Review365: I Am The Secret Footballer

Nick Miller quite badly wants to know who the Secret Footballer is, but his frustrating anonymity didn't stop him from enjoying his book, titillating tales and all...

Last Updated: 03/09/12 at 16:38 Post Comment

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I'm one of those intensely irritating people who wants to know how the magic trick is done. I should just sit back and enjoy, appreciating that the secret and mystery is all part of the act, but I can't. I need to know. My problem with needing to know extends to TV shows - for a while I was obsessed with The West Wing, but always found out what happened before the episodes made it from the US to the UK. It's stupid, I know.

You can therefore imagine what I was like reading 'I Am The Secret Footballer', the new book by... well, we're not sure. If you aren't aware of the Secret Footballer, he is a current player who has been writing columns for The Guardian for a couple of years. He claims to have played in the Premier League and at international level, but is now on the way down.

Everyone has their own theories on who the Secret Footballer is - hell, there's a website dedicated to uncovering his identity. This is a slightly pointless pursuit, since Mr Secret Footballer/his editors are smart enough to throw in the odd red herring to his identity, but trying to work out who he was, from every little hint spoiled my enjoyment of the book slightly.

This was of course my own fault, but something that has to be expected. Human nature dictates that when someone says you can't know something, you immediately want to know it. Mr Secret Footballer must surely know that a good portion of his readers will regard this book and indeed his columns for The Guardian as a sleuthing exercise.

And that's a bit of a shame, because 'I Am The Secret Footballer' is a very entertaining read. It's a good mixture of the informative and the titillating, which are basically the two things you could ask for an anonymous 'expose' of the game.

There are tales of excess, of tantrums, of arguments and one particularly racy number involving the wife of an England international doing some things in a swimming pool that swimming pools were not intended for.

One thing the book will not do is dispel many preconceptions about the stuff footballers get up to. The theme of many of the anecdotes seems to be 'You haven't heard the half of it sunshine,' with stories involving Korean knocking shops, extra-marital hoo-hahs and something called a 'champagne war', which apparently involves wealthy young men sending bottles of bubbly to another table of similarly wealthy young men until one side breaks, and realises the bill is too high to pay. All of this is obviously without identifying the parties involved, but Mr SF throws in enough clues here and there that you can take a good guess.

Among the gossip, there is plenty of stuff that you might not know too. Detailed breakdowns of how contracts are worked out and paid, what players say to each other on the pitch and the relationships between players and the press are all discussed. Much of it is fascinating.

It should be said that, if you're of the school of thought that footballers should not complain, that things like depression should not exist for someone so highly-paid and that the monkeys that dance around for our pleasure every Saturday deserve no sympathy, then avoid this book. Mr SF launches defences of and explanations for the amount of money swilling around at the top level of the game, the behaviour of players both on and off the pitch and, perhaps the great taboo in these terms, agents, turning one chapter over to a similarly anonymous agent friend to answer questions.

This might grate, and might come across as self-righteous, and plenty of the arguments can be picked apart or debated, but it's refreshing to read an alternative point of view. The anonymity definitely helps with this, because his points aren't clouded by the 'baggage' and preconceptions that many of us would have for a certain player.

Indeed, the only part of the book I found objectionable was the repetition of the old argument that he, as a footballer, because he has played the game therefore automatically knows more and his opinions are more valid. It's one that we are all familiar with, and one that can be quite easily disproven with a quick viewing of Match of the Day.

The final chapter in particular is revealing, because our man discusses a problem that is hopefully becoming more and more accepted - depression, and how it affected the latter stages of his career. The idea that just because a man is wealthy and successful cannot suffer from this illness has been dispelled by now, but Mr SF lays it out in an incredibly stark manner that, again, is probably only possible and quite as powerful because of his anonymity.

What will be interesting is if he ever reveals his true identity, not only because I (really, really) want to know, but because he claims he wants to continue writing. Will he be able to speak with the same candour? Will he be able to write without upsetting people?

For now, try to enjoy his secrecy and the honesty it brings.


'I Am The Secret Footballer' is published by Guardian Books and is available to buy here.

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