London | Wayne Rooney has been tasked with writing five books over the next 12 years. The £5 million advance from HarperCollins is believed to be a record in sports publishing, although some are skeptical about the potential results. The Daily Telegraph‘s Neil Tweedie speculates that the Manchester United striker will begin with a discourse on his passion for chips and beans.
Of more concern are several other titles gaining public notice, again showing that football lends itself to multiple literary genres. Soumya Bhattacharya in the Observer calls the memoir Salaam Stanley Matthews, by Subrata Dasgupta, “a book around football rather than about football.” Dasgupta, 62, reflects on his displacement from Calcutta at age 6 and gradual acclimation to English life through cricket and a state of thralldom to Sir Stanley Matthews, the durable Stoke City, Blackpool and England winger (and, in The Way It Was, accomplished autobiographer) who played past age 50. Both Bhattacharya and Chitralekha Basu in an Independent review write concerning Dasgupta’s observations on Englishness and Dasgupta’s rapid identification, through sport, with Thomas Macaulay‘s assimilated foreigner—a person “Indian in blood or colour but English in taste.”
Jonathan Wilson follows the journalist’s course in Behind the Curtain: Football in Eastern Europe. Wilson, in Simon Kuper–like fashion, journeys to the stadia and training grounds in Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Romania. Henry Winter in the Daily Telegraph mentions the moving vignette of 1970s-vintage Romanian striker Florin Piturca, killed by a toxic combination of performance-enhancing drugs on the order of doctors working for Nicolae Ceausescu. Piturca’s mausoleum became a rallying point for those protesting the dictatorship, to such an extent that Ceausescu’s daughter, Zoia, ordered it bulldozed. Florin’s father, Maximilian, had slept there every night for 16 years. When the bulldozers arrived, Winter writes,
Maximilian was inside, but emerged before the roof caved in and swore revenge. “A curse on you and your family,” shouted Maximilian. “In a year I will be back and you will be dead.” Nicolae Ceausescu was executed. The grave rebuilt. And, sadly, vandalised occasionally. Local kids keep nicking the stone ball at the feet of the statue to Florin outside the mausoleum….
In an interesting reading of a new academic collection, German Football: History, Culture, Society, Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger concludes that the emphasis of many academics on generalization creates a focus, football-wise, on the German national team rather than the club game. Club football, Hesse-Lichtenberger argues, provides more potent and potentially more accurate readings of German culture and society. And, despite some interesting contributions on women’s football and grassroots football among the large Turkish immigrant population, many of the authors get bogged down in the bane of academic writing: turgidity.
You should grin and bear it when processes start a process, when individuals are autonomous, when many things only happen to a certain extent and when trying to find meaning in something is called “hermeneutics.” And you should be prepared for the over-extensive use of the word “discursive,” often in a sense unknown to Webster and Collins.
So, we’re a long way from the five-volume Rooney chronicles, for which Harper Sport honcho Michael Doggart offers a précis.
Erm, there’s not a great deal known about him in terms of, erm, his personal life, so that, yah, there’s a huge amount of, erm, things to write.
Update: Hunter Davies, author of The Glory Game, about the 1971–72 season with Tottenham Hotspur, and the scribbler behind biographies of Paul Gascoigne and Dwight Yorke, has been tipped to write the first volume of the Rooney opus. (Andrew Culf raises the troubling comparison that Sir Winston Churchill‘s magisterial chronicle of the Second World War took a mere six volumes.) In a fascinating account of the craft of ghostwriting, Tim Adams describes the voyeuristic craze as the future of publishing. “A decent sports book is a great rarity,” says Eamon Dunphy, author of the memoir Only a Game? and ghostwriter for the autobiography of Roy Keane. The Keane project was palatable—£250,000 advance aside—because Keane “hated the fakeness of football books, like he hates the fakeness of everything.” Adds Adams:
It seems to me that such books are rather a last resort of wish fulfilment. We invest so much of our culture in sport and celebrity that it feels necessary that the principal players have something to say for themselves. The soundbites you hear on Sky Sports News … will never be enough. The frustration of celebrities is they are in a world we desire but are unable to articulate how we imagine it feels. That’s why the ghost—who exists in a hinterland between reality and surreality—is so engaging. He or she provides a voice that is halfway between his or her mundane life—and therefore ours—and that of the subject.