I don’t write a ton about sports on this blog, in fact I cannot think of any posts where I have, but soccer is one of my passions and I really liked this book so I thought why not. Plus I believe it is very important to be as well rounded as possible. That way it is much easier to meet new people and start conversations. The book is basically a tell all from a player who played at the top level in the English Premier League, which is one of the best leagues in the world, if not the best.
The interesting thing about this book is that I don’t know who the author is. He is simply known as The Secret Footballer (SF) and has his own webpage and Wikipedia page. Supposedly he is a part time writer for the Guardian, which is a large newspaper/news outlet in England. It has never been confirmed, at least to my knowledge but, there is a lot of evidence that the SF is a player named Dave Kitson who played for Reading and Stoke City among a few other football teams in England. I am not saying this is the guy for sure. I have no idea and must confess that, despite following the sport quite religiously, I have never heard of this guy. Sorry Dave!
Anyways, the story is broken up into more or less 10 random chapters ranging from the Media, Money, Tactics, Manager, Bad Behavior, which is by far the best in the book, and lastly when it was time to hang up his boots (that is a British word for cleats.) I say random because they are not necessarily together. The bad behavior chapter one has to do with all the wild parties and dumb crap professional athletes do and get away with. It’s nice to have money I suppose. Although they kind of follow the career of the SF, but they are mostly about certain topics that the normal non professional athlete folk that are interested in the game, like myself, want to know about.
The story is very interesting I thought, if you don’t have a general interest in soccer or football then this book may not be such an enjoyable read. Although, there were some funny parts throughout the book that I feel anyone could enjoy. The SF starts out talking about how he was very poor when he was little but loved football. Soon he signed his first pro contract of £500 a week. Which right there to me I would have been pretty content as that is almost more that I make, and he was probably about 17 at the time, pretty crazy to think about. From there he continues to tell the story of how he moved from one club to the next increasing his wage each time until he finally reached the pinnacle of English football, the Premier League.
By far the funniest part throughout the book is the parties he talks about. The SF always says that he was not a partier but some of the stories he tells seem to paint a different picture. It is tough to fathom the money spent on nights out for professional footballers, or for that matter professional athletes everywhere. One funny story he told was when he and his friends were on holiday (that is British for vacation in case you were wondering) in Las Vegas at a pool side bar. Vegas is infamous for its poolside bars and the stuff that goes on at them. Apparently there is such a thing as a Champagne Battle? Who knew? Anyways it is a way for those with too much money to show they can basically throw it away on stupid stuff such as thousands and thousands of dollars on bottles of champagne. Needless to say that the SF and his crew won the battle bringing the total for their bar tab to $130,000, of which the SF paid over $10,000 for his part. Simply amazing.
One thing I found interesting was the fact that the SF downplayed tactics in the game, more or less saying that they were important but not overly necessary. Although he did highlight a few instances where a new manager took over a struggling team and turned them around. Before reading this I would have thought that tactics would have played a more important role in the success of clubs but I guess I just depends on the situation.
One of the last chapters in the book the SF talks about his retirement and when he could see end in sight. He also said that towards the end he started so suffer from depression, stating that he would come home from training and sit in his chair until it was time to go to bed. Training was usually over before noon, so yeah pretty crazy. I do not know if this is common in retiring professional footballers but I do know this is a big issue in the Cricket world. I have read that the suicide rate in retiring Cricket players is staggering. I guess it is hard to cope with doing something, epically playing a game that has occupied so much of your life, for so long then one day it’s over. Then you have to figure out what to do next, that is pretty intense. I guess that is why so many retired professional athletes go into coaching or broadcasting, as is the case here.
Some other interesting points from the book are when he talks about who he thinks was the most technical player he ever played with or against, obviously it was Paul Scholes. Who I was lucky enough to have seen play in 2004 in New York at the old Giants stadium against AC Milan. He happened to score that day as well, but United fell in PK’s. The other thing that really struck me was Xabi Alanso’s, who was on the World Cup champion Spain squad, comments on slide tackling in the game. He more or less said that to have to resort to this type of challenge was to abandon all type of technique and a more or less last ditch effort to win the ball. I never viewed it like that but it does raise a good point. If a defender does resort to this it is basically abandoning all technique and fundamental defending to win the ball. To me I always thought a good slide tackle was party of the game and most times a good defensive play, but to those who are the best in the game I will have to take their word for it.
As a, whatever you call it, soccer/football fan I enjoyed this book. The period his career stretched is one that I was familiar with 2000-2010 around then, so I recognized all the names and players he talked about. There were some interesting points throughout the story and it really makes you think about what goes on behind the closed doors in the professional athlete world. One thing I did not touch on was the way the contracts are structured, it is some pretty bizarre stuff and if you ask me strange the way it all works. Not to mention all the jockeying that goes on during the transfer window. That is enough to give a fan a heart attack. I recommend this book if you are a fan of the game, even if you are not and you want some insight to the insane and flashy world of professional football then you will enjoy this one. I did read a short review that was angry with the author about not really naming names, as at times he is very vague on the parties involved in his stories. I did not have a problem with this and was just fine not knowing who exactly the SF was talking about. Check this one out if you get a chance. There is also a sequel or another book written by the SF called Tales from the Secret Footballer, I have not read this one but I may put it on my list for the future.