Pepys in the penalty box
Jim White contrasts a brace of sporting diaries; Diary of a Season by Alan Shearer Virgin, pounds 12.99; A Year in the Life by Alex Ferguson Virgin, pounds 12.99
Saturday 19 August 1995
"Sunday 31 July. I manage to venture out of the house to turn the sprinkler on the lawn and then on to the local garden centre with Chloe to see the ducks."
Thank God no one tried to publish the empty, outside story of Al's year. But this is what we have come to expect of sportsmen's books: blandness. You might, and you would be right, say that Alan Shearer is a very good footballer, and, as such there is no reason to expect him to write like the Samuel Pepys of Blackburn. The problem is he has asked us to pay pounds 12.99 on a promise of a direct line to the heart of the action and we are presented instead with a public relations exercise so sleepy the only surprise is that the book isn't sponsored by Mogadon.
If you were tempted to part with the sort of money Shearer thinks his tediousness is worth, then Alex Ferguson's A Year in the Life is a bargain: the equivalent of picking up Eric Cantona for a million. Ferguson is the irascible, feisty, Scottish manager of Manchester United, the most successful football club boss in the country, and he turns out to be almost as good a diarist as he is a coach. While Shearer adopts a self-deprecating voice which assumes nothing he has to say will be of interest (he's right, as it happens), lack of confidence is not a Ferguson failing. He may be no Martin Amis with the prose, but his book is rampant with the energy of certainty. Everywhere the pages bristle with opinion: about other fans (Leeds fans: horrible), managers (Graham Taylor: plans a loser's game), his own team ("we were bloody useless") and, importantly, some of his players' haircuts ("I tell him: 'Every time you take a corner you're flapping it up out of your eyes first.' ") And this is what we fans want, to discover that our heroes view the game with the same childish enthusiasm, the same irrational prejudices we hold dear, not to be brushed off with dullards telling us everything in the garden in rosy.
Of course, Ferguson had some year to report on. While Shearer was merely droning on about winning the Championship, there was Fergie up to his reddening cheeks in controversy: mad players, mad media, mad demands.
"We seem to be living in an endless nightmare at the moment" he writes on 14 April. "Trying to prepare for tomorrow's game seems unreal in view of everything going on. I phone the chairman. It is getting to him, too. He said: 'I haven't slept a wink.' " Meanwhile, on Saturday 20 August, Alan Shearer notes: "I nod off for a couple of hours sleep before we all meet for half an hour's stroll at 11.30." If only Alex Ferguson had realised there was a solution at hand to this crisis-driven insomnia afflicting his club: hand out copies of Alan Shearer's book.
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