Wet night in Leeds ends literary dream

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Bell Nicholson, the manager of the Tottenham Hotspur Double-winning team of 1960-61, is a delightful, kind man who still lives in White Hart Lane in the shadow of the main stand. But I was surprised when he gave the writer Hunter Davies intimate access to the team for a season.

Bell Nicholson, the manager of the Tottenham Hotspur Double-winning team of 1960-61, is a delightful, kind man who still lives in White Hart Lane in the shadow of the main stand. But I was surprised when he gave the writer Hunter Davies intimate access to the team for a season.

For Bill, in his prime, was a no-nonsense northerner who was never prepared to suffer fools gladly and would not readily have been expected to accept the fripperies with which the talented Mr Davies would illuminate his reminiscences.

The resulting Glory Game was a magnificent insight into the psyche of footballers and football.

Then Eamon Dunphy wrote Only a Game? The Diary of a Professional Footballer, a brutal and beautifully cynical account of a thinking man's struggles to come to terms with midfield life in the 1970s Second Division. Nobody had time to play. Even when you weren't clattered as soon as you tried to put your foot on the ball, you got rid quickly because you expected a tackle. Dunphy cried in frustration when his manager, Benny Fenton, dropped him from an under-achieving Millwall team which contained some overweight players.

And in recent years Garry Nelson, now working for the Professional Footballers' Association, published two painfully funny and poignant accounts of a professional footballer's life many places removed from super-stardom.

Thus, I was overjoyed to have the opportunity of writing my own book. My first task was to think of a title. The stunningly bland My Autobiography was inappropriate because the book was to tell the story of my career in football administration, not my life.

I had for some youthful years carried the nickname Crossbar, not on account of the fact that, at 6ft 2in, I was responsible for putting up the nets - though I was - but because in one particular game, as a striker, I hit the bar three times. And I wanted my book to dispel the universally held notion that the chief executive of the Football Association was as dull as dust.

So I came up with the title I Can Smile: The Life and Footballing Times of Graham "Crossbar" Kelly. There was much head-shaking in the publishing house when I suggested this. Eventually Sweet FA was chosen on the grounds that it was pithy, mildly humourous, and relevant.

As both my filing system and my memory were somewhat sketchy, I needed to do some research. For obvious reasons I couldn't use the FA library, so I immersed myself for a time in John Motson's superbly stocked study. This proved to be very useful, but the temptation to delve into previously unheard of tomes rendered it a time-consuming exercise. Particularly fascinating was a biography of Bert Trautmann, the former German prisoner-of-war, who achieved fame as Manchester City's goalkeeper.

Then my co-writer and I sat down to put 36 hours of work onto tape over a period of two weeks. Having had the experience of writing books with Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan, Bob Harris was well-attuned to the publishers' wishes and the discipline required to meet them.

He put my 200,000-odd words into a sensible and manageable structure of 130,000 words. I pored over dots and commas till the early hours and, finally, disks were delivered to publishers by the stipulated deadline.

I spent a morning posing for the cover shot and dutifully retrieved from my attic pictures of the young Kelly showing sporting prowess that sadly was to remain unfulfilled.

Then came publication date and a storm when the serialisation understandably led with a story that portrayed the England captain in a doubtful light. I was called a traitor in the banner headlines of a rival tabloid.

Then the reviews appeared. Some were good, a couple were neutral, as if the reporter couldn't really be bothered to plough through my work, and one or two were sneeringly dismissive.

At least I didn't suffer like Terry Venables had when one of his many books was subjected to a full page of biting sarcasm from his erstwhile partner, Alan Sugar.

The final act to be played out was the book-signing tour. Attendances held up remarkably well until a rainy night in Leeds. The shopping mall was deserted. Half a dozen blokes spread themselves out in the 50 chairs which the bookshop had ambitiously provided for my question-and-answer session.

Just as I was getting into my stride, two old ladies sat down and began chatting animatedly. After competing for my audience's attention for some minutes, they were gently escorted away. "What was that all about?", I asked the manager. "Oh, they came to the wrong floor - they wanted the poetry reading!" he replied.

So, if I ever write a sequel - "Sweeter FA"? - I must remember to include some poetry.

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