Magazine article The Spectator

Lifestyles and Hairstyles

Magazine article The Spectator

Lifestyles and Hairstyles

Article excerpt


by Kevin Keegan Little, Brown, 16.99, pp. 310

A million is not what it used to be, according to Kevin Keegan. It's 600,000 after tax for one thing. He felt undervalued receiving this measly sum from Sir John Hall, after the flotation of Newcastle United. Keegan describes himself as 'a throwback to a different era', but the different footballing era depicted in Dave Bowler's biography of Danny Blanchflower was hardly awash with such sums. And whereas Keegan emerges from his latest autobiography as a shrewd operator whose `all-time favourite' books include There's No Business Like Your Business, Blanchflower was the kind of character who described his own first big transfer fee as `out of all proportion to anyone's ability'.

Blanchflower,s career was one of variously remarkable firsts: a key member of the first modern team to win an FA Cup and League 'double'; the first Northern Ireland team to reach the final stages of the World Cup; surely the first and only player to quote, on his retirement, from Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up. He was also, in Bowler's felicitous phrase, `the first person to tell Eamon Andrews just what he could do with his big red book'. His biographer honours this attitude to privacy.

If this results in some tantalising shorthand of the kind that describes him as having been `born into a typical workingclass Presbyterian household' (surely not so typical inasmuch as his mother used to turn out regularly at inside right for 'a powerful ladies' team in Belfast'), there is plenty here to be going on with, much of it amusing. Bowler's subtitle refers to Blanchflower's part in developing a team-based, flairdriven, attacking `push and run' passing game, and to his run-ins with 'authorities'. Asking a director about football, according to Blanchflower, was equivalent to `asking a plumber his views on Picasso . . . just because he'd got a tin of paint in his shed'. If that seems harsh, the word 'visionary' hardly does justice to the temerity with which he had to fight at his first club, Barnsley, to allow players to train with a ball. If they didn't have one all week, it was argued, they'd be more eager to get hold of it come Saturday. And less likely to recognise it, according to Blanchflower.

This was also the world in which, at his next club, the captain would sit in the stand with a fag during training, and join certain players for 'a pint or two' before games. …

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