I was a bit wary about reading this. I have been a football fan since I was around ten years old, at times obsessed by everything surrounding it. I read a few annuals, which were fun, plus a few biographies, which were rather dull. As an adult though, I really don't like gossip, just the football, and I was worried in case this confessional book was nothing more than slander and sleaze. But hey, I decided to give it a go anyway.
The 'Secret Footballer' claims that he played in the English Premier League and wrote anonymous articles for the Guardian newspaper. He was a player at the time when players were becoming more like celebrities and their wives and girlfriends became known as WAGS and were just as famous as their husbands and boyfriends for being, well, famous. This is most evident on the chapter that deals with the media, where he shows how news was manipulated by scheming agents and football staff for their own purposes. As for the player himself, he states that he always had a 'huge problem with anyone in authority'. So it's going to be like that. Tacky stuff.
The book is structured in chapters with the focus being a topic such as fans, managers, tactics, agents, money and bad behaviour. Here is the confessions and tall stories of young men being too rich for their own good so slide into degradation. It is an interesting read for the football fan though. He talks of tactics and decision-making, planning, strategy and gives examples of good management and quite often names names. Written in an easy-going style with some witty scathing in places, this is a quick read, entertaining in places, informative in others
The biggest feature of this book is obviously the unknown author. There are clues everywhere of course: he didn't come from one of the many academies but started out a non-League player, played for a couple of Premier League clubs so it will be easy to track, plus he is open about who many of his friends and acquaintances were. If this is all true, obviously. But this is still a personal story, and the Secret Footballer talks about depression and the sad demise of his career. If we knew who the author was this would be a totally different book. We could empathise more but in the end it would slide into the reduced-price bargain book basket with all the other biographies. As it is, the mystery makes this book something to talk about.
I'm glad I read this book despite not learning much about the Beautiful Game. Also I can practise my detective skills trying to work out who the Secret Footballer is. Maybe one day if I can find the time.
Published by Guardian Faber Publishing on 3 September 2013.
Other football books I've read: