Footballers' lives are all the rage in bestseller list

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The Independent Culture

If David Beckham's latest autobiography - his third - shoots to the top of the bestsellers' charts with the kind of sales a publisher would expect after shelling out a £2m advance, he will be in familiar company.

Three of this week's top 10 books are by footballers, even if none of Beckham's literary rivals are kicking with quite the same vigour as the 28-year-old England captain, who unveiled his tome in Madrid yesterday.

Jimmy Greaves' autobiography - like Beckham's, not his first - is at number two, and the latest footballing anecdotes from George Best, Scoring at Half Time, is at number four.

Nobby Stiles, who famously did a little jig on the pitch after England's 1966 World Cup success, is in 10th place with After the Ball, written with The Independent's James Lawton.

The stories of sports stars are a crucial part of the £67m-a-year autobiographies business. Sporting heroes fromEllen MacArthur, the sailor, to Michael Schumacher, the racing driver, and John McEnroe, the tennis star, crown their success in competition with a book for posterity. Alec Stewart, the cricketer, is marking his retirement from international competition with his life story, as is the athlete Colin Jackson.

The biggest sporting names do so several times over. George Best has produced so many autobiographies that the selling point of his most recent, Blessed, was that it was the one written when sober. It spent 18 weeks in the hardback top 10.

There had been scepticism at the potential for sales since Best was already so widely available in print. But Nicholas Clee, the editor of The Bookseller magazine said Blessed had been Best's most successful book yet.He said a nostalgia for the football of the Sixties and early Seventies, which made Geoff Hurst's book a hit a couple of years ago, was benefiting Stiles and Greaves, and was likely to help the forthcoming work from Denis Law.

"Sports biographies have been an important part of publishing, so this is not an entirely new phenomenon," said Mr Clee. But biographies and autobiographes by the biggest stars were selling more than ever before, and therefore attracted greater advances and promotion.

The biggest stars of the mid-1990s might have sold 100,000 to 200,000 in hardback, Mr Clee said. But the autobiography of the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson - with Hugh McIlvanney - broke records with its £1m advance, and more than one million hardback sales.

Scott Pack, the buying manager for Waterstone's, said fans wanted autobiographies. But, he said, the books with longevity were those that were well written."A brilliant example was [former England cricket captain] Michael Atherton's book last year. The word got out he had written every word himself and that it was very well written. It maintained sales for quite a considerable time."

A factor that increased interest in sports books, Mr Pack said, was a move away from sanitised stories to the true confessionals such as Tony Adams' story of his descent into alcoholism, Addicted.

Liam Doyle, the manager of Sportspages books in London, said even formulaic books would sell to the diehard fan.

But the "insatiable appetite for celebrity in general" was stoking the market for blockbusters such as Beckham's.

Some critics wondered what more there was to write about Beckham's life. James Lawton said: "He's quite a decent lad in terms of family values, but he's 28 and every detail of his life has already been excessively documented by the tabloids. What are people buying into apart from celebrity?" But celebrity - a Spice Girl wife, high fashion and exotic haircuts - is the point. "Selling one million copies in hardback was unheard of 10 years ago," Mr Clee said. "Harper Collins [the publishers] will be disappointed if they don't sell 1.5 million of Beckham."

And you don't do that with details of penalty kicks.


David Beckham: There were a couple of autobiographies before yesterday including one at the age of 23 and another told largely in pictures. Andrew Morton added another title,Julie Burchill had her say, and there are about another dozen titles.

George Best: A count throws up at least five autobiographies with assorted co-writers, plus Angie Best's thoughts on her wayward now former husband, and another eight unauthorised titles for the Best enthusiast.

Ian Botham: Botham published his autobiography in 1994 and has cooperated on only one other. But with at least nine other books about the beefy cricketer, it seems likely Botham could have written more on his life.

Sir Alex Ferguson: A couple of volumes of the diaries of Sir Alex as Man United manager were published before his autobiography with Hugh McIlvanney gave a full taste of Fergie in his own words three years ago. Michael Crick's detailed biography is widely regarded to have superseded the previous books on the dour Scot.

Paul Gascoigne: Gascoigne cooperated on a book about his life in pictures and allowed Mel Stein to tell the "authorised" biography. But by failing to go down the route himself, he has left the field open for a dozen or so others to capitalise on his troubled life.

Jimmy Greaves: Greavsie first told his story in 1979, then in 1990. Another book of his time with Spurs as told to Clive Allen followed and there is a biography from Matt Allen. Yet more than 3,600 people have still bought the new title, Greavsie, in the last month.