Brian Viner: Good book of revelation not the end of the world

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The Independent Online

Not since John the Apostle brought out his masterpiece around AD95 have the words "book" and "revelations" been quite so entwined as they have this week, with the autobiographies of Mike Catt, Lawrence Dallaglio, Duncan Fletcher and Peter Ridsdale all being serialised in national newspapers, and between them dishing copious amounts of dirt, with Brian Ashton, Andrew Flintoff, Sir Ian Botham, Geoff Boycott and David O'Leary among those dished upon.

Of course, the original Book of Revelation contained a literally apocalyptic account of Satan's rebellion at Armageddon, and however aggrieved the men written about might feel, this clutch of autobiographies – or would "snitch" be a more appropriate collective noun? – do not spell the end of the world for anyone. All the same, O'Leary for one is said to be hopping mad. And Flintoff, whose dicky ankle meant that he was hopping already, is plain mad. Being publicly blootered on a victory tour through central London is one thing; being described as too drunk to take part in an important net session is another matter entirely.

Nevertheless, it is the authors of these books on whom the full force of a nation's moral indignation has been unleashed. On Thursday I talked to a fellow journalist, whose newspaper had bid unsuccessfully for serialisation rights to the Fletcher autobiography, Behind The Shades. He told me that he didn't feel it was a bad toss to lose. "Everyone knows that Flintoff likes a drink but he's still a national hero," he said. "Do we want to be the paper breaking bad news about him? I don't think so."

Therein lies the problem for Fletcher. In Botham and Flintoff he has picked on the two most talismanic figures in English cricket of the last 30 year, and Botham just so happens to have raised £10m for charity, for which he recently received the cold tap of steel on his shoulder. Fletcher, by contrast, is likely to receive only the cold shoulder. Even Boycott, to whom he devotes no fewer than seven consecutive pages, none of them complimentary, has been gathered to the collective bosom in recent times. In hitting back at Fletcher, Boycott will doubtless win strong support from the colonels in Tunbridge Wells who once regarded him with the utmost suspicion.

This is what Boycott wrote in his own newspaper column about the former England coach: "There he was, taking the moral high ground at every opportunity. And as soon as he finishes, what does he do? He gets stuck into Flintoff. I have no problem with cricket people writing books, telling the truth, and making some money. I have done it myself. Fine. But it seems a bit rich coming from someone who has made such a big deal about not 'talking out of school'. Fletcher is a hypocrite and he should be ashamed of himself."

The talking-out-of-school line was echoed this week by Flintoff's father, Colin, who asserted that the "golden rule" in sport is that what goes on in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room. It's a sweet, idealistic notion, but it's deluded. The comradely omerta of the dressing room is a fantasy, and to an extent always has been. Either in ghosted books or columns, or simply with a quiet word in the ear of a favoured hack, sportsmen have for years been spilling the beans, sometimes to make money, sometimes to make mischief, and sometimes driven by a genuine sense of propriety. So have coaches. Glenn Hoddle and David O'Leary himself are among those who have made a mockery of the so-called sanctity of the dressing room.

Moreover, some of the dullest books I have ever had the pleasure of drifting off to sleep over have been sporting autobiographies. All too often they fall into one of two categories: either a desperate exercise in self-justification, or a tedious chronicle of a less-than-thrilling life written to cash in on some fleeting success. Even the chronicles of thrilling lives written to cash in on sustained success can sometimes be dispiritingly tedious. Yet many of these autobiographies have been bestsellers, which is an insult to the few that deserve to be, such as, for starkly different reasons, Paul McGrath's harrowing story Back From The Brink and Sir Bobby Charlton's My Manchester United Years.

It is partly for this reason, and partly because dressing room secrets are made for spilling, that I do not feel inclined to join the ever-growing crowd of moralists condemning Messrs Catt, Dallaglio, Fletcher and Ridsdale. I have already read three of their four books and stayed resolutely awake all the way through without even the slightest fluttering of the eyelids. Yes, questions can be asked about the timing or the tenor of them. Yes, their views on this or that may be deeply subjective. But when did you last read an objective autobiography? Should they have been written? The answer lies in the amount of column inches they have already provoked, for without recriminations and revelations, sport, like the Bible, would be much diminished.

Who I Like This Week

Peter Taylor, recently sacked as Crystal Palace manager, who has now joined non-league Stevenage Borough and will doubtless bring his trademark enthusiasm to a job which might be considered rather beneath a fellow who can claim to have been the England manager, albeit fleetingly, who handed David Beckham the captaincy. That won't bother Taylor, whom I've met a couple of times. He's a highly engaging guy, and probably the only football manager as celebrated for his Norman Wisdom impression as for his tactical nous, unless the rumours are true about Arsène Wenger wearing a cap backwards and shouting "Mr Grimsdale!"

And Who I Don't

The Grim Reaper, who claimed the former Llanelli and Wales centre Ray Gravell at the age of only 56. By all accounts, Gravell was a top bloke, and certainly a passionate patriot, who spoke Welsh as his first language. I'm sure he would have been cheering loudly for Joe Calzaghe in tonight's super-middleweight unification fight, and I fancy that Calzaghe will lift a sad week for the principality by proving too experienced for the Dane Mikkel Kessler.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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