreality pervaded the proceedings. This man simply did not have the airs of a sporting superstar.”
Then: “The money moment.”
Dravid said his target was always to bat 30 overs in every Test. “If I didn’t do that, I had failed. I would do it one way or the other.”
Chopra wrote: “As he said this, suddenly, his expression changed. The smiling, casual, relaxed demeanour that he had assumed till that point in the conversation was gone. His face hardened, the lines on his visage tautened. I stared at him, a lump now present in my throat, as I felt a slight chill run up my spine.
“At that moment, I realised I was in the presence of 10,000 Test runs.”
How often do you feel the presence of greatness on paper?
How often do bald words in sporting autobiographies give you that chill?
Agassi’s ghost managed it, between confessionals. “As the ball leaves my racket a sound leaves my mouth that’s pure animal. I know that I won’t ever make this sound again, and I won’t ever hit a tennis ball any harder, or any more perfect. Hitting a ball dead perfect – the only peace. As it lands on Becker’s side of the court the sound is still coming from me. AAAAGHHHHHHHHH. Match, Agassi.”
Not everyone does. These are the bald words in Born to Rise: My Story. Out now. The words that describe the standout scene in Sergio Aguero’s career so far – the Aguerrrooooo000 moment: “This was it, the one chance I’d hoped would come and I had to make it count, so I hit the ball as hard as I could and hoped for the best.”
It would be unfair to expect Leon Osman, with the best will in the world, to touch us with greatness. But there are other options.
Maybe the best ever football book was written by a tidy, unremarkable midfielder who was still playing, who was in and out of the side. Eamon Dunphy – in Only a Game? – captured many things about the drudgery and frustration of professional sport brilliantly, including being dropped to the reserves.
“You are looking all the time for chances to thumb your nose at people. It is a petty little league and if you are in it for long you become a petty little person. Playing in that league is death.”
Leon missed out on Everton’s one shot at the Champions League. Dropped. That must have hurt. “It was very hard to take and I was annoyed about it. Angry is a strong word but I’m still frustrated about it.”
We sympathise. But. Flick.
Of course, at hard-sell time, it’s also tempting to embroider significant events with too much significance. “He sacrificed his image for the sake of the French team,” writes Raymond Domenech of Thierry Henry’s handball, in his new autobiography. Didn’t Thierry pass up that halo at the time? “If people look at it in full speed you will see that it was an instinctive reaction. It is impossible to be anything other than that.”
Anyway, words can’t embroider the shot of Henry sitting alongside Richard Dunne on the Paris pitch. Hoping he hadn’t done the image too much damage. Already prioritising the clean-up operation.
Osman’s teammate Tim Howard is promising us one of those journeys. “A remarkable journey from a challenging childhood in which he was raised by a single mother who instilled in him a love of sports and a devout Christian faith that helped him deal with the onset of Tourette’s in fifth grade.”
It might change your life. But we’ve been on too many journeys lately. Human frailties seem to sell easier than greatness. Thing is, ever since Back from the Brink, with Big Paul, most journeys seem a bit tame. A nice spin on a dual-carriageway with a couple of food court stops.
Ah, Poults. Sometimes, we bring our own badness into play. Preconceptions. We’re looking for the Ashley Cole moment. “£55,000! I nearly swerved off the road.” The passage the ghost leaves in, doesn’t ask: ‘Are you sure?”
Poults plays into our hands by entrusting his prologue to agent RJ Nemer.
“His watches exhibit complex movements, and his cars are all very fast and loud. But, all these things that Ian surrounds himself with, all these accumulations and toys do not truly fulfill him. In truth, they merely explain him.”
Consider yourself explained, Poults. Flick.
We want gossip too. And disagreements. We want to hear about Dalo slamming The Sunday Game, Paul Galvin’s flying duster, Drico’s porridge, the time Poults told Monty to fuck off. Often, that’s enough.
We’d want to know more about those nice people Torvill and Dean, if they hadn’t spilled the explosive revelation to Piers Morgan last year: that they once kissed on the back seat of a bus.
Sometimes, when you don’t know what exactly you’re looking for, you can’t beat a night in flicking your way through 57 channels. Or 999 channels.
Bad or good, in these annual dambursts of partial honesty, there’s always something. Little dots on the great canvas.
The contradictions. Galvin trying to chill, to keep the lid on: “When you play with emotion, or your heart, you have no vision, no awareness of outcomes or consequences.”
Suarez afraid to chill, to shut the lid too tight in case it numbed his instinct.
In Jimmy White’s first book, there was a poignant passage that almost encapsulated why a beautiful instinctive talent wasn’t quite enough.
“When everything’s right a funny feeling comes over me. My whole body is affected. I get all warm and my head starts to buzz. I know then that I can’t miss. I’m unbeatable… But it doesn’t last.”
I asked Jimmy about it once, that line, wondered if he still felt the buzz much. “Ah, which book was that, mate?” Just as it should be. We wouldn’t want the books to be the priority.
Jimmy will have to play the game this month, since he has another one out. Second Wind. Probably worth a flick. Most of them are. We should buy the odd one too, lest the honesty dry up altogether.
The best name. The worst party trick — blowing snots. But snuffed out the Royals with one of the great World Series stints.
The American dream realised on Fox TV: “Baseball tonight is presented by Chevrolet.. and in part by Sonic’s new boneless chicken wings.”
Keano in the jungle. It sure was worth a try.
The old media contract negotiation again. Hardly an ideal time for more Anfield uncertainty.