Book Review: Glory Glory
By Andy Mitten
Published by Vision Sports Publishing, 2009
Following his review of Eamon Dunphy’s A Strange Kind of Glory last week, Russell George brings us his thoughts on another study of the Big Red Machine. Tangential to the usual scope of this site it may seem, but author Andy Mitten’s prominence in the world of fans as writers made it worthy of publicity in our eyes and who knows? – that debt is still pretty big – we could even be covering United as a lower league club at some point.
This is the equivalent to eating a family bag of minstrels. If you are a United fan, you will seem to enjoy it thoroughly. But somehow it leaves you unfulfilled and vaguely guilty afterwards. Andy Mitten is the editor of United We Stand, one of the less acerbic, first wave of Manchester United fanzines. His longevity as a connected fan – he was recruited to work for the club for a while – means he was able to gain interviews with 12 players from United’s 1990s teams, with the intention of showing what these players were really like, and their experience playing for United in the most successful period of their history.
But though Mitten introduces the book as a departure from the PR soaked clichés of ‘Giggsy was a great player’ and ‘Playing at United was an honour’, you also sense that he doesn’t want to fully expose these ex-players that are now apparently his friends. Much of the book is an interesting, though relatively plodding, narrative of each player’s career trajectory, but there’s little in the way of deeper characterisations, or a real sense of what playing in this era was actually like. What does come across from these stories – though it isn’t brought out by the author – is the transitory nature of football, where injury or a new player means that you quickly move on, often never meeting your team-mates again. You also get a sense of the very military discipline that surrounds professional football that would be positively frightening in any other walk of life. Alex Ferguson sounds like a psycho, yet is still respected by players who he regularly tells are shite and will never play for the team again.
Of the stories which emerge, Keane is confirmed as a madman, on one occasion deciding to walk home after a celebration only to fight a random tourist on the way. But, inexplicably, he is also apparently popular in the dressing room where Andy Cole calls him ‘Schiz’. David May was a bit of a prankster, though he had to tone it down from his days at Blackburn where they used to piss and shit in each other’s property. The youth team players once locked Russell Beardsmore in a bag and left it in the middle of a main road. Lee Sharpe slept around a lot, and this and the Sharpey shuffle meant his relationship with Ferguson was tense. And Gary Pallister was a terrible dresser, once turning up for training wearing his wife’s coat. Andy Cole sounds an awkward sod, disliking Teddy Sheringham apparently because he didn’t wish him luck when subbed for Cole in an England game; but at least has the self-awareness to know it himself.
There are nuggets of interest, though. Johan Cruyff’s christening of his son with the name of the patron saint of Catalonia is one (the Spanish authorities had banned the name), as is learning of the extent of Jesper Blomqvist’s nerves ahead of the 1999 European Cup final. Lee Martin’s journey to Old Trafford on match days on the local bus is a throwback to pre-Sky wages. And the interview with chairman Martin Edwards offers some interesting biographical detail, plus testament to an unjustified resistance to any form of supporter group sitting on the board. He did play a pivotal role in the Cantona deal though.
Writing an interesting football book about the lives of footballers isn’t a contradiction in terms. Mitten doesn’t make the most of his opportunity here, probably because he is too close to his subjects. There’s no analysis, no sense of theatre, no real insight. Having said that, I read it in a matter of hours.