Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

I'm off to the Caribbean - but It's All in the Line of Duty

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

I'm off to the Caribbean - but It's All in the Line of Duty

Article excerpt

This is the end of the season, though of course the play-off players have playing to come, as do the cup finalists, but this column now takes a bow till next season. And where will I be? In the lovely, relaxing Lake District - where I'll be in a muck sweat, working like mad, rushing around, screaming and shouting, saying what have I done, why did I take this on, I must be potty agreeing to produce 100,000 words in three months.

I am writing the biography of a footballer. He plays in red, is known for his smile. Guessed? OK, second clue. He comes from Tobago. Yes, you've got it. And if you haven't, you obviously don't follow football, so kindly leave the page.

I've done a book about the year in the life of a football club, done a book about an England World Cup squad, done a football novel, and done a collection of football, writings, but never done a biog of a footballer. It just seemed, well, daft. How you can spin out 100,000 words on a lad of 18 who has done nothing, seen nothing, thought little in his life? Or, in the case of Michael Owen, produce three books about him? That's a deal a publisher has just paid over one million for.

A few years ago I was asked if I was interested in doing Gary Lineker's biog. Nice bloke, highly intelligent. I had met and interviewed him but I thought, what can I ask him that I don't know the answer to and he won't refuse to tell me? So I said no thanks. And did a biog of Wainwright instead.

About three months later it came to me in the night how I could do such a book. With everyone, but particularly footballers and other sportsmen, there are always people better, bigger, thought more likely to succeed at every stage in your life. At 11, playing for your primary school, there's always a kid who everyone expects to do well, who you agree is better than you. Even at city, county, national level it still happens. Even when you join a big club, as a youth player, along with 20 others, no one knows which one or two - and it's rarely more than that- will make it into the first team.

At A-levels or university, it's much the same. We know and see and appreciate the ones clearly cleverer and more gifted, but they are not always the ones who succeed in the end. Or whatever we happen to think of as success. In football, and in real life, motivation, application and luck are the elements that matter. And they are not always apparent in youth.

So I thought with Lineker's life, I would track down the boy who was thought the best when they were 11, and the real star of the Leicester youth team, find out what happened to them, what they are doing now. I rang his agent and said hey, I've got a great idea. He said too late. Someone else is doing his biog.

I've been hugging this format to myself for a few years, waiting for someone to walk into it. …

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