Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Red Card Roy
The Sun meets serious soccer journalism in Roy McDonough's autobiography Red Card Roy, with the core story of a 650-game career as professional footballer and club manager interspersed with various tales of sex and violence. Thankfully there is not too much of the latter to spoil what is essentially a good tale, though just enough, I suspect, to enable the cover to bear the book selling description: 'Sex, booze and early baths - The life of Britain's wildest ever footballer'.
Let's deal with the sex and violence first, before moving on to the more interesting aspects of the book.
A young, fit professional footballer with time and money to frequent nightclubs in many of England's provincial towns and cities sleeps with a lot of girls. Add the sort of accounts found in any Mayfair, Penthouse or Club International of the day, probably penned though perhaps not actually experienced by Alastair Campbell, about the good-time girl who enjoyed the company of all members (no pun intended) of the (insert one from darts, rugby, cricket, football, etc ) team, change a few names and hey presto we have covered the sex bit. Did it really happen? Probably something close enough.
Football teams of 70s and 80s had 'enforcers' who received and dished out heavy challenges. The book may be biased toward the author in this respect , however one can reasonably accept that Roy was in the upper band of the on-field hard cases of his day. This contention is supported statistically by his tally of red cards but here there is a suspicion that there were other hard men around who were equally able to dish out the pain but who did it in a more subtle manner, avoided the red cards and ended up playing at a higher level. This leads us nicely on to the real story - the one really worth telling and worth reading.
This story concerns the talented young footballer player who begins his career with the very best intentions and discipline, both of which are steadily eroded until he becomes a cynical prostitute, hawking his slowly waning talents to the highest bidder in order to finance his prodigious consumption of alcohol. That Roy possessed that most valuable commodity in football, namely the ability to score goals, enhanced his value and led to many wheeling and dealing episodes which arise when the 'can do' goalscorer meets the struggling football club owner/backer/manager.
It is a scenario that is frequent in this book as Roy moves variously on, from, back to or out of Colchester, Southend, Birmingham, Walsall, Exeter, Cambridge and, very briefly, Chelsea.
Predictably Roy encounters various big football anmes in the lower divisions where he spends most of his extended, and at times relatively successful, career. Single incidents during these first encounters tend to brand these names in Roy's book as either 'bad guys' (Martin O'Neill), or 'great guys' (Bobby Moore).
Red Card Roy is however strongly recommended for any aspiring young footballer, to remind them that slight detours from the straight and narrow can quickly become habitual for people with time and money, and that in a short career, hard work and personal discipline are the route to maximising your prospects for success as a professional. Occasions in the book tell us that Roy was tantalisingly close to the very, very top level of football and that the margins between the great and the very good, the Premier League and the lower leagues, are small for all aside from the most exceptionally gifted.
There are some particularly enjoyable stories from late on in his career, when Roy took on responsibilities as team captain and manager and had to deal with players doing as he did, or rather 'drinking' as he did, and not as he would like them to do. It also becomes clear that having spent many years in the lower leagues and with an eye for a player, he could quickly assemble a good team. Anyone who has played serious football will know a good centre half if they have played against them as a striker and vice-versa. In the dressing room, 'good' players among the opposition will be known to other players and in ways that will often escape the managers and coaches operating in those divisions. So when Roy had his chance as manager he quickly built a team at Colchester with players he knew or knew of, and demonstrated that no matter what technical advances occur in football there is no substitute for 'givens' like putting a good centre-half in the centre-half position or finding a ball winner if you are leaking goals and a ball player if you are not scoring them.
That Roy did not sustain or achieve more success as a manager is an echo of his playing career and as he cheerfully accepts, when it came to choosing between hard graft and the pub he, like I am sure, many others, chose the pub.