Book review: Tired tales of the expected

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The Independent Online
RED DEVILS: Man Utd's Rogues and villains by RICHARD KURT

Predators circle the Club, both friendly and hostile, threatening to take us God knows where". Richard Kurt, who proudly wears his red heart on the latest of his expensive replica sleeves, could barely have known how poignant some of the predictions in his romp down the low road of Manchester United's history would become. In fact with the Murdoch era seemingly just around the corner, a sequel to Red Devils: A History of Man United's Rogues and Villains (Prion, pounds 8.99) is surely being planned to exorcise United's latest demons.

The next chapter in United's dark side will, one hopes, be more racy than Kurt's slightly stale account of the last 120 years, when for a long period under the watchful eye of the angelic Sir Matt Busby, United were the vestal virgins of the footballing world. For the most part, indeed, the United employees who Kurt fingers, are not the least bit devilish - often stupid, yes, horrendously incompetent footballers, absolutely, but villains or rogues? Hardly.

Take Paddy Roche, for example, who did, undoubtedly, have "all the goalkeeping presence of a fart in a canyon", and the ex-United winger Mickey Thomas, who when signing for Ken Bates' Chelsea pointed out a woman he would like to "give one to" - was it his fault that the young lady turned out to be the chairman's daughter-in-law? But these are tales of sad inadequacy, of embarrassing misfortune, not people acting immorally or indecently.

Equally, George Best's "shagtastic marathon" involving bedding seven women in 24 hours because it coincided with his shirt number is the stuff of legend now. And, anyway, in comparison to modern-day scandals like the American President being caught publicly with his trousers around his ankles, Bestie's carnal efforts are close, but no cigar. Then there's the old chestnut about Bryan Robson and the rest of the Old Trafford Drinking Club having the taste for the odd pint or 10, but that's small beer compared to the more recent escapades of Tony Adams.

Johnny Giles makes his entrance into the rogues' gallery merely because he was a quality player who had the gall to want to transfer from "the Club", and the Fifties legend, Charlie Mitten, features only because he had the cheek to accept a higher offer to play in Colombia - Paul Merson would snort at such a minor South American indiscretion.

The only episode that has a truly dark edge is the vitriolic account of the carving up of the club by the Edwards family of butchers - the undisputed villains of Kurt's piece. Ironically, and amusingly for the non-United fans, it was the saint of the Stretford End, Sir Matt, who got Louis Edwards on to the board, but once on the inside, "Sir Matt's lapdog did rather turn on his owner and dump on his lap". (Despite Busby's squeaky clean image, those around him defecating in unwanted places seems to be the mud that stuck. In fact, his Sixties "Golden Boy" Albert Quixhall's "speciality was crapping in his team-mate's shoes".)

Yet Kurt reserves his real distaste not for Louis - "There was an earthy honesty about his dishonesty" - but for the man "born with a silver Cleaver in his mouth", Martin Edwards, who "has pulled in hundreds of thousands of pounds in salaries and bonuses, millions in sales of share parcels and seen his pounds 600,000 holding grow to pounds 60m." As with the rest of the book, the idea is there, but the result doesn't hit the mark.