Roddy Doyle’s new book was never going to be entitled Roy Keane Ha Ha Ha but the bear pit he entered by taking the project on is obvious from its very first pages. The opening scenes of The Second Half describe the repercussions for Keane after Eamon Dunphy, the ghostwriter of his first autobiography, implied in its pages that the player had deliberately sought to injure Alf-Inge Haaland in a game against Manchester City in 2001. Keane/Dunphy wrote of the moment Keane prepared for that tackle: “The ball was there (I think).” Keane/Doyle write of the consequences: “Two words in brackets cost me about four hundred grand.”
Keane and Dunphy have become estranged long since, though the split reached screaming pitch this week. “Keane is bullshitting,” Dunphy wrote in the Irish Daily Star. That was because Keane/Doyle now say of Dunphy’s testimony to an FA Commission, convened after the first autobiography’s discussion of Haaland: “He just wanted to get it over with and get out of there. He was rushing for his flight back to London. I looked at him and thought, ‘I’m definitely fucked now.’”
Keane wanted this autobiography to be different. He paused and unravelled the hint of a smile this week when explaining that he “didn’t want to go down the standard sportswriters route” in selecting a new ghostwriter and he clearly seems to feel that he is not carrying the baggage of the football bubble into this literary relationship.
Why one of Ireland’s most successful novelists should have jumped at the email which dropped from Orion publishers’ Alan Sampson one Friday last November and agreed to become an amanuensis is the more beguiling question. Clearly, because the prospect of bearing witness to the extraordinary testimony of an extraordinary sportsman does not change just because you have collected the Man Booker Prize – though Doyle doesn’t put it quite that way.
“I didn’t go giddy about the email at all,” he says. “I just thought, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting.’ A lot of these proposals never come to anything, anyway. I love football but it’s not my world. I watch it on telly more than I go, because of family circumstances and stuff like that.”
It does not take much imagination to see that this is something of an Irish dream team with pretty formidable earning potential, too. “There’s an irony that my name is on the cover because I’m completely and utterly absent from the book, which I really like,” Doyle tells The Independent, from a vast, deserted function room at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, where the volume has just been launched.
But the header on each page of the book reads “Roy Keane and Roddy Doyle” and the promotional material for the book tour they are embarking on together depicts the two of them leaning languidly against an interior wall. This is a double act, with Keane acting the unconventional straight man. Doyle has not entirely vanished into the shadows.
It is a beguiling collision of worlds, though: Doyle – a Dublin man of letters; originator of The Commitments and author of 10 novels; 20 if you include the children’s fiction – and Keane, a Cork epitome of football’s sound and fury. For the footballer, it felt like a way to find a different vocabulary for his story, from someone without any preconceived notions. For the writer, it felt like a new challenge in dramatisation.
The most controversial sports autobiographies
The most controversial sports autobiographies
1/10 Tyler Hamilton – The Secret Race
Hamilton, one of Lance Armstrong’s key lieutenants during his Tour de France victories, made headlines around the world when ‘The Secret Race’ finally exposed the doping culture that defined Armstrong’s success and cycling in general. The book helped to turn public perception against his former team leader for good, and contained the most graphic and detailed depictions of sustained drug-taking in sport ever published. Key Quotes: ‘It took the drug-testing authorities several years and millions of dollars to develop a test to detect EPO in urine and blood. It took Ferrari about five minutes to figure out how to evade it.’ ‘I didn't say anything. Lance was on a roll now. ‘I'm going to make your life a living ... ******* ... hell.’’
2/10 Len Shackleton – Clown Prince of Soccer
The original controversial football autobiography was penned by Sunderland legend Len Shackleton in 1956. The book is littered with criticism targeted at the FA and former clubs but became infamous for a chapter titled ‘The average director’s knowledge of football’. The page beneath was left blank. Key Quote: 'Chapter 9 – The average director’s knowledge of football…'
3/10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic – I am Zlatan
The Swedish superstar has never struggled for self-confidence, and Zlatan channelled his absolute self-assurance to produce one of the most brilliant, bonkers footballer’s autobiographies of all time. ‘I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ intersperses sections sticking the boot into Pep Guardiola with gleeful anecdotes of his utterly bizarre extra-curricular exploits. Key Quotes: ‘Whenever life’s at a standstill I need some action. I always drive like a maniac. I’ve done 325 kilometres an hour in my Porsche Turbo and left the cops eating my dust.’ ‘One time I got dressed in all black, Rambo-style, and took a massive pair of bolt-cutters and nicked a military bike.’
4/10 Herschelle Gibbs – To the Point
The South African batsman’s career was littered with incidents of drug-taking, womanising and racism, so his book was always going to arouse controversy. ‘To the Point’ vividly depicted his drink and drug abuse and orgies involving Gibbs and his international team-mates, as well as some customary mud-slinging over cliques of senior players (sound familiar, KP?). Key Quote: (subtly depicting a night on a tour of Australia in 1997/98) ‘It was one fat party. From mid-evening to the next afternoon. I enjoyed the company of … let’s say, more than one woman.’
5/10 Sean Long – Longy: Booze, Brawls, Sex and Scandal
Long, a mainstay of the all-conquering St Helens team of the late 90s and early 2000s, had his career tainted by a three-month ban for betting on his team to lose to Bradford Bulls in 2004. His book lived up to its straightforward title: beyond lifting the lid on a betting culture that pervaded rugby league, the book is awash with anecdotes of extraordinary drinking and seedy sexual encounters. Key Quote: ‘Me and Glees [Martin Gleeson] got our heads together and decided to bet on Bradford to win.’
6/10 Andre Agassi – Open
Agassi’s revealing memoir lifted the lid on his uncompromising upbringing and a career spent riddled with insecurities. Perhaps most notoriously, ‘Open’ included the revelation that Agassi used crystal meth throughout 1997 when his career was in a lull, leading to the star lying to avoid a drugs ban. Key Quotes: ‘I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have.’ ‘As if they're coming out of someone else's mouth, I hear these words: You know what? **** it. Yeah. Let's get high.’
AFP PHOTO/Glyn Kirk
7/10 Paolo Di Canio – Paolo Di Canio: The Autobiography
Di Canio has always been, to put it mildly, a tad eccentric. Fortunately, he refused to hold back in his book, written in 2000, which contains everything from barmy tales of stabbing his brother in the back (literally, with a fork) to an impassioned defence of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, which later caused him trouble as manager of Swindon and Sunderland. Key Quote: ‘I am fascinated by Mussolini. I think he was a deeply misunderstood individual. He deceived people. His actions were often vile. But all this was motivated by a higher purpose.’
8/10 Paul McGrath – Back from the Brink
McGrath’s book, which unflinchingly confronts his difficult childhood, alcoholism and multiple suicide attempts, is one of the most troubling sporting autobiographies ever written. The tales of McGrath’s epic binges – he once woke up in a caravan 15 miles from the team hotel, and would frequently play when drunk – are made all the more shocking by his total lack of glorification. Key Quote: ‘I vividly remember the Stanley knife and the blood pouring on to the floor. Come to think of it, I remember the au pair's screams too.’
9/10 Paul Kimmage – Rough Ride
A journeyman pro cyclist, Kimmage won the William Hill Sports Book award in 1990 for going against the sport’s ‘omerta’ and revealing for the first time the extent of drug-taking in the peloton. The book ostracized the Irishman from former friends and teammates but forced cycling to finally confront itself –Kimmage would later become one of Lance Armstrong’s fiercest critics. Key Quote: 'It was doping, no mistake about it, but it was only pigeon **** compared to what some of the others were doing. It bothered me, but this was my last Tour and I didn’t want to go out of it after two days.’
10/10 Roy Keane – Keane: The Autobiography
Keane has previous on the controversial autobiography front, after his first book landed him in front of an FA tribunal for bringing the sport into disrepute. Mick McCarthy was one of many targeted in Keane’s relentlessly angry tome, but ultimately it was his expletive-ridden admission of deliberate retribution on Alf Inge Haalaand that landed the Irishman in hot water. Key Quote: (On Alf Inge Haaland) ‘I'd waited long enough. I ******* hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.’
When their initial one-hour meeting proved successful, Doyle asked himself, “Am I up to it?”, and if the artistic accomplishment he was striving for can be defined then it is a theatrical monologue. “I always felt I was kind of an amplifier for him,” Doyle says of Keane. “I’m a storyteller, you know, and a lover of fiction and drama, so we wallow, we love people’s flaws, don’t we? The problem with a lot of depictions of Roy – the cartoon version – is it’s all flaw and actually the book allows a fuller version of the man: the version I was immediately aware of when I met him.”
The chemistry between them remains to be seen. They spend most of Thursday afternoon’s book launch skirting around opposite ends of the function room and Doyle was not asked on to the press conference top table for a book launch which was distinctly Keane’s show. But they do seem to cohere. In the course of an intense colloboration, which Doyle felt was “a bit like being under water” and during which Doyle’s mother asked her son why he was developing a Cork accent, the writer asked his subject if he remembered the lyric “anger is an energy” from the Public Image Ltd song “Rise.” “I had been thinking of it myself,” Doyle says. “And I thought it is such a positive way to think about anger. And he loved the song. He started talking about the anger and the role he played, as an actor almost, and how he could control the anger and eventually it might have been when we were going over it a second time, the difference between anger and rage...”
Keane’s ability to articulate that difference is clearly a part of the appeal for Doyle. “He was like a lecturer, a philosopher, at times,” Doyle says. “Talking about the difference between anger and rage; injuring somebody and hurting somebody.” It was Dunphy’s inability to distinguish between the latter of those two which Keane cites as the cause of all the Haaland trouble.
Perhaps Dunphy, whose career as a Millwall player formed the basis of Only a Game?, the sublime autobiography he required no ghost to write, approached the Keane project with too much accumulated knowledge of football. Doyle’s own information bank on the game is minimal and to the question of whether his position outside of the sports journalism bubble helped, he replies: “I felt so.
“I thought ‘it’s a life full of incidents and big dramatic moments but [what about] the day-to-day stuff?’ Doyle says. “I was asking him, ‘What’s your Saturday like?’ and it was about driving to clubs. He started volunteering the fact that he never paid much attention to where he was going, as a footballer, but now as someone visiting Villa or maybe Everton – or Celtic, he loved the driving. He was talking about ‘recovery’ and I said ‘what’s recovery?’ He said ‘doing nothing’ and I thought that was brilliant, that a vital part of the job was doing nothing. That seeming contradiction about doing nothing being part of the job. I really enjoyed that and I think he enjoyed doing that.”
Keane admits that bringing some of his humanity out was not easy. “I probably didn’t want to go into it too much but give credit to Roddy... Where’s Roddy?” he says, looking around for Doyle’s help to explain the emotional side of the book. He is publicly less comfortable when a football target doesn’t form the basis of conversation.
“There were some days I’d be meeting Roddy and I wouldn’t be in the mood,” he continues. “You’re probably not surprised to hear that! Roddy had a way about him, he’s likeable, quite laid-back, it was like a therapy session!”
There were clearly places Keane did not want those sessions to go. There is no mention in The Second Half of Keane’s visits to Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. This is by no means an exhaustive memoir. But Doyle has produced something less obsessed with the point scoring which ensued during Thursday’s encounter with journalists. The finished testimony is of a far richer fabric than the other big autobiographical product of this week – Kevin Pietersen’s KP: The Autobiography – a page-turner which never escaped the bickering. “The last thing you would want is a book that is a reaction to what’s said,” Doyle says, reflecting of the Pietersen book that he knows “nothing” about cricket. “It could have been like that if we had gone for a book that was just a reaction to Ferguson’s book the previous year. That would have been on the defensive, on the defensive, on the defensive, pretty crumby. So it’s its own world really...”
Keane’s contribution has included making additions to Doyle’s reading list. His suggestion that his ghost might try The Numbers Game, Chris Anderson and David Sally’s crunching of statistics about the game, deconstructs some of the notions about the man. “I was: ‘Jaysus, I never thought I’d read anything about statistics,’” Doyle says. “Roy thought it was brilliant. He says that when you hear a commentator or manager say: ‘I’m really disappointed they gave that goal away from a set-piece’ it’s nonsense because statistics tell you if something is going to happen it’s from a corner or a free-kick.”
A year’s abstinence from the world of fiction writing – “I’m blissfully ignorant about the Booker List and so on,” Doyle says – has seen him work through a library of football books. He is not the first to have found Arthur Hopcraft’s The Football Man one of the sport’s most absorbing books, but has also read the Gary Neville and Ferguson autobiographies; Niall Quinn’s own (because of its testimony to Keane’s Sunderland seasons and Saipan saga); The Nowhere Men, by The Independent on Sunday’s Michael Calvin; and Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid.
Doyle learns after this conversation has ended that Keane has left the building and won’t be back here for his next interview for quite a time. “He’s gone? Bollocks! At least I can go for a pint in the knowledge that he’s not here talking shite!” he says.
You never say “never” in the world of football but this relationship does not seem destined to explode in The Irish Daily Star.
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