The books give you a glimpse of the lives behind the headlines

John Smith on his love of footballer’s biographies and how it led to a new book

Jimmy Greaves killed a horse, Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking nearly killed a teammate, and while Bobby Moore was being framed for bracelet theft in Bogota, Emlyn Hughes bought his wife’s engagement ring in the same jewellery shop.

Have I got your attention yet? Want to know more? Of course you do. This kind of stuff is gold. 

You don’t really want to hear about that one-all draw away at Sunderland that time, or about your hero’s school team, or even how it felt to win a cup. Not really. Not when you can read about Jimmy Greaves killing that horse. 

Discovering moments like this across a vast array of football autobiographies and pouring them into two books of our own on the subject, has been a real passion project for myself and co-author Dan Trelfer. 

Having read well over 250 of them, we now feel at least partially qualified to say what unites and divides these heroes of ours, and what makes them tick. We’ve read them all, so you don’t have to, and you’re very welcome. 

For the record, the horse incident happened in Panama during Greavsie’s stint in a London to Mexico World Cup Rally in 1970, and of course he and his driver didn’t mean it – poor old Dobbin was just wandering in the road as they bombed around the corner unfortunately. 

Also, for the record, Bonzo and Sir Tricky threw Peter Bennett in a pool on a club tour, to celebrate Bennett becoming a father. 

What better way to celebrate than to watch him ‘quietly floating face down on the water, arms and legs gracefully spread-eagled’ before realising he can’t swim and frantically fishing him out?

Finally, for the record, it’s true, Emlyn and Mrs Emlyn went official with their love using a ring from the shop that dared to besmirch our Bobby. 

It’s a good news story that we can all enjoy from an otherwise dark day in English football. I’ve always thought the most upsetting part of that incident was the thought of Mooro looking anything less than immaculate for a few days.  

The thought that drove us in our labour of love is that there’s something for everyone in every book, even the dullest (we’re looking at you David Elleray). And so it goes with Hammers-related books.

If you want an emotional gut punch, then you want John Lyall’s ‘Just Like My Dreams’. 

If you want thrill-a-minute, tabloid-baiting juice (and who doesn’t?), then it’s Frank McAvennie’s ‘Scoring: An Expert’s Guide’ for you.

If you want passion, dubious political views and a Tiramisu recipe, then Paolo di Canio is your man.

Clyde Best’s recent ‘The Acid Test: A Life in Football’, is a great read; detailing his arrival at Upton Park as a naïve youngster, the worship he enjoyed from some fans, and the racism he endured from others. 

However, the story that really grabbed our attention was the time his Hammers teammates, World Cup winners and all, were unforgivably rude about his mum’s cooking.

The club were on a tour to Bermuda (it’s a tough old life) and the ever-hospitable Clyde took the squad back to his dear old mum’s for tea. 

A lovely gesture and the makings of a nice evening, but then Clyde takes up the tale: ‘You might have imagined that the guys would have been keen to sample some local culinary delights. Far from it.

‘What they wanted was Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings – the very same dish I had grown accustomed to in the UK. 

‘I can’t remember how my mum felt about that – she probably wanted to make something typically local – but, being the accommodating person she was, and a great cook, she somehow managed to pull it off.’ 

The poor woman. Bad darts from the lads here. A terrible lack of manners showing Clyde up like that. 

Leroy Rosenior’s ‘It’s Only Banter’ is another exceptional addition to the canon for West Ham fans.

Cult-hero Leroy clearly enjoyed his time at the club but our favourite story of his involves his manager at QPR, Jim Smith. 

The much-missed Bald Eagle took Leroy’s QPR side to the 1986 Milk Cup Final, and he knew just what was required to put his squad at ease on the day. 

As the team bus snaked towards the twin towers, Jim stood up at the front and took the unusual decision to give a team talk, aided by a monkey glove puppet. 

That’s right. Jim did a voice for his fluffy companion and had it confidently predicting a 3-0 win for the dumbstruck Rangers players sat watching. 

Unfortunately, they lost 3-0 to Oxford that day instead, which just goes to show that you can’t trust a monkey puppet when it comes to predicting results. 

Remarkably, our research threw up further revelations on this subject. Firstly, Ron Atkinson brought us news that Jim had previously become oddly fascinated with showbiz puppet Nookie Bear (ask your parents) at a testimonial dinner. 

Staring at him, chatting to him and even repeatedly punching him once drink had been taken, so it’s possible that this is where the idea for his own act took root. 

Secondly, Leroy himself had further dealings with a puppet in the shape of Algernon, a ventriloquist’s dummy that belonged to Torquay chairman Mike Bateson, when Rosenior was manager at Plainmoor. 

Incredibly, Algernon was used to conduct contract negotiations at times, and even more incredibly, Leroy doesn’t see fit to mention it in his book. We had to learn about Algernon from another source. 

You’d think that sort of thing would stay with you, wouldn’t you? But then elsewhere Leroy also tells us of an incident in a game between Huddersfield and Fulham, when he witnessed irate future Hammers boss Sam Allardyce put his fist through a dressing room door. A moment which clearly traumatised Leroy but Allardyce doesn’t even remember enough to mention. 

All of which goes to show that the more autobiographies you read, the fuller the picture you get. 

Craig Bellamy and Keiron Dyer are two players that may have passed through West Ham rather than become terrace heroes, but both have written good books, with interesting things to say about the club. 

There’s even merit in reading Frank Lampard Jnr’s version of his, let’s say complicated, relationship with the West Ham fans, or even, Steven Gerrard’s account of his late cup final equaliser if you can bear it. 

Lionel Scaloni ‘must have felt bewildered by all the honourable play because he hoofed it straight to me’ apparently.

Elsewhere, across our themes such as Apprenticeships, Training and Animals, we learnt from Rio Ferdinand that Tony Cottee was once not very nice to him about cleaning his boots, from Jimmy Bullard that John Moncur wound Paolo Di Canio up so much that there could have been ‘a vein-popping tantrum’ in any given session, and from Alan Mullery that former Hammers striker Derek Hales was given free rein at Charlton to shoot as many pigeons as he could eat from The Valley rafters. 

And that’s besides any number of misdemeanours, team bus incidents, fights (including several versions of Bonzo v Ted MacDougall) and all kinds of food and drink flying across the dressing rooms we read about too.

In our current book, ‘Second Yellow’, we have a chapter on Christmas parties, which is not for the faint-hearted. 

In truth this probably could have been a chapter on West Ham knees-ups alone, between arrests, urinating in public and Harry Redknapp telling us of Dale Gordon’s ostentatious plans for an open-top bus parade when we were 15th in the league. But it’s the Christmas misadventures of Mark Ward that I’ll leave you with to get you in the festive spirit. 

Ward’s book ‘From Right Wing to B Wing – Premier League to Prison’, has a bit of everything. 

Naturally it deals with Ward’s problems with the law once his career was over, but that’s certainly not all. 

In it, Wardy tells of John Lyall’s unrivalled charm over a cup of tea with Mrs Ward in convincing them to sign from Oldham, Lou Macari getting kicked a lot in training (mostly by Julian Dicks, of course) and Ward being run over by his angry wife, when he could certainly have done with John Lyall being there. 

But it’s his Christmas shenanigans we’re here for. One year at Everton you see, Ward decided to find out if Dave Watson’s fancy-dress hula skirt was flammable, the only way he knew how – ‘one whoosh and his a*** was ablaze’ – and that wasn’t the worst of it. 

The following year Ward excelled himself. Dressed as Dennis the Menace, he chased teammate John Ebbrell, dressed as Popeye, through the venue pausing only to grab a cowboy gun from the holster of another reveller. 

Popeye hid and instead Ward came face to face with Barry Horne, dressed as the Pope. Horne jokingly suggested that Mark shoot him instead, so he did, but it was a real gun. 

‘I’d shot one of my team-mates at point blank range in the chest. The saving mercy – and thank God for it – was that the bullet was a blank, designed to crumple and ignite on impact’.

Horne’s papal robes caught fire until he was put out by a passer-by with a pint to spare, and presumably didn’t get his deposit back on his outfit. Honestly, it’s not a Mark Ward Christmas party unless somebody’s on fire. Merry Christmas everyone!

John Smith is the co-author of ‘Booked! The Gospel According to our Football Heroes’ and the newly released ‘Second Yellow: The Further Adventures of our Football Heroes’ (Pitch Publishing).

How we brought ‘Booked! The Gospel According to our Football Heroes’ to life

‘Booked! The Gospel According to our Football Heroes’ became an idea when I picked up a second-hand copy of the autobiography of former Norwich and Rangers striker Kevin Drinkell, for a pound, with the intention of giving it to a Canaries-supporting friend. 

I appreciate that doesn’t sound like a promising start, but In the gap between buying it and seeing the friend, I decided to read ‘Drinks All Round’ (of course it’s called ‘Drinks All Round’) for myself. 

With all due respect to a very good striker, the book itself is quite dull, except for one stunning moment when Dale Gordon (later of West Ham of course) arrived at a Christmas fancy-dress do in a wildly inappropriate outfit. 

While Drinkell played it safe as a Snooker player, Disco Dale turned up in an elaborate costume as a tampon. You heard me.

Feeling that perhaps nobody needed to read that book, save for Dale’s dressing-up, I wondered how many other football autobiographies similarly contained some gold in amongst the mundane. 

I read a few more with this in mind, including the explosive Pat van den Hauwe book, and at that point I roped in my co-author Dan Trelfer, whom I knew from our days working on ‘Fantasy Football League’ together, and we were away.

Since then we’ve read over 250 autobiographies between us – players, managers, refs, directors and Rod Stewart, just because he constantly crops up in so many football memoirs. 

We’ve been fortunate to turn what we’ve learned from all our reading firstly into ‘Booked!’, into the podcast ‘Football Legends’ and now into ‘Second Yellow: The Further Adventures of our Football Heroes’, all (hopefully) funny looks at anything and everything that footballers of any club or nationality have chosen to share. And believe me, they share way too much.

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