Book Report: The Secret Footballer – Access All Areas

TSF - Access All AreasIt’s a brotherhood isn’t it? You played together and then you stay together. You shared a dressing room and forever you will walk the earth like a band of brothers? No. That’s sentimental bollocks. You make the same number of friends in football as you would if you spent the years working in Carphone Warehouse. You are left with some good buddies, and you know a huge crop of tossers.” (The Secret Footballer – Access All Areas, p99)

Title: The Secret Footballer – Access All Areas

Author: The Secret Footballer

Publisher: Guardian Books

Publication Date: 2015

Origin: I’d previously read and enjoyed The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game, so this seemed like a no-brainer.

Summary: In his fourth book, The Secret Footballer takes us deeper into the real world of professional football than ever before.

Early on, he tells us that, “When you are naive about something, be that football or anything else, you can only approach it in a very rudimentary, basic manner.” In a way, I believe that applies to our own (speaking to the non-pros, here) understanding of professional sports. What we see is the candy-coated exterior – the production – and not the real world.

In Access All Areas, The Secret Footballer pulls the covers off, a bit, and lets us see what’s really going on behind-the-scenes, from the rampant manipulation and machinations of executives, to (arguably) institutionalized racism, to the exploitation of young and naive payers, to the affairs and events that frequently make the tabloids (although I want to stress that this latter subject gets relatively minor treatment – this is not a shock-and-awe gossip mag).

Additionally, he explains how to build a winning club and illustrates the importance of establishing a club identity and creating a long-term plan.

He also takes a tour around the various Premier League clubs and grounds, providing his thoughts and impressions of each; in this section, he makes it clear why Sunderland are in a prolonged run of terrible form and he makes it quite hard to cheer for them.

My Take: I always enjoy a peek into the real world of professional sports, and this book provides just that peek. It meanders through a number of topics and, if we’re being completely honest, isn’t especially well-written; but, if we’re being completely honest, you don’t buy this book for the prose. Instead, you buy it to gain some perspective, some understanding, of the life and environment of a professional footballer. In those regards, Access All Areas does quite an admirable job.

Read This Book If: You want to gain some understanding of the real world of professional football/soccer, but do so knowing that the knowledge might take some of the lustre off the beautiful game.

Notes and Quotes:

  • p7: “When you are naive about something, be that football or anything else, you can only approach it in a very rudimentary, basic manner.”

“When you are naive about something, be that football or anything else, you can only approach it in a very rudimentary, basic manner.”

  • p10-11: “The bigger man would extend his and and let bygones be bygones. I hear you. But the world doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid – and the football world certainly doesn’t run on love.”
  • Something to keep in mind if I’m ever looking to buy a professional club: “Just outside Dublin I spent the afternoon talking to Niall (Quinn) about the consortium that he had led into Sunderland. And I hung on to his every word. What became immediately clear was that his deal could have fallen apart at least a dozen times but for a little luck, some good timing and absolute balls of steel from various members of the takeover group. The most important thing that Niall told me was to make sure that I had the very best commercial lawyer I could afford, but also to make sure that he was only paid in the event of a successful takeover. The commercial lawyer had to then get ‘under the bonnet’ of the club and find out where all the skeletons were hidden.”
  • p99…well that kills whatever romance was left: “It’s a brotherhood isn’t it? You played together and then you stay together. You shared a dressing room and forever you will walk the earth like a band of brothers? No. That’s sentimental bollocks. You make the same number of friends in football as you would if you spent the years working in Carphone Warehouse. You are left with some good buddies, and you know a huge crop of tossers.”

“You make the same number of friends in football as you would if you spent the years working in Carphone Warehouse. You are left with some good buddies, and you know a huge crop of tossers.”

  • p120: “In retirement it turns out that nearly every room has an elephant in it. You are a former professional footballer. Not a professional footballer. You might have a lot of money, but it is the same money that everyone else has. In fact, you are the same as everybody else. That is fucking crushing news.”
  • p158 offers advice that extends well beyond the footballing world: “My friend, who is currently off the managerial merry-go-round but keen to get back on it, told me about a chat he’d had with Alan Pardew after bumping into him at a dinner. What Pardew said to him was brilliant in its simplicity and highlights how smoothly football works, in particular the way clubs choose managers. ‘You’ll never get a job from doing an interview,’ said Pardew. And Pardew would know. He is rumoured to have gotten the job at Newcastle by hanging out with Mike Ashley at the Ritz casino on Piccadilly.”

‘You’ll never get a job from doing an interview,’ said Pardew

  • p159, with some unkind words for Sunderland: “Following on from the ruthlessness of the manager. If I was the director of football at Sunderland, I’d kick almost every single one of the players out of the club the moment I got in there. Let me tell you something about Sunderland. Nobody in football has any respect for the club. Don’t get me wrong, they did one, but they don’t now.”
  • p182, as part of a tour around the teams in the Premier League: “There are other things that I wonder about when I look at Leicester. For a start, the crowd inside the stadium are a different colour to the people outside it.”
  • p188, after a fairly outrageous hotel story: “I tell this story because of all the ones flashing through my mind at this point it is among the most mild and most printable, and best explains the mental state of somebody coming out of a professional dressing room after a decade and a half.”
  • p194: “Football is like The Truman Show. Sometimes you bump against the edge of the world and realise there is something much bigger and manipulative out there.
  • p237, echoing John Wooden‘s definition of success: “The feeling that comes from winning is determined by what you can expect to achieve. The pleasure is in getting the best out of yourself and the fools around you.”

“The feeling that comes from winning is determined by what you can expect to achieve. The pleasure is in getting the best out of yourself and the fools around you.”

  • p237 continues: Lionel Messi playing for Barcelona in a team that lives and breathes big expectations is doing what he is supposed to do. Success is often a relief as much as anything else. They were bred for this. It is required of them. At Real Madrid it is the same for Ronaldo and co. They expect to win La Liga and the Champions League, and when they don’t it is a failure. In that respect, and although they are great players, most top-flight footballers have more failure in their careers than anyone else.”

“Most top-flight footballers have more failure in their careers than anyone else.”

  • p240 has a great story that illustrates Sir Alex Ferguson‘s finely honed judgment and big-picture thinking.
  • C’mon, man, you’re making it hard to root for them. p284: “This may sound harsh but I’ve witnessed it first-hand and heard tale of it, but in each of the last three seasons, from around August to March, the players of Sunderland Football Club have enjoyed a sort of prolonged stag party around the north east. Everybody in football knows it. Thus far, no manager has been able to do anything about it – in fact, they only seem to make it worse by signing the same type of player over and over again. It was only a matter of time before one of those players tripped up publicly.” That said, I have high hopes for Big Sam (Allardyce).
  • p304, with some more advice to heed should I ever buy a club: “Whatever the professional tier of the football club you buy, it’s best that your club’s needs coincide with the needs and egos of the people buying it, not their financial interests. It’s the best side of a not particularly shiny coin.”
  • p322: “It is often said in football that to be a manager you are either the best friend of the players, or you are successful.”

“It is often said in football that to be a manager you are either the best friend of the players, or you are successful.”

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Posted in Books, Everything, Soccer, Sports

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