Hunter Davies

Article excerpt

Joe wants to be a manager again. So he must be potty

That's it then. No more football books. Done, got the signed jockstrap. My portfolio is now complete. I created this ambition for myself many years ago, back in 1972, when I did a book about a year in the life of a team. One day, I said, I'll do a book about a player. After that, I'll do a manager. Then I'll hang up my Sporting Amstrad.

But for 27 years, other things happened, such as life. Until last year, when I did the biog of a player, Dwight Yorke -- remember him? Great story, very interesting life, but hell to do because I got messed around. I was kept waiting for hours, he hardly concentrated when I was with him, and Man Utd gave no help, even though it was officially a Man Utd book. The buggers. But I did achieve my second ambition. Having got inside a top team, I had been with a top player, watching his life while he won the treble.

So how to line up a manager? It is hard to engineer such things if you are outside the football-reporting fraternity. Not easy to make new contacts, living half the year in Lakeland, finger on the remote control. My opening came on 3 March 1999, at an evening match between Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon. Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, went out on to the pitch with his team for the warm-up. He felt his throat go funny, sweat was pouring from him, he couldn't breathe, his left arm went numb -- the classic signs of a heart attack. If it had happened on the motorway, he would probably have been a goner. But Wednesday's club doctor was on hand, and a specialist heart unit only minutes away. It was life or death for 24 hours, intensive care for two weeks, followed by months sitting at home, bored out of his mind. Which was where I came in.

When I wrote The Glory Game in 1972, Joe was my best friend in the Spurs team. He was a bachelor, with afternoon time on his hands, although he did have a girlfriend, Bonnie (now his wife), who, by chance, I already knew. She had a men's fashion shop in Hampstead Village, where I bought the odd bit of men's fashion. Bought nothing since. Waiting for it to make a comeback.

One of the things I asked the first team pool of 18 was if they wanted to stay in football. Almost all said: "Not bloody likely, I'd end up in the loony bin, I've seen what it does to Bill Nick." (Bill Nicholson, their manager -- do concentrate.) Yet eight of the Spurs players became managers, with varying degrees of success -- Martin Peters, Alan Mullery, Graeme Souness, Cyril Knowles, Steve Perryman, Mike England, Phil Holder and Joe Kinnear.

Back then, Joe was one of the few who said he couldn't imagine a life outside football. He hoped he might be a coach one day. It took some time before he arrived at Wimbledon as reserve team coach in 1989. I kept in contact with him over the years. I would often ring him just to hear his latest answerphone message: "If you want tickets for the match, then piss off, but if you're ringing from Barcelona or Milan, I'll ring you right back . …