Book of the Week; Atkinson entertains as he puts the boot in

Big Ron: A Different Ball Game By Ron Atkinson (Andre Deutsch, hardback, pounds 16.99)
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Big Ron: A Different Ball Game

By Ron Atkinson

(Andre Deutsch, hardback, pounds 16.99)

REVENGE must be one of the autobiographer's greatest pleasures, and were Ron Atkinson one of the literary mafia, would probably turn out to be a succes de scandale, such satisfaction does he draw from sticking the boot into those he feels have betrayed him. In fact, that seems to be the book's main purpose - don't get mad, write your life story.

There's a lovely anecdote about Bobby Charlton, for example, who, Atkinson believes, did all the scheming to have him replaced by Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager. Though Saint Bobby is clearly an eminent ambassador for football, he has, to use Atkinson's words, "never been the most popular guy in the game", and Atkinson tells the story of how, after one of their Wembley trips, United were on the way back to Manchester - the players, in traditional fashion, at the back of the coach.

"I remember them taunting Bobby as he sat at the front of the team bus with the other directors," writes Atkinson. " `Bobb-ee, Bobb-ee, give us a smile,' they sang out until it was almost embarrassing."

Few United fans would bear much resentment against Sir Bobby for actions that helped bring about the golden age of the last few years, and indeed, Atkinson is the nearly man of English football management. His record at United says it all: never out of the top four, two FA Cups, but never quite taking the club to where they needed to be. Which means there is a heady whiff of self-justification about Big Ron: there are damned good reasons why nearly every job ended in the sack, and none of them were in his control.

The book is not really an autobiography at all, in fact; there is little attempt to tell a chronological story, and while his playing days are passed over in a couple of sentences, there is not a single word about his early life - a serious omission.

Still, the score-settling is fun, and Atkinson gets into his stride when he deals with the notorious Aston Villa chairman, Doug Ellis (who was given his nickname "Deadly", Atkinson says, not because of any fearsome business reputation; he was so named by Jimmy Greaves on a fishing trip when he slammed a fish's head on a rock). The fact that "there are such inhibiting factors within this country as the laws of libel" means Atkinson cannot be as unrestrained as he would like, but one story is priceless.

The pair used to communicate mainly by fax, apparently, and one morning, one arrived that "was funnier than a Freddie Starr script", with a demand to be inserted in Atkinson's next programme notes. "During my time in football I have found Doug Ellis to be as good and helpful a chairman as I have ever had," it began, going on to say, "I often use Mr Ellis as a sounding-board for both my tactics and team selections etc." Not even Jesus Gil y Gil, Atkinson's president at Atletico Madrid, tried that one.

Those Atkinson can't nail in the main text get a separate chapter to themselves, "People I Wouldn't Go On Holiday With". Of Tommy Docherty, for example, he says, "It's perfectly reasonable to suggest I hate and despise the little so-and-so."

Since Docherty was sacked by United, he has had little good to say about his successors, so Atkinson should not feel too aggrieved, and indeed, he doesn't seem to be: "I dismiss his contributions as the ramblings of a pathetic old man," he says. Atkinson's book, by comparison, contains the entertaining ramblings of a man who believes he's been wronged.