About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Last of the Mavericks

Conformity must be the watchword of the modern professional footballer.  To appear in any way different from the herd is to invite at best ridicule or at worst persecution from the 24/7 CCTV kindly provided by the world's media on behalf of planet football. Gone are the days when any player of renown could be said to have a private life in the truest sense of the phrase as every nightclub incident, extra marital affair or even late night cigarette is presented for us to shake our heads at in hypocritical moral tumult.  On the pitch anything less than beetroot faced boot flying commitment runs the risk of being convicted of football's greatest crime of "not trying" in the kangaroo court of 6-0-6 or Talksport.  Sadly people seem all to keen to take Shankly's tongue in cheek "life or death" comment literally.
Time was though when the Premier League was in its infancy that there remained a coterie of footballing characters who defied the social mores of the day.  Often given the better label of maverick, by chance I picked up the autobiographies of a couple of players who certainly fitted this description from the hotel library whilst on holiday recently. The texts were hardly literary epics but they both provided a diverting window from which to look at the recent past for a couple of hours.
The first was "Who Ate All The Pies" by Mick Quinn (pictured right) and told the tale of how a kid from a broken home on one of Liverpool's toughest estates (which coincidentally was also the source of the band called The Farm) built a career in football which ended in the Premiership via a lot of pubs, clubs, women, bookmakers and for 14 days a prison.
Quinn was the sort of player who would never have made it to the top in the current climate and indeed his two younger brothers failed to make the grade even in the 80s.  They all shared a hedonistic live fast attitude to life but fortunately for Quinn senior he never lost sight of the fact that football was his sole route to the lifestyle he enjoyed and therefore was always first in for training. Yet throughout the book as his career wends its ways through the lower divisions from Derby to Wigan to Oldham to Stockport and Portsmouth it is clear that his reputation as a trouble making hell raiser is growing.  This would have been confirmed for some when he was sent to prison for driving whilst disqualified in the middle of Portsmouth's 1988 promotion season.  He is released in time to help Pompey reach the top division after two near misses and is full of praise for the way manager Alan Ball successfully led a squad so notorious it was known as the dirty dozen.
Quinn soon fell out favour at Fratton Park, clearly deemed as not good enough for the top flight and so ended up moving to relegated Newcastle United where he scored four goals on his debut and went onto hit the net with a regularity only matched by the likes of Cole and Shearer since.  Unsurprisingly the end was nigh for Quinn at St James Park when the clean living Kevin Keegan took over but a much publicised falling out proved to be a blessing in disguise as it led to a move to Premier League Coventry, then managed by Bobby Gould.  An opening day hat trick against double Cup holders Arsenal in August 1993 saw an improbable bandwagon gather pace for Quinn to be selected for England.  However his career soon ended when Gould was replaced by Phil "Yes boss" Neal and Quinn now runs his own racehorse stables supplemented with a Talk Sport show.
The best virtue of the book is Quinn's honesty. He makes no attempt to cover up his failings particularly in terms of his relationships with women and his approach to financial management.  It seems fair to say though that his behaviour was generally in keeping with his peers as suggested by a couple of tales of lewd Christmas parties which involved acts that would make David Sullivan blush.  All in all his honesty means that he does not necessarily come across as a likeable character but certainly one who made a football ground a more enjoyable place to visit.
In contrast Taking Le Tiss by Matthew Le Tissier paints a picture of a well mannered shy individual who was only given to exuberant self expression when he set foot on the pitch. Indeed the title of his autobiography is as rude as its gets, a fact that becomes clear when this lifelong Malibu and Coke drinker refuses to disclose the identity of his teammate who brought a ladyboy back to the team hotel on a trip to the Far East.
Yet this hardly matters as the nature of his one club career provides an interesting and sad tale of how Southampton slipped from being an established top flight club to one that almost went out of business when relegated for the second time.  Quite rightly the impression is given that Le Tissier's prodigious talent played a leading role in keeping the Saints up throughout the 90s and it is clear that the ability of the manager to get the best out of the leading Saint was the key to the club's success in any particular season.  Thus the book does get monotonous as the annual struggle to beat the drop is described chapter after chapter when footage of his best goals is all you to need to know about why the Saints survived the 90s in the Premiership.
The sheer number of players and managers Le Tissier encountered in his time at the Dell mean there is the odd insight worth reading. Like Quinn he praises Alan Ball's spell as manager and on this evidence it seems the World Cup winner was much underrated although this is balanced by Le Tissier's account of the day Ball told his Manchester City team to hold on for a draw on the last day of the season, a result which sent them down and kept the Saints up.  The book's funniest anecdote recalls one of Alan Shearer's first games for the senior team.  When ordering his pre match meal, Shearer is asked what he would like in his omelette, he replies "egg".  Readers will be unsurprised to learn that the appointment of Ian Branfoot, a stubborn adherent to the long ball game, signalled the beginning of the end for Southampton's successful brand of football and sparked a succession of short managerial terms which saw the club drift inexorably to relegation soon after Le Tissier's retirement.
Whilst Le Tissier uncontroversially blames Chairman Rupert Lowe for the continual mismanagement of the club he is generally respectful of all his managers, even Branfoot who he describes as a decent man despite their clashing football philosophies.  He was particularly fond of Strachan but was left perplexed by the reign of his childhood hero Hoddle whom he praised for the way he developed the team but was left cold by his own relationship with him.
The description of this relationship proves central to answering the question of why Le Tissier remained at Southampton to the detriment of his bank balance and perhaps his England career.  Like Quinn, Le Tissier's emotional development seems stunted by football as he lives a kind of manchild existence, protected from the mundane reality of adult life.  In Quinn's case football provides the income to prevent his high living leading him to bankruptcy.  Although Le Tissier also proves hopeless with his financial affairs (like Quinn he incredibly sold property at a loss), his comfortable middle class upbringing in Guernsey means he lacks the naked ambition of Quinn to fulfil his potential.  Thus he turns down a move to Tottenham as his then wife felt unable to move to London, and is left to rue the way in which his salary is dwarfed by even that of mediocre talent at Southampton by the end of his career although he clearly feels the homely atmosphere and security provided by a small club punching above its weight was a price worth paying. Certainly it was this fear of the unknown rather than a lack of commitment which prevented him fulfilling his potential at the highest level.  Perhaps today even Le Tissier would not find a starting place in the Premiership with his preference for motivational rather than tactical coaching and a wholly unhealthy diet.

No comments: