Tales from the Secret Footballer
Published by Guardian Books
November 2013, £7.99
The Secret Footballer columns run by The Guardian for three years or so now have been an entertaining sideshow to the usual Premier League spotlight but in recent months, interest in this cleverly nurtured phenomenon has dropped off a little – for there can be very little doubt now that the man in question is Dave Kitson.
A new follow-up volume to the original bestseller, I am the Secret Footballer, reviewed in these pages last year, provides further evidence in favour of the Oxford United striker and the hordes of interested bloggers and commentators who had hoped for it to be a better known figure (a Danny Murphy perhaps?) will now have returned to endlessly debating David Moyes’ start at Old Trafford and the departure of AVB from the Lane.
For Kitson is a less than high-profile figure and the knowledge that The Secret Footballer is probably He runs the risk of the books being viewed as a two part autobiography of a somewhat less than famous footballer – only a few notches above the likes of the recently published Red Card Roy, a warts and all tome which will be reviewed in these pages later this week.
Nevertheless – and if you’ll forgive this reviewer some self-indulgence – Kitson is one of my favourite all time players – a man I fervently hoped my club Reading would sign from the moment he ran the Royals’ defence ragged in the yellow of Cambridge United – a 2-2 draw was somehow salvaged due to the incompetence of his team mates.
The memories make me swell with pride – a jump into the crowd after Reading beat Newcastle in April 2007; a whirlwind hat-trick against Gillingham, Kitson and Nicky Forster irresistible; a stupendous volley at Valley Parade; Reading’s first ever top flight goal, two separate lancings of the West Ham bubbles; an angled winner at Doncaster during his otherwise unsuccessful spell at the club on loan – I could go on. This Secret Footballer is 100% right to claim a major role in elevating Reading FC to heights previously unimaginable in their history.
The initial volume laid a few red herrings that led one to doubt. Not so here. There is tale of an African team-mate beset by racism at one of Moscow’s big clubs; a close match won by a contentious goal, sparked by the transfer of Reading’s record signing on to a fellow top flight team (the anecdote is an eye opener in its depiction of a tunnel bust up likely to have involved a man whose nickname rhymes with Beano; the story of Portsmouth’s unpaid players, various managers condemned (the pointers to Steve Cotterill are too numerous to ignore); the story of a charity set up by players’ wives which turned sour and, as in the first volume, a claim that an England cap was missed by a hair’s breadth and the caprice of rugged Italian.
So the whole is entertaining and required reading for any fan of Reading, Portsmouth, Stoke and Sheffield United among others while it remains eye opening in its illustration of what footballers get up to.
But amid the anecdotes, the honesty, the pleasure of conducting detective work as a keen follower of Kitson’s career and as someone who literally worships the man, a second volume of this fayre has left me increasingly disappointed in him.
Tales from the Secret Footballer sees the author speculate as to his next career move – he fancies himself as a Director of Football, recount the narrative of a water borne disaster one summer on the south coast, trips to Dubai, the possibility of playing in Russia and China and more trips to Dubai.
Only when he turns to the subject of depression does the book acquire greater depth and my goodness, he comes across as a better man than most footballers – intelligent, knowing his own mind and unwilling to fall in with the crowd – but the rampant individualism, the claim that there are no friends in football, only acquaintances, and the contempt for the admittedly sometimes dunder-headed fans left this reader slightly disillusioned at a time when soul searching over a season ticket renewal is fiercer than ever. The Secret Footballer admits to his mistakes and knows that he hasn’t made the most of his rich talent but as my Dad said to me on reading the book this Christmas, ‘I didn’t really want to know’