One of the basic rules of writing is – know who you are writing for. If you are Sir Alex Ferguson, Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Gascoigne, you’re writing for the whole world but in the case of Sam Allardyce’s autobiography, readers are left wondering – seriously, who is this for? Sporting biographies are usually written to cash in on success, as a career retrospective, or to surf the wave of possibly fleeting popularity but Allardyce does not fit any of these categories.
Maybe leaving West Ham looked like some sort of career milestone. In fact, in the introduction written in June, he talks about having just turned down the Sunderland job and looking forward to some time off but before this book was published, he was back on the managerial treadmill at Sunderland. The most successful period of Allardyce’s career, at Bolton, ended eight years ago, so is hardly a unit shifter, so you can only assume the book is being pegged on his time at West Ham. But considering the lukewarm relationship he had with them, are Irons fans likely to rush out and buy it?
As early as page eight, he swats the fly of irritation he seems to feel about the fans (who on page nine he once again calls ‘deluded’), brings up the old ‘what is the West Ham way?’ chestnut, and playing the ‘good luck – you’ll need it’ card to Slaven Bilic, who guided the team to second in the Premier League the weekend after the book was published. The underlying feeling that Allardyce never really enjoyed being at West Ham is confirmed when he says he took the job against the wishes of his wife, and with a warning from Steve Bruce about how demanding David Sullivan was as a boss.
There are some pub trivia titbits along the way, for instance Liverpool only let Andy Carroll leave because Brendan Rodgers thought Clint Dempsey was on his way to Anfield. However, events of significance to fans, such as the double Cup humiliation of January 2014, are glossed over in the space of a paragraph – admittedly it was a time of desperate injuries, but surely it deserved more than the written equivalent of a shrug.
The New Zealand trip of summer 2014 is flagged up as a huge mistake which played a role in the team’s subsequent problems, but ironically it was when the team were at their peak. As many fans were quick to point out, Allardyce and West Ham were always an uncomfortable fit; this book suggests the feeling was mutual. As early as page 10, talking about the Olympic Stadium, Allardyce writes ‘they need to fill a 54,000-seater stadium with entertaining and successful football. The fans won’t turn up if West Ham are playing fantasy football and losing 5-3 every week.’
Maybe, but the football Allardyce served up at West Ham, like the 2-1 win over Hull in March 2014 where some fans booed the home side off the pitch, would not fill those seats either. In a dark hour, West Ham turned to Sam Allardyce. He did the job that was asked, was paid handsomely for doing so, and served his purpose.
The club may not have necessarily wanted him, but at that point, it needed him. He was the man for that time, and now someone else is the man for another time. In hindsight, West Ham fans may start to have slightly more grudging respect for Allardyce and what he did for the club. But whether that will be enough to make them feel the need to buy this book is another matter.