Graham Kelly: Time is right for Giles to join the Beckham book club

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The Independent Football

A former Manchester United No 7 launched a book last Friday. David Beckham held the party for his second autobiography in Madrid where he plies his lucrative trade now.

Stan Matthews, also the most famous player in the world in his day, capitalised on his name by publishing regular reminiscences, so maybe Beckham's activities are par for the course. Feet First, published at the height of Matthews' fame in 1948, was followed by Feet First Again in 1952. Much play was made of the maestro's differences with the Stoke City board and his transfer to Blackpool, where he already had business interests, in 1947.

Bibliophiles have enjoyed a bonanza of late, particularly those English football followers of a certain age who will have been gratified to find books on the shelves by Jimmy Greaves, Nobby Stiles, George Cohen and an updated version of last year's autobiography by Gordon Banks.

Greaves alone could fill a library with his stories, his life has so many strands. An East End boy born during the Blitz, he was head boy of his school and a natural goalscorer who scored on his debut for every senior team.

A legendary scout took him to Chelsea where he was employed, mainly in the secretary's office, as a general dogsbody, running errands and fiddling luncheon vouchers until, one day in 1955, he was told to assist with laying the cables for the new floodlights and very nearly blew the whole place up. Mr Abramovich would be well advised to hire the best electrician in England to check out his fuse box without further delay.

Greaves endured an unsuccessful spell with AC Milan, was brought back from exile by the Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson for £99,999 to enjoy his most prolific years, then sadly lost much of the 1970s to alcoholism. The illness cost him his businesses and almost his family too. Since then, he had his successful television punditry in partnership with Ian St John, a newspaper column and wider television work of his own. He has not touched alcohol for many years.

Asked who exercised the biggest influence over his career, St John would cite Bill Shankly, whereas Greaves would reply: "Vladimir Smirnoff". Amateur psychologists might attribute Greaves's problems to his disappointment at missing the 1966 World Cup Final after he had been injured in the match against France, but he understood Alf Ramsey would never change a winning team.

That game with France is writ large in the Stiles story, with Ramsey going out on a limb to protect his midfield ball-winner after the mis-timed tackle on Jacques Simon which produced high-level calls for his withdrawal from the England team.

It's another autobiography that is rich in human interest, with the England hero surviving a heart attack and a distinctly low ebb which football brought him to. There cannot be many who can compare working for Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Alf Ramsey.

Anyone who believes Busby was always the kindly old gentleman should read Stiles on his dilemma over whether to choose England Under-23s above Manchester United. Not exactly the hair-dryer treatment, but neither the milk of human kindness.

And Banks, too, shows that club v country is far from a new issue. He was first selected in an England squad in 1961 for a match against Portugal at Wembley. It turned out to be the very same day as his club, Leicester City, were playing a European Cup Winners' Cup match at home to Atletico Madrid.

All was not lost. Because the Wembley floodlights were not good enough for an evening match - maybe Greaves had been at work - England's match kicked off at 2.30. So Banks took his place among the reserves in the afternoon and watched England win 2-0. Immediately after the match he drove to Leicester in his little Ford van, arriving half an hour before kick-off and let in only one goal.

Cohen fought his battle against cancer and is as down-to-earth a man as the rest of the 1966 heroes who always talk so much sense about the game when they appear today.

Jimmy Armfield, supplanted by Cohen in 1966, is writing an autobiography. Other Blackpool and England stars to lend their names to books were Stan Mortensen (Football is my game, 1949) and Harry Johnston (The rocky road to Wembley, 1954). Even nostalgia lovers would struggle to enjoy these works now.

Beckham still has a little way to go to catch up with an earlier captain, Billy Wright, who accumulated six titles to put alongside his 105 England caps.

But what I would really relish would be the unexpurgated memoirs of another former Manchester United No 7. Not Eric Cantona. No. Nobby Stiles's best friend and brother-in-law, John Giles, later of Leeds United and the Republic of Ireland.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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