Your Show by Ashley Hickson-Lovence

Uriah Rennie was the English Premier League’s first Black match official. He was a trailblazer. Or, at least, he should’ve been — Rennie retired more than a decade ago, in 2008. Yet he remains the only Black referee to officiate a match in the world’s biggest football competition.

Ashley Hickson-Lovence’s “Your Show” isn’t about Rennie’s legacy, but I can’t help but reflect on it, and the complete lack of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) representation in football beyond the players on the pitch. At least a third of the players we watch every week must be BAME; something is prohibiting their representation in other facets of our game; something deep-rooted, malignant and noxious.

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Review: Injury Time by Duncan Hamilton

There has been a football-size hole in my reading life for a long time now. 

The last great novels about football I read were both written by David Peace: “The Damned Utd” and “Red or Dead.” I’ve offered these to fellow football fans with mixed results. Peace’s prose is very stylised; not at all impenetrable, but melodic, maybe even outré, especially for those whose reading diet consists primarily of footballer memoirs. 

Duncan Hamilton seems to have no misconceptions about what he’s trying to accomplish with his debut novel “Injury Time.” This is a football novel for the masses. He has borrowed from his vast journalistic experience; taken real people and tweaked them for his fiction; and he has created a vastly entertaining yarn about the beautiful game. Narratively orthodox, certainly; but fashioned with pathos as well as the obligatory footballisms. 

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Review: My Story by Steven Gerrard

GerrardFootballer’s autobiographies are often toothless, insipid recollections of career highlights. Oftentimes it’s because they’re written mid-career, or at the very least, while the player is still active in the game; how can they name and shame their peers, past and present, if they might be required to work with them again? That’s why Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent memoir – his second – was so disappointing. It not only lacked the tactical insight I’d hoped for, but it was altogether tame, barely reminiscent of the fiery Scotsman football fans had grown accustomed to seeing on their television screens week in and out. Not that I wanted Ferguson to lambast players and managers; I just wanted honest, raw opinions; not the tepidness that eventuated on the page. Of course, you should take my opinion with a grain of salt. I’m a Liverpool fan, after all; it’s not in my blood to praise the leader of our rival.

So, that said, I delved into Steven Gerrard’s second autobiography with a touch of trepidation. This man is a legend to the club I follow; whose verve and drive I’ve always admired, and whose loyalty will be remembered forever. This is a player who could’ve played football for any club in the world, and could have – possibly should have – won a shedload more trophies than he acquired at Liverpool. I don’t have many sporting heroes, but Gerrard is one of the few. So I wanted his book to be good. I wanted it to be enlightening, and to dive deep into his psyche. I wanted that emotion, that passion, to resonate on the page. And thanks, in no small part I’m sure to his co-writer Donald McRae, My Story is exactly that. There are no great revelations here; nothing I’d highlight and plaster on the back pages (although exerts have been published in various media, so what do I know…); it’s just a heartfelt, emotive retelling of the last few years of Steven Gerrard’s career, with some flashbacks to the highlights; Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup Final, etc.

Gerrard’s excitement at the prospect of challenging for the Barclays Premier League title in the 2013-14 season is palpable. Reliving the games, the last-minute goals, the heroics of Suarez and Sturridge, pumped my veins with adrenaline. My stomach churned, I gripped the book tighter I read Gerrard’s recount of the key moments; then my stomach plummeted when he described his fateful slip against Chelsea, and the collapse against Crystal Palace. It almost brought tears to my eyes. Gerrard doesn’t hold back. He’s ruthless in his analysis. This is a man who strives for perfection, who is aware he carries the hopes and dreams of all the supporters standing in the Kop; who expect so much of him, more than they do of any other player. He admits, too, his failures in an England shirt; not necessarily individually, but as a collective. The Golden Generation – Owen, Lampard, Beckham, Gerrard – failed to live up to their billing. He doesn’t shy away from this. If My Story reveals anything, it’s how self-aware, and how critical Gerrard is of himself. And also, just how much he loves Liverpool; the club, the place, and the people. There is little loyalty left in football; Gerrard is one of the last of his kind.

My Story is a compelling, easy read. It reminded me of just how special Steven Gerrard was, as a person and a player. It’s made me realise just how much I’ll miss seeing him in a Liverpool shirt.

Review: The Damned Utd by David Peace

The Damned UtdTHE DAMNED UTD has been in my unread pile of books for several years now, and with the new season of the English Premier League about to begin, there was never going to be a better time to dig in. The Times called it “probably the best novel ever written about sport,” and while I’m not sure I’m knowledgeable enough on the subject to make that same claim, I can honestly say it’s the best sports novel I’ve ever read.

Brian Clough cemented his reputation in the game before I was born, so he’s always been a bit of an ethereal figure in my mind. Of course, it’s impossible not to respect his achievements in the game, as both a player and a manager, and laugh at his quotes which have been transcribed for the ages, but having not witnessed him in person, on the television week in and out like I have Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wegner, I’ve never felt the same affection for the two-time European Cup winner. That changed with David Peace’s novel. Although THE DAMNED UTD isn’t biographical – it’s fiction based on fact, and I’ve no idea just how embellished it is (I chose not to investigate during my reading, as I didn’t want anything hindering my experience with the novel)– it paints a sobering picture of a legend; a troubled man, fuelled by cigarettes and alcohol, and burdened by the same doubts we all are, who achieved incredible success despite his troubles.

But THE DAMNED UTD isn’t about success; it’s about failure. It focuses on Clough’s forty-four day stint as manager of Leeds United, a club he had previously denounced as dirty and deceitful. A club that, in the season before, had finished top of Division One, and when Clough left, was fourth from bottom. Peace tells his tale through Clough’s stream of conscious, flicking back and forth between the start of his career, his first management role at Hartlepool, his major accomplishments as Derby County boss, and his time at Leeds. Baring witness to the downward spiral of a legend is disheartening – the relationships that strain and eventually the break, the decisions Clough makes that we, the reader, can see are wrong, but have no power to control. There’s no way of knowing precisely what Clough was thinking during these moments – that’s where the fiction takes over – but even if Peace’s is novel is wildly off the mark, nothing can take away from its sheer entertainment value.