What is the toughest job in publishing this year? Being the lawyer who proof-reads Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest autobiography, which is coming out next month. It used to be, when writing a book, that the big question was what to put in, and what to leave out. Football is a relatively small industry and there are times, while you want to be honest, that it is best to pull a few punches. You never know, you might need to work with that person again.
That is still an issue, though less so when you are about to retire from management, as I thought I would be doing when I wrote my autobiography in 2007, and as I knew I would be doing when I wrote The Gaffer, the book on management I published this summer. The same applies to Alex now, though to judge from some of the things he wrote in his last autobiography, when he was still in mid-career, he doesn’t mind upsetting ex-colleagues and players.
But the main check now is legal. When the letter came back from the lawyer who checked the copy in The Gaffer I could not believe the amount of queries. There was an issue with almost every single page, many of which were not even juicy stories. It was not just the risk of libelling someone – there were also, I discovered, copyright problems.
There were several revealing text exchanges I’d had with players, agents, even owners, that I still had on my phone and wanted to publish. I thought it would back up the particular story, add a nice touch of colour and underline what I was dealing with. However, the lawyer explained that while the law on texting was still being established there was a possibility that a judge might rule the sender owned the copyright on the text. So I had to find other ways to tell the tale.
One example was an explosive text I’d received from a player I’d been interested in signing, revealing he needed an operation. But he’d meant to send it to his agent, not me. I was told I definitely could not use that!
Then there were conversations over which, the lawyers said, the other party might have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. So again I had to work around that. Another problem was the confidentiality agreements written into contracts by the clubs that had employed me. That meant another few paragraphs needed careful writing.
There were also conversations had to be left out because of a lack of witnesses. There was a player at Leeds who told me, in my office, that if another player was selected ahead of him for a match he would refuse to play for me again. I wanted to include that but it was his word against mine, he was still at the club and might sue. It wasn’t worth the risk. But it does make me laugh when I see him kissing the badge.
It could have been worse but for this column. There were a lot of tales which the lawyer queried and I was able to show they were already in the public domain as I had mentioned them in this column, and The Independent had not been sued. It seems newspaper lawyers are less cautious than book lawyers, but given what it must cost to pulp a warehouse full of books I guess that’s not surprising. Plus, although newspapers now exist forever on the internet there is an air of permanence about books that makes people more sensitive as to what is written in them. It was also pointed out that I could be personally liable, which made it easier to agree when the lawyer was adamant.
Not that any of that seems to have stopped Zlatan Ibrahimovic from revealing everything, from what I’ve heard about his book. It must be great to have so much money you can write a book and not worry about the possible legal costs.
I’ve written three books. At Plymouth I wrote Neil Warnock’s Wembley Way, a one-year diary, to show people what being a manager was like. I got lucky as the year ended with us winning promotion through the play-offs at Wembley. That helped, though we didn’t sell them all, as I found when I opened a cupboard in William’s room the other day and found two boxes with 50 copies each in them. I donated them to Argyle’s academy and did a signing session.
Made in Sheffield, my autobiography, had a less happy ending, with Sheffield United being relegated. I’d written it as I thought I’d be packing in and wanted to set the record straight on a few issues. I told a few truths there and don’t suppose Stan Ternent or Gary Megson was bought a copy for Christmas.
As it happened I didn’t want to leave football on such a downbeat note so went back into it at Crystal Palace, then QPR and Leeds. It was the variety of experiences I had at those clubs, with administration, multiple owners, foreign players and so on, that made me write The Gaffer. As I said in the introduction, when my grandchildren are older and ask me what I did as a manager, I’ll be able to hand them a copy and say, “read this”. It is a serious book about the problems facing managers which is why we – the publishers and I – turned down serialisation as we didn’t wanted it taken out of context and made to look a sensationalist book. Sales are going well; I’m told we’ve sold a surprising amount as digital downloads (though I have no idea how that works). There is also an audio version, which I did myself. It took three long days in a recording studio but after hearing the demo tape made by the actor – who had a Lancashire accent! – I realised I had to do it.
It’ll be interesting reading Alex’s book. Money won’t be the driving force for him; he’ll want to put the record straight on a number of issues he’s not been able to do until now. A lot of people will be fascinated by how his mind ticks, and his views on both his successes and his failures.
I can see Roy’s point of view, as well as the fans’
As a manager I can understand Roy Hodgson being upset at some of the criticism England received after their goalless draw in Ukraine, but as a pundit and a fan I can understand why people criticised. If you’re in Roy’s shoes it was a great point. The lads gave everything, they fought like hell to the last kick and restricted Ukraine to few opportunities. It was a good job done and now there’s two home matches to finish it off. Most people would have taken that at the start of qualification.
But as a fan it was just another dull night watching England. I’ve not enjoyed watching England for a long time, since well before Roy took over. I want to see crosses and shots, action round the box, but you don’t seem to get much of that at international level. It did make me laugh when they started going on about Frank Lampard having an opportunity in the last minute, from a long throw by Kyle Walker, flicked on by Rickie Lambert, and Frank running in to head it. We’ve been lambasting Stoke City for five years for their long throws, yet with all those top players in the team our only chance comes from one.
While on international football, I have a recommendation for the next management team for the Republic of Ireland: Roy Keane as gaffer, Mick McCarthy as his assistant. I do have a warped sense of humour sometimes.
If there’s a good time to play United, this is it
I’m tearing myself away from watching the kids play sport (William, playing scrum-half, scored four tries and two conversions this week) to cover Manchester United v Crystal Palace for BT Sport today. My heart hopes Palace can pull off a shock but my head says they have no chance. Well, almost no chance. International week is as good a time to play clubs like Manchester United as any. On Tuesday Antonio Valencia played in Bolivia, Shinji Kagawa in Japan and a host of players in Europe. Nani was playing in Brazil on Wednesday. I wonder when he got back.